I am tired of being seen as a threat. Tired of being evaluated by women when they look at me to discern whether I am a potential rapist, abuser, or just an average sexist cad. Tired of seeing mistrust in the eyes of mothers when I smile at a child’s happiness or play peekaboo to calm one who is having a hard time being still on the plane. I’m tired of it, I tell you.
Just maybe not for the reasons that you might think.
What I see is that the world that I live in and, more to the point, the world that the women I love live in, every day, is one where continuous evaluation of threat is at least smart, and usually necessary. The suspicion that I feel directed at me, the mistrust that sometimes I feel so righteously I do not deserve, is the product of a world in which, too often, women’s mistrust of men is reinforced by having been right.
I would rather not be writing about this. I would rather not have to write about male privilege and power today, but last night I had a conversation with my beloved that knocked me out of my comfort zone.
As we are wont to do we were flirting by text as we finished up our daily tasks, in anticipation of a nightly bath and some sweet time together. We were talking about going dancing when we go away together this weekend; I was blithely fantasizing about how much fun it is, and yes how sexy I find it when we are dancing together around other people, when she mentioned that she worries about other men on a crowded dance floor. I didn’t exactly ignore her, but I didn’t really appreciate that the conversation had changed, either.
Then she asked me a question that surprised me: “How would you feel if a man reached out and grabbed your crotch?”
And the response I had is the thing that, when I realized it for what it was, sickened me, because what I realized is that the experience is so far out of my awareness that I couldn’t really fathom it happening. It’s not that I dismissed her concern about her own safety, not in an obvious way, but it seemed to me so easy to solve. Because the scenario she posed hardly ever happens to men.
And that’s just it. For women, it’s not easy to solve, because the experience is so common as to be an assumption. I could give you the statistics: based on US DOJ statistics there are about 238,000 victims of rape and sexual assault in those aged 12 and over, every year. If you do the math that’s one every 2 minutes. ONE EVERY TWO MINUTES. Almost 15% of women will have experienced a completed or attempted rape – here defined as penetration by the attacker – in their lifetime. The number is a little less than 3% of men, because roughly 91% of victims are women. 99% of perpetrators are men. Roughly 60% of sexual assaults go unreported to police, and nearly 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. I could go on, if you’re not horrified enough.
To be sure, progress is being made; the rate of sexual assaults is down by 50% over the past 20 years. Just, before you hurt yourself patting yourself on the back about progress, think about that number again: 238,000, ONE EVERY TWO MINUTES.
And then think about this: the sexual assault and rape statistics don’t tell nearly the whole story, because those are just the heinous acts that rise to the level of criminal activity. When you think about unwanted touching, men “stumbling” into a woman in line at a grocery store, unwanted groping of girls in school, leers and jeers and catcalls and wolf whistles, I know not one woman –not ONE – who hasn’t experienced inappropriate acting out at the hands of a man. Women have told me stories of preparing their daughters for the inevitable groping they will experience. That’s the word I hear: inevitable.
To live in a world in which this is true sickens me. It is almost enough to weaken my tendency to look at things positively, to assume good will in others unless demonstrated otherwise. To live in that world is almost enough to make me wish I were someone, anyone, other than who I am. It is enough to make me ashamed to be a man, because the hard truth is that I can recognize the roots of this evil in myself. No, I’m not a rapist, and I’ve never been so inclined. But I have made lewd jokes that weren’t really all that funny, laughed at comments demeaning to women that others have said, thought about touching a woman inappropriately simply because she was dressed in a way the could be – in a man’s world – seen as “inviting.” I am sorry to say it, but it has to be said, and unless I miss my guess virtually every man who reads this will find in themselves the same evils.
My wife loves me, deeply and truly and as I am, warts and all. Because of that, I am redeemed every day, and know that she doesn’t see me in this horrifying light; for that I am deeply grateful. Now, though, I see that there is something more that I must do, and that is to look for every single opportunity that presents itself to help make the world a safer place for women. All women. Those I love or have loved, those I could love, those who are or could be friends, those I can’t stand, those I will never know.
And yes, I am tempted to change the above paragraph to be about creating safety for all people, both men and women. And yes, that too is a worthy goal, but consider this: the world is already much, much safer for men, and in that safety are the seeds of complacency, privilege and power that allow women to continue to be in danger.
I hope you’ll join me in vowing to take every opportunity to put an end to all forms of violence against women.
Dr. Les Kertay, Awakened Moments