People call rape an epidemic in Indian Country but that word choice has never sat well with me. The rape of First Nations women – disproportionate to their population and far outweighing every other ethnicity, with a shocking 80% intra-racial rate – is a direct result of the genocide committed against the Native population of North America. It’s not some random set of circumstances that has created the perfect conditions for rape, it’s policy, all part of being a Native woman in a place called America.
I only open with this info to explain why the issue of rape is important to me but it came out more heated than I intended (probably because it’s getting to be Halloween and the hypersexualization of First Nations women is not a fucking joke). I also speak about the issue in general terms so I don’t have to get specific about the women in my family. Those are their stories, not mine. Just know I’ve cared about the issues of rape and abuse my whole life.
I have also benefitted from the subjugation of women my whole life.
In Middle School I spouted off Andrew Dice Clay’s “hilarious” nursery rhymes in the classroom. When I reached “Mary, Mary, quite contrary / trim that pussy it’s so damned hairy” two female classmates had enough. They berated me. They were red-faced with anger. I calmly explained that I was just quoting a comedian. I should probably point out that I wasn’t deliberately being a dick, I was just getting big laughs (it was the 80s and “Dice” qualified as humor then) and I couldn’t understand why these two girls weren’t laughing along. Now I’d guess that they’d had some fledgling sexual experiences during which their pubic grooming had been shamefully compared to waxed porn vaginas (or maybe they’d just had enough of the hairless = feminine idea) and they believed the classroom would be a safe space to confront the issue. It wasn’t. The class laughed at them for getting emotional. The teacher chided the two girls for causing a disturbance. I have no idea how much of our conversation the teacher, a grown woman, had overheard.
Have I evolved since Middle School? Sure. Have I evolved enough?
Two years ago I was bitching about a co-worker. In the stockroom, I listed her crimes. At the end of the rant, voiced raised, every word punched home, I said, “She is such a cunt.”
Do you remember when Paula Dean got robbed, she gave that as the reason she used the racial slur against black folks? I’ve never done that. No matter how big of an asshole a person has been to me, they were always just an asshole regardless of race. Yet there I was using a gendered insult because this co-worker who made me angry was a woman.
This co-worker is not well liked. Guys have said “I hate the word ‘c___’ but I’ll use it for her” and I’ve agreed with them. What sticks with me is not that it flew out of my mouth in a heated moment, what sticks with me is how one of the women in the room reacted. She’d only been working with us for three days. She walked into the stockroom and saw a 6’3″ 230-lb dude yelling “she is such a c____” while everyone else stayed silent. We made eye contact. This girl… twenty, maybe? She shrank in on herself. Her eyes dropped to the floor, her shoulders sagged.
She quit the next week.
I’ve been at my job longer than anyone else working that day, male or female. No one called me out on my language. That day, I was the one creating a hostile work environment. If I could have that moment back, I’d apologize.
“I’m sorry I used abusive language. I won’t do it again.”
I guess I should also thank her.
In college I hosted workshops on gender equality. My pop culture consumption is gender blind. I cook and I clean for our family. I am also a part of this society that values men over women. I’m steeped in this imbalance daily and because I am a man I can choose when and where to notice the imbalance. Women need to be vigilant to preserve themselves; I have the luxury of turning it on and off.
“I’m sorry I hurt you, Unnamed Barista. Thank you for reminding me that all men have work to do.”
You’ve never raped a woman? Okay. Low fucking bar, but okay.
You’ve never harassed or groped a woman? Good on you. Again, bare-minimum but if that’s a point of pride, you do you.
You’ve never pressured a woman to go further sexually? Or slut-shamed her? Or judged her for getting emotional over issues you have the luxury of distancing yourself from? Fine. Great.
But have you made sure the spaces you inhabit daily, the wheres you spend your time that are safe for you, have you made sure those places are safe for women as well? What about your virtual life, your Facebook page and Twitter feed, or your porn consumption? We should be swimming against the current, not drifting along.
Here’s the thing – I’m One of the Good Ones (vomit); I could give instances of when I’ve stuck up for women, too. Yet I am still capable of hurting women, of ignoring the ways they are shackled all around me. If you are not dismantling the patriarchy, you are propping it up.
If you are not dismantling the patriarchy, you are propping it up.
Guys, stop with the Not All Men / What About Men horseshit. #MeToo should make you uncomfortable, at the minimum. Sit in that discomfort before you react. Think about what it would mean to live a world where violence against you is not just expected, but tacitly condoned. Don’t think about how you would respond if “X” happened (IE, “If a guys tries to _______ why don’t you just ______?”), think about how navigating a world that dehumanizes you might affect how you respond to “X.” Do better.
I plan to.