I am fortunate to live in a world predominantly made of good men. These are the men who do care; the men who do not hurt us, who do not speak over us, who do not call us cunts and bitches and whores. These are the men who call themselves feminists. Men who respect the women and queer folk and trans folk and non-binary people in their lives.
I think that you, the good men, were moved by #MeToo — I think that you were shaken by it, even though you already knew the terrible toll male violence has had. Your best friend, your sister, your mother, the women you have dated. You already knew our stories. You have tried to listen.
Nearly a year later, #MeToo has brought down a few big men, vaguely influenced an election, and has most certainly given rebirth to tepid workplace harassment trainings.
But somehow it never trickled down to our lives — yours and mine — to the places where we work, where we live, or to the relationships we have. It hasn’t trickled down to the crowd that follows that band, you know the one with the questionable drummer, or to the bar you go to on Friday night. It hasn’t trickled down to the guys you know, the ones you went to middle school with, the ones you rode skateboards with, the one you drove cross country with, the guy you know is a great guy and you just can’t believe he would do wrong. And now, we have moved on — White House scandals, Russia, gun laws. The moment is gone again, without having ever touched the regular moments and spaces of our lives.
But I knew from the day it started #MeToo wasn’t going to change anything for me — unless, of course, it changed the good men in my life.
Perhaps you didn’t think that #MeToo was a conversation that involved you since you already get it, or perhaps you thought that it wasn’t your issue to weigh in on, or maybe, as one friend told me, you just aren’t an “activist-y” kinda guy. But, see, from where I am standing, #MeToo has very little to do with me, and everything in the world to do with you.
Our grandmothers — yours and mine — did the work of remaining silent, enduring the then-unnamed trespasses of men. They were squirreled away in girl's schools or at relative's houses to hide pregnancies; they were married off to seem chaste. Then, our mothers did the work of naming the abuses but making excuses for the men in their lives who committed them. They used terms like rape and domestic violence but went to counseling to see if we couldn’t just work it all out — there are so many stresses on these men. So, my generation has been tasked with the work of giving up on the men who wish to damage us, moving across the country with their babies, peeling their pictures out of frames, building our own homes and bank accounts, and protecting ourselves there. Sometimes we turn to the good men we know to be a safe place, a place we will not be hurt or damaged and settle in, not happy but not sad, not gleeful but safe. Sometimes we just cut our losses, raise our children, and make 80 cents to your dollar, and grin and bear.
It is becoming clear that we need more than the absence of badness from the men in our lives. For it is true that while we appreciate your kindness and empathy, we need you to join us in fighting misogyny much more than we need you to hold us or hold the door.
A year ago, two male friends reached out to me to check-in, knowing that #MeToo trending could have — would have — an impact on me. This simple gesture was incredible, and I remain grateful. A few other male friends wrote self-examining public posts about their own lives and their own behavior. A handful more men initiated conversations about misogyny.
But most men remained silent. Good men remained silent. It is likely that you remained silent.
It should not, at this point, come as a surprise to you that your silence does not shield you from judgment; it now registers as consent. This is the great truth that has come to be understood in the Trump era — white silence is consent, cis silence is consent, male silence is consent. You have not become bad — I feel like I have to assure you of this (to make sure you will still listen… to make sure you do not become mad).
But what your silence tells me is that I… we…can not trust you.
What we have learned over and over again from your silence is that when push comes to shove, you are a man who will not help.
I do not believe that you are intentionally misogynistic. I actually believe, strongly, in the good that you want to be. I feel like at times I have understood your heart, though I cannot pretend to understand your journey. I do believe that the cruel men, the sexist men, the abusive men are abhorrent to you. But your lack of active participation in the worse of the barbarity does not mean that you have no role in creating an environment that perpetuates misogyny — nor does it mean you have absolved yourself from benefiting from it. Neutrality, in the end, will always aid the oppressor and never the victim.
Neutrality is not noble.
And I think you want to do better than that… right?
This is where this gets hard; this is where I am left filling in the spaces in your silence and trying to guess what it means. This is where I sit with you at coffee and hope that your silence is simply you trying to create space for me and my ideas, and not just you waiting for me to finish talking. This is where I lie next to you in bed and hope that your silence is just you being tired, not a failure of empathy. This is where I become a little scared of you, even though I know — I remind myself — that you are a good man. I talk about you to my friends — he is a good man. I say it over and over. I am trying to get it to sit right. Good man, good man, good man.
What we mean when we say you are good is that you will not hit us or actively hurt us. Thanks for that.
But I think you want to do better than that…right?
I worry. What if your goodness is your shield? What if being a “nice guy” — the affable friendly guy at parties, the guy who will drive us all home safely — helps you fly under the radar of scrutiny? In the movies, it seems that the good guy just has to wait it out, be patient, be persistent, and he will get the girl in the end. The prince never does seem to have much personality or even need to do much of anything really: He just has to be not the bad guy. What if — here is my fear — the good guy actually needs the bad guy in order to pass off average decency as valor, and worn out, shaken and weary from trauma, the girl will finally just come to you. Being the good guy is like claiming athleticism when you are just rolling downhill.
What if your goodness benefits you, under the guise of benefiting us?
Maybe there are terrible men and there are great men; but no good men at all. The once tepid middle ground of good men, nice men, men who open doors for us but don’t stand up for us because they don’t want to cause a scene — — maybe you are not benignly neutral noncombatants eking by. Maybe you are just the smoke from fire.
Maybe you have been confusing your inaction with ethical alacrity. Maybe you have pointed the finger at Weinstein and Moore and that creepy guy in the bar, trying to place misogyny over there, away from yourself. When you look in the mirror, maybe you do not see Cosby or Lauer because it is true, you would not ever do what they have done. But if you mistake misogyny as a character trait that belongs to an individual, then you are ignoring patriarchy as an institution and you are leaving that violent institution unscathed. And maybe in the end that is not being an ally or even a good guy; maybe you are an enabler for the bad men.
Your goodness and all your other endearing traits — the way you cock your head when you listen, the way you pull the blanket over my shoulders, the way you remember birthdays, the way my parents think you are great — do not vaccinate you against sexism or racism or homophobia. It would not any of us: That is not how institutionalized oppression works.
In other words, if you truly want us to be safe — if you want me to be safe — you have to let go of your good guy identity. You need to start interrogating the system in which we all — willingly or not — play a part. You have to actually do something, say something, be something.
Something more than good.
The concept of being a good guy was pretty shallow to start with. We can talk about Weinstein, Cosby, Trump, Rose, Ailes, Sandusky, and all the others, but what we actually need to talk less about what they did wrong, and more about how they become the way they are. We need to ask what all the good guys were doing (or not doing) who knew, interacted with, and worked with these bad guys along the way.
As a woman raising a son alone, I live at an interesting crossroads of gender. While it is my responsibility as a parent to teach him, but I also know that ultimately he learns from many. Every day he is learning what it is to be “a man.” I can try to counteract the Donald Trumps and the Roy Moores by having men around who treat others with respect, who don’t brag about their conquests and don’t blether on bombastically. But what I can’t do is counteract your silence or your lack of reproach of these men.
As far as I can tell, there are algorithms of what it means to be “a man.” Each of our day to day interactions is data that adds up to occupy a space filled otherwise with only dust and dander. The aggregate of this data is clear: After all, chatbots released in Twitter learned to be misogynist Nazi sympathizers in less than a day. If this wide-open space of information is filled by not-good men, then that is what my child learns from. But if you fill it and push out the other messages, then my son can learn from you. I am counting on you for that.
I like you. I like the good men I have been in relationships with, I like the good men at my work, I like the good men in my family. I think you are funny and warm and good on road trips. I like your music, your dogs, your dance moves, and your taste in books. I want you to be here with me, with us, for the long run. I want you to be able to have deep and fulfilled relationships with others in your life.
But I need you to know that being good is not good enough.
Your silences will not protect you. And they sure as hell don’t protect us.- Audre Lorde