The Problem With Focusing Solely on the Men Who Might Be Falsely Accused

I am aware that the issue of sexual assault and harassment is still being discussed to some degree.

It’s still a hot-button issue within feminist circles, and the Time’s Up movement was still present at the 2018 Oscars (although it’s worth noting that Ava DuVernay, one of the leaders of Time’s Up, told the press that they would be “standing down” on the red carpet so as to not “overshadow the main event”).

And maybe it’s just my personal experience, but from the conversations that I have had lately, between people at work, people in my personal life, people on social media, it really feels as though the general public has decided to drop what was so recently a greatly-discussed issue.

And why? Sexual assault and harassment hasn’t gone away. We haven’t fixed the problem in the few weeks that #metoo was trending. One in four North American women will still be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, including 56 percent of Native American and Alaskan Native women, 44 percent of lesbians, 47 percent of transgender women, and 61 percent of bisexual women. And if you want to ignore statistics, then at the very least, the amount of women who wrote ‘me too’ on social media when the movement first began should be staggering.

So, if we’re abandoning the #metoo movement, then there has to be a good reason, doesn’t there? It can’t simply be because we as a society don’t see sexual assault and harassment as that big of an issue, right?

And before I get too much farther into this, I want to make this clear: men are raped too. In fact, men account for one out of every ten rape survivors. However, I want to focus on women as the survivors and men as the assaulters in this article for two reasons: first of all, it is the most common narrative in our society, and secondly, it is the narrative that many people are speaking to when they dismiss the #metoo movement. Moreover, I will be discussing the role of women’s voices here, which does change the issue a little bit. Cases of male rape often feature very unique issues that differentiate them from cases of female rape, and if you want to learn more about these issues, I recommend checking out this article here. But, for now, let’s move on.

The main reason that I have heard cited, from both men and women, for why #metoo is harmful is a very male-centric reason: it is because we as a society are concerned about the men who might be falsely accused. Which is a possibility: unfortunately, there is always a possibility for error, in everything. That’s just the way the world works. We cannot count on every single person to be totally honest and accountable at every single moment.

Now, that being said, sexual assault and harassment seems to be the only issue wherein this argument is even remotely entertained.

False accusations are possible when it comes to any crime. In fact, they’re just as likely – if not more likely. It is difficult to state the exact statistic of false accusations, because this is not an issue that is always caught in the legal system, but it is estimated that false accusations of sexual assault rests somewhere between 2 and 6 percent, whereas false convictions of all crimes – including murder, burglary, and drug possession – rests somewhere around 4.1 percent. We know this. Heck, roughly three years ago, all of our social media platforms exploded over the Netflix show “Making a Murderer”, wherein we saw how easy it would be for a potentially innocent man to be convicted for murder. And yet, despite this, we do not see hordes of people saying that we should not seek justice for murder cases, because someone might be falsely accused.

Perhaps this is because we know that murder is a serious offence, and that in those cases where innocent people are punished, they are unfortunate side effects of an imperfect system that needs to be in place anyway. We do not have the same beliefs when it comes to sexual assault and harassment.

The fact of the matter is, men are falsely accused much less frequently than women are actually assaulted. The latter is a much more prevalent problem, and it’s the problem that we are not doing anything about.

Because, more than mere numbers – men who are falsely accused are much more protected, even now, than women who are actually assaulted. If a woman reports a rape, then the man has a 57 out of 1000 chance of being arrested. From there, he has an 11 out of 1000 chance of getting referred to a prosecutor, a 7 out of 1000 chance of conviction, and a 6 out of 1000 chance of actually going to jail. Sure, it might change the way that (some) people see him, and it might put a hold on his career, but if Donald Trump, Woody Allen, and Ryan Seacrest have proven anything, it’s that you can still have a long and successful career even despite sexual assault accusations.

In other words, a woman has a much higher chance of being raped, than a rapist has of being prosecuted.

We have effectively normalized sexual assault and harassment, and we have learned methods of shutting women down when they want to talk about it. I think we’re all familiar with the typical methods – the old “well, what were you wearing?” “what were you drinking?” “are you sure you didn’t lead him on or anything?” Telling women to think of the poor men who might be falsely accused feels very similar to me. Because, yes, men might be falsely accused – especially if we someday build up a culture where women are not shamed for speaking out (but, trust me, that day is far from today).

And the thing is, right now, at this very moment, women are being assaulted and harassed. Not might – are. And we have to decide how much that matters to us. We have to decide who is more worthy of protecting – a small handful of men, or every single woman in our society.

Yes, it is a shame that some innocent men might be falsely accused of a crime that they did not commit. But we are currently privileging that shame over the very real experience of women who never receive justice, and are in fact shamed and re-victimized by the legal system and their community. When we tell women to be silent, it is much more likely that the people we are protecting are the actual rapists and predators. And, personally, that is a community that I am tired of protecting.


Why Toxic Masculinity Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

I’ve used the term ‘toxic masculinity’ now and again when discussing feminism, and I’m always slightly surprised by the reaction that I get.

It doesn’t seem to matter the context in which I use the term. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I explain what the term means. Every single time I bring it up, there is always at least one person who hears what I’m saying and they think that I mean that men are toxic. They assume that I am saying that men are all evil, and they are to blame for all the negative things that exist in this world.

Which isn’t what I mean. At all. Honestly, some of my best friends are men.

No? Not buying that blatant excuse? Okay, I guess I’ll have to explain a little further then.

So, in order to understand what I mean when I say ‘toxic masculinity’, you’re going to need to understand the feminist theory that gender is performative. First put forth by feminist scholar Judith Butler, this theory essentially states that gender is not what’s between your legs or what comes naturally to you as a human being – gender is a performance, and we are all given the script from infancy. And by the time that we’re adults, we are so accustomed to performing our parts that we don’t even realize we’re performing them anymore.

So a lot of the ways that we perform our gender – the way we dress, the things we say, the thoughts that cross our minds – they are all learned behaviour. Women aren’t more emotional by nature; women are perceived as more emotional because women are encouraged to discuss their feelings whereas men are discouraged from doing the same.

You may agree with this. You may not. But this is the theory that toxic masculinity rests on.

Because what the theory of toxic masculinity argues is that some of the behaviours that men are taught to engage in to prove their masculinity are, in fact, toxic.

And I don’t only mean toxic to other people – although it is certainly that. From a very young age, men are told that violence and domination are two surefire ways to prove that they are men. In our media, you are much more likely to see men solve their problems by punching them than by discussing them, and you are much more likely to see men respond to rejection with harassment than with genuine understanding. And this has contributed to a society where 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence are men. Men are also responsible for 98 percent of mass shootings and 90 percent of murders.

And women are not the only ones who are victimized by male violence (although that fact shouldn’t make you care any more or less about the fact that this is happening). Although one in four women will face domestic violence at some point in her life, 68 percent of homicide victims are men.

So, yeah, violence and domination is a real-life problem that affects all of us for the worst. And yet, that doesn’t seem to stop our media and our society from telling boys that violence and domination is one way to prove that you are a man.

But this is just one form of toxic behaviour that men might engage in to prove their masculinity. There are so many more.

For example, men are told from a young age that “real men don’t cry”. They’re told that nobody cares about their emotions, so “toughen up” and “be a man”. So, of course, to prove their masculinity, men will suppress their emotions and avoid talking about them. And perhaps because of this, depression in men goes woefully under diagnosed, despite the fact that men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women.

Men are also told from a young age that “real men” are “players” and “lady-killers”. They get all the women, all the time, and women love them. This contributes to this idea of women as conquests and trophies, yes, but it also contributes to this idea that a “real man” is heterosexual, and intensely interested in sex.

Men are told that “real men” have big penises, despite the fact that trans-men are not born with penises.

Men are told that “real men” are muscular, which contributes to poor body image for men who do not feel that they fit that image.

Men are told that “real men” are white – in fact, Asian-American men are frequently emasculated in our media.

This is what I am referring to when I say ‘toxic masculinity’. I am not saying that men are evil. I am not saying that men are toxic. I am saying that society has put in place certain methods by which men are expected to prove their masculinity, and many of these methods are toxic – to the men who do not live up to these expectations, to the men who do, and to everyone else around them.

And this is part of why I believe that it is important for us to talk about toxic masculinity, even despite the negative connotation that many have ascribed to the discussion. Because in recent news, we have had multiple movements that discuss some of the unfortunate side-effects of toxic masculinity, such as the #metoo movement and Bell Let’s Talk Day, but we haven’t been discussing the matter directly.

And if we are going to make some actual, lasting changes, we need to talk about it. We need to stop telling boys to bottle up their emotions, or to fix problems through violence. We as a society – men and women alike – need to change the definition of what a “real man” is, and we start by changing the way that we talk to men and boys about their masculinity.

Because there are so many ways to be a “real man”. Real men identify as men – that’s literally the end of it. And that means that real men do whatever the hell they want, so long as what they do doesn’t hurt others or themselves.

“Why Didn’t She Just Say No?”

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

I’ve heard this question come up, again and again, especially in the wake of the #metoo movement.

I’ve heard this question come up in response to the allegations against Aziz Ansari. A woman going by the name of Grace explained going on a date and engaging in a sexual encounter with him, which left her feeling ignored and violated. This story was quickly picked up by the #metoo movement as an example of rape culture, and has since faced plenty of criticism by people who think that this story devalues the #metoo movement.

After all, why didn’t she just say no?

And when this question is asked, I find myself going back to all those stories that I’ve heard about the women who did say no.

I think of Raelynn Vincent, who did not respond to a man when he began catcalling her. At this point, the man got out of his car and punched her in the face, breaking her jaw and her teeth.

I think of Lisa and Anna Trubnikova, who were both shot by Adrian Loya, Lisa’s coworker who became obsessed with her and began pursuing her romantically. When Lisa showed no interest in him, he murdered her and seriously wounded her wife, Anna.

I think of Mary Spears, who was shot and killed when she refused to give a man her phone number.

And, yes, I know that not all men will respond with violence to the word “no”, but that doesn’t erase the fact that we have all heard these stories. That doesn’t erase the fact that women are socialized to not say no to men, especially if they don’t know him all that well. Because it is an all-too common narrative for men to respond with violence, and no woman wants to be the one who says “no” to the wrong man.

But maybe that’s sexist of me, right? I mean, not all men beat women, and some would argue that it’s misandry for me to assume that he might. “Stop assuming that every man is a rapist,” they say, in the same breath that they blame my sisters for being raped because they should have taken precautions against it.

So let’s forget the threat of violence for a second. Let’s talk about the role of women.

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

Could she? Is that allowed? I honestly don’t know anymore.

Because if she says no, then she’s a friend-zoning bitch, isn’t she? She’s a tease who led him on. And, I mean, come on, he’s such a nice guy. But I guess women don’t like nice guys. They like bad boys, the ones who treat them poorly, the ones who ignore them when they say “no”, the ones who put them in their place. Those are the guys that really get the ladies, aren’t they? Or, at least, that’s what I hear.

When I was in elementary school, girls would be scolded by the teachers if she let the boys touch her, because what sort of message was she sending to him? Obviously, she wanted to be treated badly. But if she didn’t let the boys touch her, then, come on, it’s just a joke, don’t be so stuck-up, you need to relax a little bit!

When I was in high school, a girl friend of mine told me that if a boy spent any money on me while we were on a date, then I was obligated to sleep with him, whether I wanted it or not, because he expected it.

I guess what he expects is more important than what I want. I guess sex really isn’t about me at all, is it?

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

She couldn’t. Society has taken that word away from her. Society has made ‘no’ a dirty word, so we’ve invented other ways of saying it. Instead, we say, “I have a boyfriend”, because a man will respect another man before he’ll respect our freedom of choice. Instead, we say, “I have a headache,” because physical illness is the only appropriate reason to not want sex right now. Instead, we give out fake phone numbers and fake smiles and fake interest until we’re far enough away to be safe. Safe from violence. Safe from judgement. Safe from expectation.

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

Well, the thing is, she did. She said no with her body language, with her subtle little hints. She said no in all the ways that society has allowed her to say no – she said, “next time.” She said, “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you.” She tried to physically remove herself from the room, and she stopped moving when he touched her. But apparently, one would need to be a mind reader to notice all of that.

“Why didn’t she say no?”

But that isn’t quite the right question, is it? Instead of blaming her for not saying the word “no” precisely, we should ask why she didn’t feel comfortable saying no. We should ask how we can change our society so that women can say no directly, so that they don’t have to dance around the subject.

And we begin by listening for the word “no”, presented in all the forms that it comes. Because the absence of a direct “no” does not mean “yes”.

Why Men Need to Discuss Gendered Violence

Women’s issues have been discussed much more prominently in our society lately.

We recently saw the #metoo movement take place, followed by the #timesup movement. Celebrities have been showing their support for these issues, while many other celebrities have been discussing their own issues surrounding sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape culture, and the wage gap.

And that’s all great; we should be talking about this. But there is another side to all this that we should be talking about as well.

For the most part, this discussion has been focusing on the women’s side of the matter (or, at the very least, the victims of sexual abuse and harassment). And though we’ve outed a few of the perpetrators and punished them (minimally), we haven’t really been discussing the perpetrators all that much.

And, on the one hand, I get it; women need to know that they aren’t alone. We as a society need to understand that these issues are prevalent, that they still exist, that there are battles that need to be fought. We need to know that we aren’t alone.

And at the same time, we need to stop this from happening ever again. And giving women a voice and the confidence to speak up when it does happen is a beautiful thing that should not be underestimated, but that won’t stop it from happening in the first place. And if we are ever going to reach a place of equality, we need to stop this from happening in the first place.

And how are we going to do that?

Well, to begin, we are going to have to talk about who the perpetrators in these issues are.

Sexual assault and harassment is typically discussed as a gendered issue, although there are some who have taken offence to that. After all, despite this pervasive myth in our society that men cannot be raped, it does happen, and it happens more frequently than you might think. Approximately 3% of American men will be the victim of either an attempted or a completed rape at some point in their life, and when men are raped, they face very different problems from female rape survivors.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this remains a gendered issue.

Although men are raped, women are eleven times more likely to be the victims of sexual offences than men are. Women make up 92% of victims of police-reported sexual offences, and when they are assaulted, they are more like to sustain injuries than men are (25% of women compared to 15% of men).

And, more important to what we’re discussing, 99% of the perpetrators are men.

And, I know, I know, half of my readership just tuned out. Nobody likes to feel accused of something that they feel that they are innocent of. I am not trying to say that all men are rapists. But I don’t think that we can ignore the fact that the vast majority of rapists are men. I think that this is something that we should discuss if we are going to get to the root of why this issue exists in our society.

And I’m not the only one who has suggested this before.

Scholar Jackson Katz, for example, has gone forward and said that gender-related violence should not be treated as a women’s issue, but rather, as an issue that involves us all, in one way or another. “Calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem,” argues Katz. “It gives a lot of men an excuse not to pay attention.”

In other words, if we discuss sexual harassment, sexual assault, or any type of gender-related violence as a women’s issue, then it gives men an excuse for ignore their part in all of it. And men have a part in this.

But why are the majority of rapists men? Why are there not more female rapists? What can this possibly mean?

Are men just naturally more predatory than women? Is a man’s natural state to be a rapist?

Well, no. I don’t believe this, and neither does Jackson Katz.

Katz argues that the reason why men become violent toward women – the reason why men objectify women, overly sexualize women, catcall women, and so on and so forth – is because we live in a society that normalizes all of this.

We live in a society that encourages men toward violence to prove their masculinity. We live in a society where many of our most iconic male fictional characters solve their problems by punching people and forcing things to go their way through brute strength. We live in a society where romantic comedies argue that when a woman says “no”, what she really means is, “keep harassing me until I change my mind”. We live in a society where men are not allowed to be emotional, or talk about their feelings, or come forward when they’re dealing with aggression or mental health issues, meaning that there are many men who do not know how to deal with their emotions or the emotions of others in a healthy manner.

And when all of this is normalized to us and we are not encouraged to think critically about it, then we just accept it. And not only do we accept it; we enforce it.

And if we are going to end this issues – truly end them, not just talk about them and raise awareness about them – then men are going to need to get involved. Men are going to have to look at their own role in this issue, and ask themselves whether or not they have ever harassed or assaulted a woman (or a man). Men are going to have to challenge their ideas of violence and assertiveness being connected to masculinity, as well as this idea that having emotions is natural weakness. Men are going to have to be an active agent in this discussion, and work alongside of feminists, preferably as feminists themselves, in order to end this problem.

And there are men who have discussed this already. I mention Jackson Katz in this article for many reasons, one of them being that he is considered the founder of the ‘bystander approach’ to ending gendered violence – which essentially means that, if you see it happening or suspect that it might be happening, then it is your responsibility to speak up. If you do not, then you are communicating the message that this is normal, and you allow the problem to continue.

Right now, we have many women who are speaking out – many survivors, but too few bystanders. That needs to change.

But if you want to help that change, then one resource that I can point you toward is called the White Ribbon Campaign – a group of men and boys who, according to their website, “pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.” They seek to spread awareness, create discussion, and create a more compassionate vision of masculinity.

It is wonderful that we are talking about these issues in our society, but I want to take this opportunity to invite more discussion. More specifically, I invite men to become part of this discussion, because we need men to be on board with this. We need men to commit to becoming part of the solution, to thinking critically about these matters. We need men to help us in this issue – because as much as women are amazing and fully capable, we cannot change the world single-handedly when we make up only 50% of it.

#MeToo, now #TimesUp

In 2017, we saw the #metoo movement.

I think that we are all aware of it, in one way or another. Maybe you participated, by writing your own story of sexual assault or harassment. Maybe you didn’t feel safe or comfortable enough to publish your story, but you read through them and related, adding to the issue in your own way. And maybe you couldn’t relate personally, but you scrolled through your social media pages and felt that punch to the gut that we all felt when we realized just how prevalent sexual assault or harassment really is. That it is something that affects our friends, our family, and our loved ones – not just faceless strangers on the internet or television.

Now, I have to admit, when the #metoo movement first began, I was both optimistic and concerned. Optimistic because, well… good. Sexual assault and harassment are issues that we need to talk about. They are important, and historically speaking, we haven’t talked enough about it. We haven’t talked enough about the fact that 1 in 3 women aged 18 to 34 report being sexually harassed while at work – and 71 percent of these women admit that they did not report it. We haven’t talked enough about the fact that 1 in 3 Canadian women will experience sexual assault in their adult life – and this statistic changes depending on such factors as sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ability, age, and so much more. We haven’t talked enough about the fact that only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.

So, yeah, I could bore you with statistics until the cows come home, and then I can bore the cows, but I think I’ve made my point here: this is an issue that we need to talk about.

But, that being said, when the #metoo movement first began, I was a little bit concerned, just because this wasn’t something that I wanted to be trending on Twitter for a couple of weeks, and then it vanishes into obscurity like we never said anything. This is an important issue; we need to keep talking about it.

But, much to my delight and surprise, the #metoo movement didn’t quite fall into obscurity. Instead, it took on a sort of life – over and over, we started to recognize the faces of sexual assault and harassment. Not only did multiple celebrity victims begin to stand up and explain their experiences – like Rose McGowan, Salma Hayek, and Anthony Rapp – but multiple celebrities found themselves accused of widespread sexual assault and harassment as well – such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K. Now, we were not only talking about these issues – we had faces to put to these issues.

And, again, I was both encouraged and pessimistic. I mean, yay, not only are we talking about this now; we’re naming names. We’re calling the perpetrators out and holding them accountable for their actions. But my problem was, we’re only calling some of the perpetrators out.

Sexual assault and harassment are widespread issues. Issues that don’t happen exclusively or even primarily to powerful women in the public eye. In fact, while sexual harassment is pervasive amongst all industries, it is especially common in low-wage service jobs. There is also plenty of research that suggests that women who work in male-dominated fields experience harassment more frequently than women who work in balanced or female-dominated fields. And this is just in the workplace; this doesn’t even cover sexual assault in the home (roughly 25% of rapes are committed by a romantic partner), at school, at social gatherings, or on the street.

Sexual assault and harassment are not Hollywood issues. They are global issues. They affects all of us, and we all need to be talking about it. So as much as I’m glad to see abusive men who are addicted to power, like Weinstein and Spacey, get punished for their crimes, we cannot stop at them. We can’t get so caught up in what’s happening in Hollywood that we forget that it’s happening here to.

And then 2018 came. And with 2018, we got something new: #timesup.

You can visit the movement’s website here, and read more about what it stands for. And, yes, it is a movement that has been promoted and headed by celebrity women, but the intention is not only to spread awareness about sexual assault and harassment in the entertainment industry, but in all industries.

The purpose of the #timesup movement is to say, definitively, that time is up. As the website states, “The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.”

No more watching a strange man groping a women on the bus and pretending you didn’t see it.

No more shrugging catcalling off as a ‘compliment’.

No more doubting victims when they come forward, and saying that they “just want attention”.

No more giving rapists lighter sentences, just because it might have a “severe impact” on the disgusting criminal’s life.

We are done with this. We are demanding change. Time is up, and I am now convinced; we will no longer be silent on these important issues.

And to those who reacted against the #metoo movement, calling it a ‘witch hunt’ and complaining that they can’t even hug women anymore, I have only this to say: this is not a witch hunt. This is not randomly accusing innocent people (it is estimated that only 2 to 6 percent of sexual assault accusations are ever false). This is starting a discussion that we should have had centuries ago. Because my whole life, rape culture has just been accepted and tolerated. My whole life, I have seen girls blamed for the invasive actions of their male peers, whether it be a little girl scolded by their teacher because a little boy wouldn’t stop tickling her (“what sort of message do you think that sends to him?”), or grown women being asked why they didn’t just dress or behave differently to avoid being raped. We need to talk about this. We need to think about this. And if someone asks us not to hug them because it makes them feel uncomfortable, or if someone tells us that something we said offends them in this time of change, then we should take a moment before that knee-jerk defensiveness kicks in to ask ourselves why they feel this way. They might have a valid and important reason that deserves to be considered.

This is not a witch hunt. This is not unfair. If someone has never sexually assaulted or harassed anyone, then they will not be accused. If they have sexually assaulted or harassed someone, then they deserve to be accused and held accountable for their actions. That’s the way this should work, and the way that it hasn’t worked for too long. But the world is changing now. Society is so accustomed to letting these perpetrators get away with their crimes, but they won’t any longer.

Now, time is up.