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The #MeToo movement unofficially began in October 2017 when actor Alyssa Milano tweeted: “If all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Since then, we’ve seen an avalanche of sexual violence disclosures hit the headlines. The proliferation of what has now become a global movement is largely positive: we’re finally highlighting the prevalence of rape culture in Western society, and moving towards a healthier future. The challenge now is in getting people to understand and accept their role in perpetuating rape culture. I believe a lot can be gleaned from our individual reactions to #MeToo. Only once we acknowledge that how we feel about this movement reflects largely on our participation in it, can we move forward and begin changing our world, and ourselves, for the better.
Tarana Burke originally founded the Me Too movement in 2006 as a non-profit that helps survivors of sexual violence. According to the original website (metoomvmt.org), over 17,700,000 women have reported a sexual assault since 1998. The figures seem astonishing, to the point where it’s almost unbelievable. But the fact that even more millions of survivors have felt pressured to stay silent is the truly overwhelming issue at hand.
Rape culture has always been here whether you knew it before #MeToo or not. Rape culture can be defined as: a culture that normalizes and glorifies sexualized violence, creating a sense of entitlement to other peoples’ physical, emotional, and sexual beings without consent. It’s no stretch to say that we’ve all contributed to rape culture in some way in our lives; afterall, it’s how we’re taught, be it from people in power, or in the media we produce and consume (ie: blockbuster films, popular music, and video games). Rape culture persists in many forms, from slut-shaming women who dress a certain way, to mocking men who haven’t yet had sex, to pressuring a romantic partner into acts they’re uncomfortable with.
Until now, rape culture has persisted right under noses and many of us would quickly deny participating in it. The power of #MeToo comes from the overwhelming acknowledgment of just how prevalent it is in all of our lives, and how much we have contributed to it. Because of that, most people don’t know how to respond, and are experiencing a whole myriad of personal reactions. As the movement grew – and continues to grow – I’ve been observing the reactions of men around me mostly. I’ve been having difficult, yet in-depth conversations with the men in my life (as I hope many of you are), which has led me to conclude that there are not enough resources for men to understand their emotional reactions to the troubling declarations of sexual assault/harassment survivors. So I decided to write this article in response to the men who want to make sense of their struggle to understand #MeToo and their role in the movement.
“This #MeToo thing has gone too far.”
“How am I supposed to interact with women now?!”
“Am I allowed to be a part of the movement?”
The #MeToo Movement is a complex and heavy topic, and for many people, especially those with no prior background on feminist issues, this movement can be very confusing. Afterall, social media is where this movement is mostly taking place, and where so many of us get our information about how others react and behave. But social media is full of conflicting information and misguided opinions about #MeToo. The good news? Most of the people I talk to about #MeToo are either major supporters with a strong knowledge of feminism, or they are people who want to be better supporters, but are still confused about what is happening and why. To be honest, most people in that second category are men. This is a big problem and ultimately, the core reason #MeToo exists. Many people don’t understand their own role in the #MeToo movement, and men in particular lack the resources to comprehend and act accordingly. From the conversations I’ve had with my male friends, many guys tend to be apprehensive about the movement because they are unsure of where they fit into it. My friends have asked questions like: “If I’m a man, am I allowed to be a part of this movement?” “This movement makes me scared to interact with women… What if I do something wrong?” and “How am I supposed to react?!” From these conversations, it’s clear to me that a lot of men have little-to-no resources available to help them understand how they feel, and how to take action in relation to #MeToo.
Here I hope to address why people (men in particular) experience certain feelings and reactions towards #MeToo, and what progressive actions can be taken in response. First I brainstormed with my teammates at the magazine (both men and women) and came up with a list of the most common emotions men tend to experience as a result of the #MeToo revelations. We based our list off of conversations we’ve all had lately with men in our lives, and from information gathered by organizations and professionals that specialize in transforming societal definitions of what it means to be a “man.” I invite you now to consider your initial reaction that first time someone you cared about posted #MeToo on their social media feed, and your reaction now, as more and more stories emerge almost daily. You likely have felt a range of emotions, so I invite you to explore some of the most common reactions with me. This is a safe space — it’s just you and I here — so be honest with yourself and take the time to consider which category you feel best reflects you. Then, decide what actions you might want to take moving forward.
Any sexual act or act targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression, which is committed, threatened or attempted against a person without their consent. Examples include; sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism, and distribution of a sexually explicit images.
Any kind of unwanted sexual touching or the threat of sexual touching without the individual’s consent. Sexual assault is not always about sexual desire. It is about power, control and privilege.
The culture that normalizes and glorifies sexualized violence, creating violence, and a sense of entitlement to other people’s physical, emotional, and sexual beings without consent.
Fear seems to be the most common response in men. If you’ve ever dared to read the comments sections online you will know this. Some of the fear-driven responses include slut-shaming (“She was asking for it”), accusing survivors of lying, (“There’s two sides to every story ya know”), or jumping on the bandwagon (“She just wants attention”). Essentially, fear-based responses sound like people fighting back against #MeToo. And to some extent that makes sense. Humans are biologically built for ‘fight or flight,’ responses, and many people are conditioned to fight when their body feels fear. But why does the #MeToo movement make us feel afraid? #MeToo has forced us to consider our role in rape culture, in varying degrees of severity. It has unequivocally proven to us that rape culture is commonplace, whether we want to believe it or not, and that is a terrifying realization. Rape culture and sexual violence manifests in language and actions that exist on a graduated scale, from derogatory language and “locker room talk,” to gender-based stereotypes and pay gaps, all the way up to the more extreme end of escalated sexual violence. While the majority of men are not sexually violent, most simply do not understand how their actions at the bottom levels contribute to actions at the top. I think an honest look at their actions will easily reveal to men their contributions at that bottom level. However, if men find themselves identifying with that bottom level, the point of the #MeToo movement is not to be afraid and hide our feelings; rather, the movement invites us to acknowledge and consider our own actions, then take the steps towards a healthier future. But for men in particular, openly admitting to contributing to rape culture can be very difficult, because admitting participation, even in the small and (sadly) common ways that men do, can feel emasculating. To admit that you have behaved like this and you were wrong is a major contradiction to traditional masculinity where men do not show weakness. Men inherently become a part of rape culture in order to gain status as a “man” (ex. “Don’t be such a pussy!”). Derogatory terms that shame feminine and non-heterosexual attributes tend to heighten a male’s masculinity status. Moreover, men have fewer emotional resources to turn to when they come to terms with how they are feeling, and openly admit to their actions. Traditionally, men who open up either face punishment or ostracization from their social group. Men tend to fight against that fear by pushing back against the movement that exposes them, as a defensive and protective mechanism of their own social status.
Anger looks a lot like fear and usually has two major components: the outward expressions of rage, and the internal emotional struggles (we tend to feel angry when we truly care about something). From what I’ve seen and heard, many people feel really angry in response to #MeToo because they are horrified by the actions of the perpetrators. Men in particular will immediately ostracize and emasculate a perpetrator as a means of protecting those around them. At the same time, when men do this, it isn’t always the most productive response for long-term solutions: the perpetrator will then have no community to help him right his wrongs, and the “innocent” men don’t face their own involvement in rape culture (afterall, blaming and isolating someone else for their involvement in rape culture makes it easier for you to not have to consider your own). Men accused of contributing to rape culture also tend to respond with anger to defend against the accusations, but also to defend against their own inner realization. Afterall, anger is usually a sign that someone is not ready to face a deeper issue that’s hiding behind the anger – that he was a perpetrator of rape culture. Because of the magnitude of the #MeToo campaign, many people, both directly and indirectly, experience the anger that brews all around it.
Being emotionally vulnerable is actually a major sign of strength and security in oneself.
Men may feel Guilt when they recognize themselves and their actions in the stories emerging from #MeToo. Guilt is only natural when one is ready to acknowledge their involvement in rape culture, and when other emotional reactions no longer mask one’s complicity. For men in particular, guilt can be very difficult to face, because men usually lack a strong, healthy social support system in which to confide. Talking about feelings is not seen as manly. As such, men may turn to other forms of escape from their feelings, such as alcohol or drugs, in order to feel temporarily safe. But when men repeat this cycle of running away, they only increase the pain; they become their own worst nightmare and make their lives even more challenging, complicated, and emotional. The best way for men to confront guilt is by finding a real safe place to disclose their involvement. Maybe that’s your parents, a close friend, or a professional. At the same time, men may still feel stuck in a paradox of sorts: when a man chooses to admit that he has participated in something as awful as rape culture, he makes himself vulnerable and might risk losing his masculine social status. That can be a scary new space, but the truth is, being emotionally vulnerable is actually a major sign of strength and security in oneself. Although the only real remedy to guilt is to openly talk about it, we also have to understand the complex and underlying social dynamics that many men face when confronting #MeToo. For this I turned to Ryan Avola, a local organizer who works with a team of sexual health educators to deliver a program called iGuy, where boys in grades 4-7 learn to build healthy relationships, and talk openly about their emotions, no matter how difficult it may be. Avola acknowledges that while they are finding young boys to be receptive to changing the definition of masculinity, it is more difficult for older men who have been so normalized to rape culture and toxic masculinities for most of their lives. Avola says his hopes are that a growing branch of feminism which promotes healthy male masculinities will transform guilt and silence into conversations.
Shame is a very powerful emotion, and like guilt, it can be an indicator that you (or people close to you) have done something you know to be wrong. Moreover, shame can only truly be understood once you’ve gone through a range of other emotions, like those I’ve already discussed. Men who feel personal shame in response to #MeToo tend to fall into two different categories: the protector and the perpetrator. Men are often socialized to be protectors of those they care for. When men find out that a loved one was sexually assaulted (perhaps hearing it for the first time on Twitter) their initial reaction through the lens of ‘the protector’ may be shame for not preventing the assault. The perpetrator, on the other hand, may feel shame for their role in hurting another person, which not only emasculates him, but also labels him as a monster – especially if it’s a public exposure or direct naming, he then becomes the poster boy for rape culture. The interesting thing to note here is that protectors, perpetrators and survivors may all be feeling shame from the same action. That shame lends itself to fear of being seen differently by society, which prevents all three of them from talking about their experiences. Right now, there are more resources available to healing survivors than there are for rehabilitating perpetrators. From a holistic standpoint, it could be helpful if men who committed acts of sexual violence also had better access to confronting their own actions, and learning and healing from it. So what steps can be taken? As it is with survivors of gender-based violence, ‘protectors’ needs to recognize that there was likely nothing they could have done to stop that specific situation from happening; it was not their fault. But they could use this opportunity to consider the many ways that their day-to-day behaviours (those derogatory comments on Instagram, stereotypes they uphold at work and in class, and the “locker room talk” they participate in amongst friends) contribute to a culture of violence. The perpetrator needs to own up to their actions, first to themself, and then to someone they trust. At BCIT, there are a number of people who are educated and dedicated to eradicating rape culture, no matter where you fit into it. They are willing to listen and to offer a way forward. (see resources at end).
Fatigue is another common reaction to the inescapable volume of #MeToo conversations in your social feeds, your favourite shows, the news, the radio, and around the dinner table. You might be getting tired of confronting all of the intense emotions, and you’re overwhelmed; emotionally drained. If this is you, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself. You can’t become an active supporter and agent of change if you’re not mentally, emotionally, or physically ready. Then, once you feel ready, decide how little or how much you want to be involved in the #MeToo movement. You will always be affected by the underlying culture driving #MeToo in some capacity, because rape culture will take a very long time to change and this is no flash-in-the-pan movement. We’ve crossed a threshold now as a society. So you should pace yourself, and take necessary self-care measures (such as talking to loved ones, exercising, and meditating) to recover from these big, emotional responses. Don’t let these negative feelings consume you. It’s valuable to recognize that if #MeToo is draining you, it’s an important signal to how significant the movement is in your life and those around you. You can always choose how involved you want to be, but the #MeToo messages will always affect you. It is healthier to take a break when you need it, and come back to the emotions when you’re ready, rather than to shut them out completely.
What’s important is not which reaction you identify with, but what you do next to channel those feelings into helping yourself, and others.
Empathy/Sadness is a common reaction if you have experienced, or know someone who has experienced, sexual assault or other forms of gender-based violence. If you feel empathy or sadness, this probably means you possess a lot of self-awareness and compassion for survivors, while also recognizing your own role in rape culture and the depth of its roots in our society. Empathy is probably the strongest emotion to leverage the #MeToo movement, because it helps you understand the perspectives of multiple people, and what steps are needed to improve our everyday lives. Back at iGuy, Ryan Avola encourages men and boys to leverage those feelings of empathy and sadness to connect with their inner selves, which in turn will lead to stronger relationships. Fully appreciating these complex emotions increases self-awareness, which will only further the steps toward eradicating rape culture. However, if your sadness becomes overwhelming, be sure to talk to others; afterall, you need to be in good condition to tackle any major movement.
Lastly, there is always the chance you feel nothing. You may be experiencing Shock or Numbness; a state of being where everything just seems frozen – from your emotions, to your body. At this point you truly don’t know what to do. Your body and mind are telling you that you are not ready to process all of this information, and you will need some time to do so. In that time, you need to find means to take care of yourself, whether that’s playing sports, watching TV, or reading a book – whatever makes you feel good. I do want to emphasize here the difference between feeling shock and experiencing shock value. I’ve heard a lot of people say they were “shocked” when they first saw Anthony Rapp tell his #MeToo story, because many believed #MeToo was solely a woman’s issue. This is an example of when a story has shock-value, which makes people remember the story for its uniqueness. However, this is not the feeling of actual shock, whereby you’re at a total loss over your emotions, words, and actions. Like fatigue, numbness can result from the sheer proliferation of #MeToo, and can lead to hiding or pushing away your emotions because you’re not ready to face them. It’s rare to feel nothing from something so big and something that has most likely impacted so many people in your life, maybe even yourself, so pay attention to numbness when you’re feeling it, because it might be telling you something important. Sometimes pushing away your feelings is an automatic response (the ‘flight’ part of ‘fight or flight’), but the important thing is to acknowledge and accept any feelings you have, and then find a healthy means to access them, and an outlet in which to share them.
If you’re like me, and probably many of us, you might be feeling a combination of all possible reactions. What’s important is not which reaction you identify with, but what you do next to channel those feelings into helping yourself, and others, as we work toward understanding and actively participating in this movement. If you’re a man, you might be confused about your role in #MeToo, and how to move beyond reaction and into real action. Men rarely get taught or encouraged to accept, process, and channel their feelings into action. This repression of feelings contributes to rape culture because it further supports society’s concept of what it means to be male. While not all men are sexually violent, statistics prove that gender-based violence is largely perpetuated by men, and the foundation of rape culture is built on toxic masculinities. There is a branch of feminism though that focuses on masculinity, and as the #MeToo movement strengthens, so do the number of organizations targeted towards helping men have healthy relationships.
iGuy is a straight-to-the-point, lighthearted empowerment workshop that prepares students in grades 4-7 who identify as boys to make smart decisions in even the toughest situations. We’ll challenge society’s definition of masculinity, unmask our secret identity, blow off some steam (in a healthy way), tackle online safety, and help build relationships we can feel proud of.
For more information visit:
DUDES Clubs are spaces that facilitate a participant-led community for men’s wellness using local activity-based clubs, which prioritize supportive relationships, engagement in health care, and Indigenous world views.
For more information visit:
UBC Healthier Masculinities
A Facebook group that works towards better understanding masculinity, manliness and men’s work. It’s a space dedicated to creating community-driven solutions to gender-based violence, domestic violence and sexual assault in our communities.
For more information, visit the Facebook Group.
With his iGuy program, people like Ryan Avola are encouraging boys to challenge these traditional notions of masculinity, and build healthy relationships that they can be proud of. We must break and change the attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate rape culture from a young age. However, until these new generations become contributing members of society, grown men need to acknowledge gender inequality and their own role in perpetuating rape culture. Tynan Rollo is another figure in the community that I reached out to for insight. Rollo campaigned for WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women) this past October, raising awareness around gender-based violence. He believes that a lot of older men fall into that guilt category, and lack healthy means to express it, so they become defensive. Rollo believes that all men, in some capacity, are guilty of contributing to rape culture, and the #MeToo movement is only now forcing them to reflect on their actions. At the same time, Rollo knows there’s little direction for these men to face their emotions head-on and enact real change in their behaviours. He says this largely stems from this deeply ingrained culture of toxic masculinities, wherein men fail to develop truly strong male friendships and supportive social connections. They might then channel their guilt into further lashing out, or inadvertently perpetuating the very foundations that strengthen rape culture. The healthiest way for men to channel their guilt, anger, fear, fatigue, or frustration, is to learn how to openly talk about their emotions with someone who will listen and support them. It may not be their closest friends. Rollo acknowledges that it’s difficult to get men to be emotionally vulnerable with each other, but there are many resources in the community they can access.
Boys and men face daily instances that reward their participation in rape culture, because it is so ingrained in this concept of masculinity. Check out the Good Men Project, a media company whose website describes it as: “a diverse community of 21st century thought leaders who are actively participating in a conversation about the way men’s roles are changing in modern life, and the way those changes affect everyone.” They define toxic masculinity as a repressive description of what it means to be a man, designating manhood by, “violence, sex, status, and aggression.” They highlight the ways in which males are typically punished socially for expressing any form of traditionally feminine attributes, like emotional vulnerability. This narrow definition celebrates toxic thoughts, behaviours, and patterns that would not be fully exhibited in healthy people. The oppression of healthy behaviours, and enforcement of toxic ones, ultimately leads to extreme consequences, like sexual assault. But these extremes don’t just happen overnight; rather, they are the result of the acceptance and continuation of gendered oppression in small yet significant ways. Imagine again that graduated scale I was talking about, where small instances of “be a man” contributes to a society that justifies sexual violence. Most of us have been guilty of encouraging toxic masculinities, because we’ve been taught it over time, from our fathers and our leaders (at school and in the workplace), to our teammates and peers, end especially pop culture (go look up the lyrics to Robin Thicke’s commercially massive hit
“Blurred Lines”). Every time we turn our backs and say, “Boys will be boys;” every time a man rights off his remarks as “locker room talk;” every time a jury considers whether or not she “asked for it” because she dressed like a “slut” and men simply have “uncontrollable lust;” every time we let a sexual assault perpetrator go free, despite accusations from multiple women; every time we find ourselves saying to our buddies, “I don’t know, it seems fishy that she’d only come forward now after 40 years…” This is rape culture.
#MeToo is here. A movement is underway and there’s no going back to, “the way it used to be.” So what do we do now? Ryan Avola encourages men to connect with all aspects of themselves.
All men, in some capacity, are guilty of contributing to rape culture, and the #MeToo movement is only now forcing them to reflect on their actions.
“When I connect with my femininity, it makes me stronger,” he says adding, “because I’m more connected to who I am; I’m more sure of myself, I’m more grounded. That’s a good thing.” Avola admits that since making this turn, he has created stronger relationships, and made better decisions with his life. “These are all powerful, positive things.” It’s critically important that we understand how qualities that are traditionally seen as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ are culturally constructed, when in reality, these traits are just ‘human.’ Essentially, the most powerful tools men can introduce into their lives to build healthier relationships with themselves and others are: self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Learning to work with these tools can be extremely difficult because it requires vulnerability. But there are a many resources, and more popping up every day, that are specializing in transforming toxic masculinities to healthier mindsets and behaviours. For younger boys, there’s Avola’s iGuy program, for young adults there’s a facebook group out of UBC called “UBC Healthier Masculinities,” and for older men, there’s the DUDES Club.
For survivors, or those who know survivors, you can find information on restorative justice on the government of Canada website, and there’s also the BC Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse. At BCIT, ask your instructor to schedule a Be More Than A Bystander session for your class and invite leaders on campus to come in and lead a deeper conversation around gender-based violence in the world around us. The Student Association has also just introduced a “Creating a Culture of Consent” workshop, so find out when and where the next session is and get involved. For more personal conversations in a confidential safe space, BCIT students are invited to schedule appointments with a Student Advocate or a Counsellor. But if all that sounds like too much, too soon for you, there are countless everyday steps that you can take to be an active supporter of #MeToo and a changemaker in your social circles. Talk to your friends and listen to how they’re feeling. Know that you’re going to make mistakes, and when people challenge you on them, it’s not an attack; it’s a sign of support. Don’t let the voices of so many survivors go silent when you read your news feed — offer support. Avoid the toxic comments section and resist the urge to share your opinion there. Yes, it may seem like you are contributing to a larger conversation, but if that truly is your goal, you can make much more impact at a local level in your own social circles.
#MeToo has opened the door for all of us to meet the awful reality of sexual violence head-on and to no longer hide from the truth that rape culture is everywhere. The best way to truly make change it is to keep talking. Only then will the weight of your own voice resonate with those two little words that have forever changed so much.
BCITSA Student Advocates
The BCIT Student Association Advocates provide confidential, unbiased services to current, former, or prospective BCIT students, and other members of the BCIT community, by providing information, advice, intervention and referrals. All dealings with the BCIT Student Association Advocates are deemed to be confidential, and may only be revealed on a “need to know” basis, and with the written consent of the student.
For more information, visit:
BCIT Counselling Services
All enrolled full-time and part-time BCIT students can make an appointment for free, confidential, and professional counselling. Although there’s still stigma attached to mental health, the truth is that mental health is just as important as physical health. Call 604-432-8608 to make an appointment, or see the website at:
Be More Than A Bystander (BMTAB)
Created by the Ending Violence Association of BC (EVABC) in partnership with the BC Lions, this 1-hour seminar seeks to highlight the impact we can all have by breaking the silence on gender-based violence. Being more than a bystander means learning simple ways to intervene when you see or hear something you know in your gut is wrong. The vast majority of men are not sexually violent, but they must learn to stand up to those who are.
Creating a Culture of Consent
The BCIT Student Association and BCIT Student Life Office provides free, two-hour workshops that explore the myths and misconceptions about sexual violence. Through understanding how to deconstruct violence, we will learn about consent and setting healthy boundaries by recognizing the context, culture, and systems by which violence takes place.
For more information, contact Student Advocate Danielle Landeta-Gauthier at:
Check out more from the February issue! Grab a copy on campus, or read the issue cover to cover online:
Author’s Note: This article took months for me to write, and would not have been possible without all of the support and guidance of the many people involved. I’d like to thank the following people: Madeline Adams, Dan Post, Maria Piansay, Jay Almeda, Danielle Landeta-Gauthier, Trina Prince, Tynan Rollo, Ryan Avola, and Claire Gallant.