COMMENTARY: I pinched a girl’s butt without her permission in the eighth grade.
A friend with a devilish smile suggested I do it while the girl’s back was to us. Other boys egged me on. I made a disgusting choice.
The girl looked over her shoulder at me, giggled, then went back to the conversation she was having.
I felt horrible. I knew it was wrong before I did it. I was raised to know better. I vowed that day never to do anything like that again.
Toxic masculinity is a societal cancer. It pressures men to violate women and people who don’t conform to society’s gender norms – and violates men when they resist.
In middle school, boys on my basketball team threatened to rape me with a broomstick in the locker room. I was terrified.
In college a couple of young men at an evangelical retreat in the mountains were spanking other men and whipping them with towels while others laughed. I disengaged to avoid being assaulted.
I’ve been in rooms with men who, when the women left, spoke in the most degrading ways about them. Sometimes I’ve called men out. Other times I’ve remained silent.
I haven’t been in those situations often, because since the day I pinched that girl’s butt I’ve generally avoided all-male group hangouts. I don’t like how groups of men too often act when women aren’t around. And speaking out sometimes has turned the harassment on me.
Society conditions men to act this way. John Eldredge’s popular book Wild at Heart, which argues that God created men to be heroes and women for rescuing, pressures men to be aggressive and women passive. Hollywood’s typical gender portrayals do too.
How do we counter the forces that normalize oppression?
I’ve thought a lot about this as I’ve watched the #MeToo discussion grow on social media in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. I’ve seen so many women and some men share that they have been victims of sexual harassment or violence. I’ve seen a handful of men proclaim “#IHave” – a courageous admission that they’d committed acts of harassment or worse.
The discussion has at times been messy. Sexual harassment and abuse is a complex and painful problem. The conversation has also been productive in shining light in a dark place – and, I hope, empowering victims and building understanding.
What now? All of us – men especially – need to take a brave look at our own actions and reflect on who we want to be in this world.
We all need to affirm those who tell their stories – listen, seek to understand and empathize. To those who have been sharing: Thank you for your courage.
To men: Society has worked to program us since birth to act in ways that objectify, degrade and oppress women and people who don’t conform to gender norms. Reject the programming. We must explore ways it has seeped into our thinking and behavior – and change. We must also speak up when we see other men act inappropriately.
I’ve been far from perfect. To the girl I touched without permission in middle school and others I’ve harmed, I’m so sorry. You deserve better. And for the times I’ve observed vile behavior in silence, I’m sorry.
I want a better world for my daughter, my girlfriend, her daughter, and all who’ve been victimized or are at risk in the future.
Men, it’s up to us to choose that world. Let’s do it.