Nevertheless, she tweeted

Monday, October 14, 2019 - 11:46am

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Design by Maggie Wiebe

I was a sophomore in high school when I first decided to identify as a feminist. 

My English teacher at the time was a charismatic and outspoken man. Everyone wanted him as their teacher because he used iPads in his class and assigned fun projects instead of papers on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” What I slowly came to realize as a student in his class was how oddly invested he was in his female students, but only in the ones who were sweet, soft-spoken and typically had big breasts. I was unsettled by his behavior from the beginning and actively called him out on it, which (unfairly) had an effect on my grades. I was the first to raise my hand and argue when his analysis of our class readings turned into unnecessarily, oversexualized discussions of characters that weren’t straight white males.

I was also quick to question him whenever I saw him taking pictures of unsuspecting girls on the fancy Google glasses he had recently gotten as a gift. During the course of that year, I saw him constantly stare at my friends’ butts and breasts and heard him say to a group of students that he “could always tell when a girl is wearing a dress with a thong.” 

Someone told me that some of my peers filed a joint report over his harassment to the principal, but the only news that was published about him by the time I graduated was that the school board had given him $75,000 to create a new technology center in our library.

That same year, I started taking voice lessons from a man who prided himself on teaching only the most talented and promising students that my hometown had to offer. I only heard rave reviews about him, and I assumed that if his other students got solos and roles as a result of taking lessons from him, then he could help me as well. He taught out of a practice room in a local church on Sunday afternoons when no one was around — which should have been red flag number one, but I was 15, naive and I trusted the opinions of my peers. 

In the few months I took lessons from him, I improved greatly and started racking up solos for my choir concerts. I never had any concerns about him, and I was blindsided one day when, instead of diving directly into warm-ups at the beginning of my lesson, he sat me down to tell me he no longer wanted to work with me. He said it was due to my “poor attitude and constant gossiping about other students.” Those words were (and are) entirely untrue. I had never said a bad word about any of my peers without his encouragement; the only times I did were because he was trashing them to begin with, and I thought the only way to stay on his good side was to join in.

For the entirety of my 45-minute, pre-paid lesson, this man, who claimed to be a serious professional in his field, told me how bad a person I was while I sat there silently crying. I had nowhere to go — my dad had dropped me off and would not be back until the end. It wasn’t until after I stopped taking lessons from him that I found out that he once told a friend to “shape her mouth like she was giving a blowjob” during vocal warm-ups. This man continued to teach teenagers and garner praise for the next five years. In September 2018, I received a call from my mom, and she told me there was a lawsuit against him. He had sexually assaulted one of my classmates.

Everyone finds their feminist identity on their own time and for their own reasons. Mine so happened to develop as a direct result of two specific experiences of injustice at the hands of men in power, which continues to shape my feminism to this day. 

In my haze to try and process this gross misuse of authority by some men in my life, I started using the phrase “I hate men” — both jokingly and seriously. 

Phrases like this, as well as “men are trash,” “men are scum” and “men ain’t shit,” are commonplace nowadays among millennials and Gen Zs. Tweets trashing men are likely to get favorites and maybe even go viral. The once-#1 song on the Billboard charts has an opening lyric of “Why men great ‘til they gotta be great?” The last Buzzfeed listicle I read was entitled “16 ‘Men Have Underdeveloped Frontal Lobe’ Tweets To Put a Smile On Straight Women’s Faces.” In 2019, it is trendy to rip on an entire gender.

Perhaps this trend is why critics of feminism have taken to saying there is a “war on men.” I first learned about this narrative when former Fox News contributor Suzanne Venker wrote an op-ed in 2012 entitled “The war on men,” criticizing women for being irrationally angry toward the opposite gender and for regarding men as the enemy. 

Most recently, the New York Post published a piece accusing presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren of promoting a feminist agenda that borders on declaring a “war on men.” During a rally at Washington Square Park, she had said, “I wanted to give this speech right here and not because of the arch behind me or the president this square is named for — nope ... We are not here today because of famous arches or famous men ... In fact, we’re not here because of men at all.” It is also interesting to note that both of these articles were written by women. 

Let me acknowledge some things: The women who wrote these articles might have never experienced sexism or violence or manipulation at the hands of men (although I highly doubt it). There are certainly women out there who identify as feminists and support a platform entirely based around the demonization of men — which I don’t believe to be feminism, but misandry. There are also women who have falsely reported being sexually assaulted by men — though this statistic is reportedly frequently inflated. None of these things give any merit to the supposed “war on men.”

I am not here to defend an all-out smear campaign on the male gender, but what the perpetrators of this narrative do not realize is that there cannot really be a war on a gender that has always had, and potentially will always have the upper-hand — at least for the forseeable future. The difference between being male and female is that men can strike fear into women by just existing. I am vulnerable because I am a woman living on Earth, and that is a truth I will grapple with every day for the rest of my life. 

There is a reason hating on men is trendy, and even socially encouraged, in this day and age: Women are trying to have a semblance of control in this power discourse. If women feel like they will never be able to be equal in society to men, then perhaps joking around on Twitter is one way we can retain some autonomy.

This discussion is one-sided because I only speak for myself and my experiences as a straight, white woman. I cannot imagine how the vulnerability associated with being a woman increases for those of different races, sexualities, gender identities, etc. Maybe I sound paranoid or dramatic, or even anti-feminist, for “letting” men have this much effect on me. However, I know for a fact that all of the women in my life have experienced genuine fear, trauma, and/or pain at the hands of men.

When I first started saying things like “I hate men” as a young, teenage feminist, I was usually greeted with responses of disgust. People — usually men — said to me, “OK, no you don’t” and “Do you really hate all men?” And these people would be right — I don’t. My brother, dad and grandfathers are some of my favorite people in the whole world, and my male friends are absolutely lovely in every way. I have only respect for honorable men that I have worked alongside, worked for, and even those I have not met and may never meet. But what I have come to notice in my 21 years of experience on this planet is that good men who are secure in their masculinity are never actually the ones immediately enraged by a playful “men are trash” joke on Twitter. 

Respectable men do not have to assure other people with their words that they are good; it should be evident in their actions. Men who utilized the trend of #NotAllMen to prove that they were not like other men were probably just like the type of men they were claiming they weren’t. Sure, a large number of the male population are upstanding people, but every single member of the female population will be subjected to some type of sexism, misogyny, harassment or violence at some point in their lives. 

Is it really worth the time to distinguish between who is moral and immoral among men if the immoral are what cause women to mistrust an entire gender? Women on the internet fought back against this insensitive hashtag with creating their own. #NotAllMen but #YesAllWomen, as women on Twitter said in 2014. 

So yes, I do not, in fact, hate all men. However, here are some things I do hate: I hate that 85 percent of true crime fans (including myself) are women because they feel the need to learn how to prevent it. I hate that I remember where and when the first time I got catcalled was, and I hate that I knew it was certainly not the last time. I hate that I have been followed by men while driving before, and that not even the 3,500 pounds of metal surrounding me could make me feel safe in those moments. I hate that a client at my internship two summers ago made jokes about me being a sex worker, and all my boss did was laugh. I hate that I have had to cut off two separate friendships with guys in the past year for either being emotionally manipulative or making repeated sexual comments even after I expressed my discomfort. I hate that I can demarcate the milestones in my life when my mistrust in men as a whole has grown stronger and stronger. I hate that I have built up impenetrable walls as a result of my experiences, and I hate that this has an effect on my ability to date and let down my guard enough to feel any type of intimacy. But the thing I hate the most is that as long as I am living and breathing, I will remain susceptible to further fearful and anxiety-inducing experiences with men.

I am sure it is hard to believe from a man’s perspective — unless they have seen it firsthand — that living as a woman means inherently having to expect the worst as a way to maintain safety and sanity. In fact, the concept of belief is a hot topic as of recent years in the storm of the #MeToo era. And listen, I get it. We are human beings, not puppets who should mindlessly agree with everything we are told. It is perfectly normal to approach things unfamiliar to us with doubt. I can understand why the men who have never personally harassed anyone or been exposed to assault, and even women who have never been sexually assaulted, would proceed with caution when standing alongside women who are outspoken about their traumatic experiences. But being apathetic means involuntarily siding with the non-believers and the supporters of men who are sexual assailants. 

There’s a difference between healthy doubt and plain ignorance. In 2017, former New Republic editor Moira Donegan created an anonymous Google spreadsheet as a place for women in the media to anonymously report sexual misconduct, but she took the document offline only 12 hours after hearing that Buzzfeed planned on publishing the document and its contributors. Prof. Christine Blasey Ford waited 36 years to confess that she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. Chanel Miller did not step forward as “Emily Doe” in the Brock Turner rape case until just last month, four years after the trial. All of these women revealed their identities in order to expose themselves before news outlets did it for them, an attempt to take back a semblance of their autonomy. It is no wonder that three out of every four sexual assaults go unreported. 

This fear is why humor persists as a socially acceptable way to talk about these real issues that face women. Presenting truths through the form of a funny tweet or a 10-second TikTok or a viral meme makes them non-threatening. After all, that is what jokes are — exaggerations of the truth. They are funny because there is some semblance of relatability in them. We need to stop, as a society, placing restrictions on the way people speak about their trauma. A woman coping with everyday micro-harassments by constantly tweeting jokes about how men are the worst is no less valid than a woman who publishes a serious memoir about her experience with being sexually assaulted. Let’s stop penalizing women for talking about women’s issues, OK? After all, there is no one more qualified.