By Lindsey Painter  |  25 January 2018  |  

There are stages to social media movements. Remember the Ice Bucket challenge? First it was a new thing, then everyone was doing it, then there was this weird backlash where people complained that the challenge was ineffectual, and it didn’t really raise awareness for ALS and it was somehow disrespectful or something? And that’s how these things go. It’s three phases. The brand-new stage, the stage where everyone jumps on board, then the backlash stage. And for the #MeToo movement, we have reached the backlash stage. Or, as I like to call it, the “but who will think of the poor men?” stage.

Let me try to address the various objections I’m hearing about the #MeToo movement recently.

How can women lump all actions into the same pot? Don’t they know that catcalling and rape are widely varying degrees of misbehavior? If I acted like a jerk in college to a girl in a bar does that make me the same as a rapist?

No. If you acted like a jerk to a woman in college that makes you a jerk. Despite popular opinion, women aren’t idiots. We know the difference between a jerk and a rapist. The thing that makes a jerk and a rapist the same is the disrespectful and dismissive behavior towards women. Though being a jerk to a woman is clearly not the same as rape, the same attitude of entitlement to women’s attention, feelings, and body that makes men think they can harass a woman in a bar, gives other men the idea that they can rape a woman. That’s why we lump all these actions together. Not because we believe all these actions are equally horrifying, but because they all have the same underlying theme. A lack of respect for the agency of women.

How will I know a woman doesn’t really want me if she won’t tell me? These stories like the one about Aziz Ansari scare me. Are men expected to read minds?

So let’s answer this question with a question. If you wanted to, say, play football with your friend Kevin, you might say, “Hey Kevin! Let’s go play football!” And Kevin responds, “Well, I guess. It’s kind of cold outside though. And I have to have lunch with my mom so I can’t really get dirty. And I kind of wrenched my finger last week playing basketball…” What’s the impression you just got from Kevin? Is he super excited about playing football? Clearly not. Did he say “no!” emphatically? Nope. But as a human living on this planet, you have learned to pick up social cues. The correct response here is, “Dude, if you don’t really want to play football it’s no problem. Let’s play cards instead.”

But what if I’m not good with social cues? What if I’m confused about whether or not Kevin really wants to play?

There is always a reasonable way to solve this problem. Ask. And make it clear that you will be okay with a no. Try, “I’m okay if you’d rather just cuddle. Or I can call you a cab home. I just want us all to be comfortable here.” Then see how she responds. Does she say, “No! I’m super into this!” or does she stammer around, “Are you sure? I don’t want to hurt your feelings or anything.”

Why don’t women just leave or say no? Are they helpless?

Speaking of hurting feelings. Women are conditioned from birth to accommodate the feelings of men. From the time we are tiny children we learn to swallow our own feelings to make life easier and nicer for the men around us. And we also learn the inverse lesson. If we don’t make life nice for the men around us, there are consequences. We are rejected, called names, and sometimes even attacked.

So imagine for a moment that you are a woman. You have a number of concerns on your date. Will he like me? Will I be rejected? But also, will I be safe? Does this man pose a threat to me?

I’m going to use Aziz Ansari as an example since he’s been in the news so much lately and has been somewhat of a controversial figure. This girl was star struck by him. She wanted him to like her. So when she goes back to his apartment and he starts crossing her boundaries she initially goes along, thinking maybe she can just communicate that things are going too fast. But she doesn’t want to be to emphatic in her refusal because then he might not like her. And she still believes he is a good man. She still wants to be with him. It isn’t until he ignores her repeated physical and verbal cues that she realizes what’s happening. He isn’t just a good guy who doesn’t understand her cues. He’s a guy who doesn’t care about her cues. And then she leaves.

Was she helpless? No. But she hoped, from her lifetime of being taught to accommodate men, that maybe he would come around and treat her the way she deserved to be treated. With respect.

There’s also a phenomenon that happens when women are assaulted. And I don’t think this is talked about enough. There’s the fight or flight response, and there’s the freeze response. Many people experience a freeze response when being attacked. I have heard a number of women share with me their stories of assault, from minor attacks to full on rape and molestation. It is a very common response to freeze.

This is why I plan to role play with my daughter. I plan to teach her to say, “Stop that. Don’t touch me. I hate that.” She needs to learn that it’s not only okay, but necessary to say those words when someone crosses your boundaries.

So the answer to your question is, women should be saying no. But we aren’t taught to do it. And saying no goes against a lifetime of conditioning.

But we have power. It’s a fine line here because I don’t want to imply that women are powerless. Still, societal factors that make women less likely to stand up for themselves need to be addressed also.

Though, of course in an ideal world, all men would be respectful of our boundaries. We wouldn’t need to learn phrases and means to protect ourselves. But we don’t live in that world. We live in this one. Which is why I will still be role playing with my daughter. Stop that. Don’t touch me. I hate that.

But shouldn’t women also be responsible for their actions? Are all women angels? Aren’t women jerks too?

Of course women can be jerks too! Of course it’s important for women to examine our own fault in these situations. We aren’t helpless. We act cruel sometimes. Some women even assault men and other women. The difference is in the power. By and large, a man’s greatest fear on a date is rejection and humiliation. A woman’s greatest fear is assault and murder. The stakes are way higher for women. So yes, we should absolutely be taking some responsibility for our actions. But that isn’t the point here. the point is how unsafe the world is for women.

But I’m not like that! I hate it when women say, “Men are…” because I’m not like that. And it feels like I’m being attacked for something I didn’t do!

I hear this response from men a lot. And I get it. This is a perfectly natural defense response. When someone says something bad about me, my natural instinct is to defend myself.

The problem is, this conversation isn’t really about men. The #MeToo movement is about how women are not safe in this world we have created. This is like when a teacher in a second grade classroom says, “All who haven’t turned in their homework need to stay in from recess to finish.” And Jonny raises his hand and says, “Teacher I’ve finished my homework.” Well good for you Jonny. Obviously, I’m not talking about you, then. When you cry, “But I’m not like that!” You’re making yourself the center of a conversation that isn’t about you. And when you’re defending yourself, you are unable to listen to the voices of millions of women saying, “We have all lived with some form of sexual assault. All of us. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

Doesn’t our safety mean anything to you?

Lindsey Painter is a writer, teacher, and mother of two. She’s married to Jimmy Painter, a pastor in Northern California.

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