Along with others, I have felt relief, sorrow, and frustration watching hundreds of “me, too” posts and narratives flood my feed. Relief that our society is paying attention to the epidemic of misogynist violence in a new way, that we are having crucial conversations about how bad it is and what to do about it. Sorrow at the amount of suffering and oppression it highlights (I will not say reveals… anyone who bothered to look would know the scope and severity of this nightmare). Frustration that it seems no matter how many media campaigns emerge – #VDay, #YesAllWomen, etc – I cannot tell whether we are making any progress at all. It does not seem to me that my daughters are any safer today than they were ten years ago. If anything, it seems that our culture has begun accepting open, flagrant misogyny in new and unprecedented ways and degrees.
However, it does seem that more and more people are pointing out that in order to stop most rape and harassment, we must teach boys and men not to rape and harass people, especially not girls and women who are the main victims of abuse. Various types of pledges, apologies, question prompts, confessions, and other statements from male allies have emerged on social media. In addition, there’s the usual round of women criticizing each of these responses from male allies. As usual, the Left loves to eat its own.
I view allies on a spectrum, and I try to recognize where different men are on this spectrum, and how to help them move forward to the next level. If we truly want to heal rape culture, if we truly want to build a world that is safer for each generation, we must put down our egos, our need to win every argument, our smugly satisfied self-righteousness, and adopt effective strategies that will actually do what we claim to want to do.
The way I see it, the spectrum of misogyny ranges from toxic masculinity to safe ally, depending on how much they have overcome the cultural programming of patriarchy. Multiple studies show that over 50% of men say they would rape a woman if they thought they could get away with it. So I divide the spectrum of misogyny into a lower half, of men who are very high risk for committing rape/assault, and an upper half, of men who are lower risk for committing rape/assault. The divisions among these categories obviously overlap and blur, but this general continuum describes a range of attitudes and behaviors that increase in safety.
1 – At the very bottom of the spectrum are the buyers and sellers of women: men who produce and film pornography, run sex slave trafficking rings, pimps, and other men who practice the worst kinds of mass cruelty.
2 – Serial rapists and abusers throughout society, including male porn actors, who repeatedly participate in violent and degrading sex and rape of trafficking victims, hire prostitutes, go to strip clubs, buy lap dances.
3 – Openly, proudly misogynist men – such as Donald Trump, the Men’s Rights Activists (MRA), and other men who brag about assaulting women. These men are also serial rapists – or if they are not, it is only because they have not figured out how to achieve those goals. They usually hire prostitutes, go to strip clubs, watch porn.
4 – Sympathizers – these men may not openly boast about assault, but they relate to people such as Trump and admire their machismo. These men have likely committed rape, assault, and harassment, and they feel justified in their behavior, even if they can see it causes harm. They might hire prostitutes and usually visit strip clubs and watch porn.
5 – Indifferent – these men do not really admire Trump or MRA ideas, but they do not really see the big deal. They have most likely committed rape, assault, and harassment without being interested in whether they are causing terrible harm. They shrug and ignore these debates. They might hire prostitutes and likely visit strip clubs and watch porn.
4 – Self-Satisfied Denier – these men reject open misogynists such as Trump and the MRA, and they place themselves in a category of “good guys” or “nice guys” who would never be like those creeps. They threaten to beat up any men who try to harm their womenfolk. Meanwhile, they rape, assault, and harass women without defining it as such. They have sex with women who are drunk or asleep, they pressure their partners into doing sexual acts that are painful, degrading, or otherwise unwelcome, they stare at women in public places, catcall, make degrading evaluations of women they know, their partners, and strangers, and generally do not see women as human – and they get defensive if challenged. They watch porn, have occasionally gone to strip clubs, but do not hire prostitutes. They might be willing to allow their wife to keep her last name without complaining too much.
3 – Self-Satisfied False Ally – these men condemn open misogyny, do not catcall or try to have sex with women who cannot consent (drunk or asleep), they try to avoid sexist jokes, but sometimes they say sexist things in an awkward attempt to be clever, or laugh at subtly sexist humor. They sometimes repeat feminist talking points, and they self-identify as allies or feminists. They are sometimes open to feedback from women about ways they are still unsafe or misogynist, but other times, they reject such feedback because they prefer a pat on the back for their efforts. Sometimes, they say nothing because they worry about saying the wrong thing. They may or may not watch porn, but they secretly deny how violent it is. They want their sexual partners to achieve orgasm, but they do not take responsibility for making sure it happens each time. They occasionally pressure their partner into having sex when she isn’t really into it. They occasionally call out other men for open misogyny. They sometimes say and do things that objectify or disrespect women, such as mansplaining, manipulating their partner to make her appearance please him (such as clothing, hair, body hair, size, etc). They retain subconscious patterns of unexamined privilege regarding gender roles (such as household duties, appropriate behavior). They occasionally advocate for obvious feminist issues, such as rape or wage gaps. They may occasionally use inclusive language, but they do not make it a priority to avoid sexist language. He is proud that he supports his wife keeping her own last name.
2 – Humble Moderate Ally – these men often call out sexist behaviors they see in other men. They often try to listen to feedback women give them and learn to be better allies. They do not watch any porn and somewhat understand how violent it is, but they do not understand the scope of the objectification and dehumanization of women in media. They ask women questions in order to be better allies. They prioritize making sure all sexual encounters are consensual. They prioritize giving their sexual partners orgasms, but they do not think it is a big deal if it doesn’t happen. They work hard to overcome subconscious sexism about household duties, gender roles, sexuality, and privilege. They may not prioritize feminism often, but they will respond carefully to specific issues that arise. They do not quite understand how symbols/language (including religious language) justifies and perpetuates misogynist violence, so they will sometimes use male words as generic (“mankind,” “his,” “brother”) or repeat quotes from famous sources without changing the language. They may like it when inclusive language is used, but they will go along with sexist language when that is what they are handed (in a church service, etc). He is proud that he and his wife hyphenated their names together, and gave their hyphenated name to their children as well.
1 – Safe Ally – They actively educate themselves from a wide range of sources, rather than demanding answers from women around them. They prioritize feminist perspectives about every topic, including politics, ethics, economics, religion, education, parenting, law, etc. They receive feminist feedback gratefully, without defensiveness. They are extra careful that any sexual encounter is clearly, enthusiastically consensual. They make sure their sexual partners achieve orgasm each time, consider it more important than their own orgasm, and are grateful to their partners for the privilege of making love. They try to compensate for any unconscious sexism and privilege by taking on extra responsibility with housework, parenting, eldercare, and emotional loads. They avoid all sexist language/symbols and continually advocate for inclusive language. They educate other men and call out any misogyny they see. He is grateful that his wife wants to share her last name with him, with the whole family sharing their hyphenated name, and he encourages other men to do the same. They contact any women they believe they may have wronged in the past and seek to make amends. They continually work to improve their awareness of sexism and their ability to make the world safer for women and girls.
In Part 2, I will discuss how men and women can help men move higher along this scale, with strategies for social and personal change.
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross CulturalConflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. Previously a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation, Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland. Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.
25 thoughts on “Me, Too: How do we heal rape culture? — Part 1 by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”
Wow! I have never seen it spelled out quite this way. As you show us, there are far too many ways to still be a sexist man and only one way to be a feminist man! And with all the stages you name, it is difficult not to see that so many of the men we know and work with are still sexist. And yes I agree with you that purchasing sex and watching porn are beyond the pale! No matter how “good” a man might be in other ways.
Thank you, Carol. I am hoping that at least a few of the men who are chiming in trying to support the “me too” women will be willing to agree with you.
I have an issue with the following sentence: ”However, it does seem that more and more people are pointing out that in order to stop most rape and harassment, we must teach boys and men not to rape and harass people, especially girls and women.” It’s probably just semantics but the ‘especially girls and women’ can be construed as it being less of a problem to harass and rape other people?
how about “not to rape or harass girls or women–or anyone else”?
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Yes, or ‘… the far majority being girls and women’ ?
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Yes – I see your point. I did mean “the vast majority of whom are girls and women” – just trying to keep the word count down, but I’d hate to be misunderstood. If Kate is willing to change it, that’s great.
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Language, bringing an idea across, is difficult. One writes in the intensity of the moment.
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Like Carol, I say, “WoW!” As I was reading, one thought kept popping up. Perhaps you will deal with this later. What about women we know who feed into the various stages by their attitudes and/or comments. For instance, women who blame other women for the way they dress as a reason for rape; women who consistently use exclusive language; women who use religion as an excuse, referring to biblical statements that subordinate women?
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In regards to women and our unconscious collusion, we are all products of what the writer refers to as the “cultural programming of patriarchy.” When I hear a woman blame another woman or sympathize with men on this, I try to understand that collectively, we’ve also bought in on some emotional level, even if we were coerced into it. There’s no room for sister blame. I am disgusted by the abuse, harassment, rape, and disempowerment of women, and I have to look in the mirror and think about the times I went along with the joke instead of standing up, I didn’t respond to a sexist comment when I should have screamed, or I simply didn’t show up. I’m all about helping men move up the scale (isn’t that what we always do?), but as women, maybe we all need to find our voices in big ways. I, like pretty much every woman I know, can say “me too.” This is my opportunity to say enough. I will not go along to get along. I have a 10-year-old son and it scares the hell out of me. How do I raise him to be a safe ally?
I appreciate this article and know we have a long road ahead of us. But I’ve got a good pair of boots, and I’m all in.
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Melissa, thank you for your comment. I have to say that so much is colored by my place as a minister in a patriarchal tradition. Our tradition says we have always ordained women, but women have the most difficult time being called to pastor a church. Women in this case, are sometimes the worst, being the deciding voice on a Search Committee. You are so right, we come out of our experiences and I’m with you – with boots on and ready to walk the talk.
Thank you both. Yes, this is a super important issue. The way I plan to frame it is to encourage men to help other men, and women to help other women. We are all on a journey, and I certainly cringe to look back at some of my former ideas. Shaming won’t get anyone anywhere. But helping – various kinds of helping – I hope will move people along at a pace they can handle.
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I appreciate this discussion thread. In addition to the referenced patriarchy norms that contribute to women victim-blaming women too, there’s another factor at play — often sub-consciously. It’s the assumption that if we can find something that the victim did wrong, then that can help keep us safer too — we simply don’t do that and then we’re safer. This is a false narrative that permeates our society. Examples are “What was she wearing?” “Why did she go to his apartment?” “Why did she drink (or how much)?” “Why did she do this activity at night?” This is nothing more than victim-blaming & accomplishes nothing that will actually keep us safer. The truth is that the only thing that can prevent rape is rapists choosing not to rape.
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“If anything, it seems that our culture has begun accepting open, flagrant misogyny in new and unprecedented ways and degrees.”
Not to be in touch with this trend is to remain in a state of denial of what is.
Thank you for this wonderful article. I think it’s particularly important because it helps women define where their men stand in relationship to rape/misogyny if they have the courage… many do not, others are in denial – not wanting to know.
I fervently wish I could say that I knew men who are genuine allies of women.
I don’t. I do however know a few men who are trying. Changing misogynist attitudes takes generations and we have been living with this reality for thousands of years. Today it is currently being supported in new and horrific ways as our culture continues to disintegrate.
I am also beginning to wonder if it is even possible for a man to get inside a woman’s head and body to understand her perspective?
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Well said, Sara – and perspective-taking is perhaps the single most important factor in reducing bias and intergroup conflict. My hope is that the men who are sincerely trying will find this scale useful. I’m also trying to write out an actual, comprehensive score sheet, broken into components, so men can score themselves on the various issues (porn, sex, language, work, structures, etc) – but it’s not easy to write, these issues all blend in various ways. Trying to wrap my mind around these somehow so I can be useful, but it sure feels like misogyny is a very tough slog these days. Thank you for your insights.
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I was also thinking of the women who support abusers with excuses. Or perhaps out of fear?
Just reading Facebook, I came across this clip from a Canadian comedy show called “22 Minutes”. Even women in authority can be assaulted.
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Barbara – such good points. IMO all the excuses are actually based in some kind of fear. That was a good clip, and it reminds us that men who are especially terrified and insecure will target the most powerful women they can, if they think they can get away with it – because it helps them feel powerful, manly, successful as men, masculine. It reassures them that no matter how powerful a woman may seem, they are inferior to him simply because he gets to be a man. Patriarchy trains them in this fear and need for reassurance through violence. It’s stomach-turning and horrifying.
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Thanks for this comment, Trelawney, where you say — “If anything, it seems that our culture has begun accepting open, flagrant misogyny in new and unprecedented ways and degrees.”
I was reading an online article recently titled “Sexism is Widespread in Nature,” by Stefan Anitei. One interesting example the essay gave said:
“Nowhere is the natural world’s gender inequity more transparent, than in the unfair burden females assume for the rearing of offspring. Take the behavior of the ring-neck pheasant (we should add, of all pheasants and related species). After mating, the male immediately abandons the hen, leaving her responsible for the total care for the chicks.”
Heh heh – yeah, as much as I respect Natural Law and figuring out what we can learn from otherkind about ethics, it always makes me shake my head when people in the Naturalist/Primitive Skills community try to argue for very sexist gender roles/division of labor, etc, based on other species. I prefer to be the queen bee, thank you. :)
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Great article, Trelawney! I think I can honestly say I am totally opposed to misogyny, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and improprieties in any form.
Thank you, Tim. I always appreciate your efforts to be an ally. Rock on!
This is great… mostly.
Gotta say, the major emphasis on orgasms kind of creeps me out.
Fetishizing orgasms is very goal-oriented and porny, not authentic or allowing partners to just be and experience in the moment. i find men who try to “give” women orgasms creepy and the whole concept is possessive – they think its their place to take responsibility for someone else’s body.
And the whole ‘grateful for the opportunity’ thing frames women as the providers of sex FOR men. As usual. The only difference is how grateful the men ought to be for being allowed access to the prize. Again… gives me the creeps.
Also, lets mention lesbians! We can learn a lot about a man by how he responds to women who not only say “no” to him, but who see no use for a relationship with any man ever. Does Mr Feminist Ally admit that he feels lesbianism is ‘unnatural?’ If so – watch out! Rapey misogynist alert!
Thank you, Sarah. I can see your point. I was trying to address the pattern in our society in which men see sex as an opportunity for them to have an orgasm by using a woman’s body. Sex ends after he has his orgasm. He does not know, or particularly care, whether or not she had one. And women are socialized to accept this pattern as natural and reasonable. So my intent was not to make women’s bodies the “prize” so much as to make men stop taking them for granted within a relationship, and stop treating them as a object, during sex. Those are such ubiquitous patterns that it seemed like a helpful way to reframe sexuality away from them. But I can see what you are saying – I would not want anyone to think that I support possessive men, coercive sex, or women as sex-providers.
Good point about lesbians. I am bisexual, but I do not feel particularly comfortable speaking FOR lesbians. I certainly do want to encourage men to have healthy, respectful attitudes toward lesbians, and I agree – male attitudes toward lesbians can reveal a lot about how safe the men are.
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