There was a period in my life from about my mid twenties to my late thirties where I attributed the failures in my dating life to what I realize now, are extremely misogynist reasons. A lot of it can be summed up in what has become known as “nice guy syndrome” where I thought I was owed romantic love/sex just for not being a terrible person. Typically I would just do the lame thing and just try to hang around them as much as I could hoping they would see the light, and instead frustrating myself by trying to see signs that weren’t there. I used to think I was harmless and that the only person I was hurting was myself.
But I know now that wasn’t true at all. Actually, I should say is that I did know at the time that I was treating these women badly1. I did it because I was angry at the women for not giving me what I thought I deserved as a man. And whether or not I saw it, I am sure that feeling came out in how I spoke to and acted towards them.
There was one woman I was especially bad with. I won’t go into specifics about the situation because we still have friends in common and I don’t want to re-victimize her. But I will say that I called her. A lot. This was before cell phones as we know them today existed, so she couldn’t just shut off her phone or block my number like she would be able to today. She stopped returning my calls. I kept calling. I left long and dumb messages. I did this for a long time, despite her never communicating that she had any romantic interest in me. She rightly never spoke to me again, but this does not change the fact that my actions fall squarely under the definition of harassment. I have done this to varying levels with other women, but this one was definitely the worst.
I am deeply ashamed of myself for this. I’ve not bothered her since and moved on with my life, but I’ll never be able to change the fact that for a while, I made her life appreciably worse. I didn’t sexually assault her or do other depraved things that public figures have been exposed to have done recently. But here’s the real terrible truth – I can’t say that I know for sure that I wouldn’t have. And that is because my behavior, the behavior of Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein all come from the same shitty fucked up place – patriarchy rooted in the principle that women are inferior to men. Who’s to say that my behavior wouldn’t have led to more if given the chance? I’m lucky I realized this before I took my misogyny to the next level, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that the seed for much worse behavior is inside me.
I’m very conflicted about writing about this publicly2 because I don’t know if it helps in any real way. On the one hand we know social media is one of the principal mediums in which we discuss these issues now. But on the other hand, I’m not sure how much real “discussion” happens. I’ve seen plenty of vague acknowledgements of the issue by other men on social media. I’ve also seem men make it about themselves and their own shock that this was happening this whole time around them3. I wonder if men speaking up on this is just another example of mansplaining. I hope not, but honestly, I still haven’t come up with an answer.
More than anything though, I very very very very much don’t want people to praise me for posting this, which I think is our natural reaction to things like this on social media. Because my behavior should be condemned, and that’s it, full stop. Me coming forward now, does nothing to change the fact that I caused harm to a woman because I believed she owed me more simply because I am a man. Whatever guilt I feel now is something that I alone should have to deal with.
But all too often I think we try to err on the side of inaction. I’m going to try not to do that here in order to let the women in my life who have #MeToo-ed, and those who haven’t – because let’s face it, it makes much more sense to assume that women who haven’t shared4 have been subject to sexual assault or harassment than it would be to assume that they haven’t – know that I see them and that I acknowledge the shittiness they have to endure because of the actions of people like me and to let them know that I have realized how terrible and harmful my beliefs and actions were.
The tipping point in my decision is seeing a social media post from a woman whose opinion I respect calling for more men to acknowledge their part and to name specifics about their situation, so that men sharing goes beyond virtue signalling and actively provides concrete experiences for men and women to consider when reflecting on their own experiences with harassment. And more importantly, to share so that it always doesn’t fall on the victimized to speak up on this issue. So this is me answering that call.
The last thing I want to say is that men need to let women lead on these issues. We should believe them, and when they ask us to do something to help fix stuff, we should do it, even if it makes us uncomfortable. So to the women in my life who read this, despite my past actions, I’m here to help in any way I can.
- Feigning ignorance is something I’ve commonly done to avoid responsibility for this. [↩]
- whatever that means [↩]
- If your reaction is shocked, it is because you probably chose to ignore women who have been telling you this your whole life [↩]
- And by “they” I mean all the women you know, even the non-adult ones [↩]