By Tori Muzyk
Use coupon code ALLY at checkout to get 15% off in all our products, you will be supporting the writer by using it.
Men are excellent at claiming a space as their own. They can remove safety from a city block with the flick of their tongue. This skill is transferable on digital platforms as well. I was recently attacked on my own social media profile for having a body that a white man, over the age of sixty, deemed fuckable.
Just like that, with one comment, I watched as my fellow female-identifying feminists took to the streets, the streets being the comments section. Modern-day feminists deemed his hyper-sexualization of my body as what it was: disgusting, deliberately aggressive, dehumanizing, triggering.
It wasn’t until a woman of a different wave of feminism chimed in on how this man was, “Simply being funny” and, “Even before she saw his comment on my photo she felt as though I was objectifying myself” that I joined in. I explained that having a body does not give a man permission to sexualize me nor does it mean I wish for him to publicly decree how my body turns him on.
A friend of mine added how objectification doesn’t happen when we pose in bathing suits but rather when we stop seeing a person as a person and merely a vessel for sexual satisfaction, consent be dammed.
The “feminist” circa 1960 apologized. She claimed to “understand our perspective now” but this game of ping pong continued, nevertheless. More men over the age of sixty tossed out statements like, “If you are in a bikini, you can’t expect us not to make comments” and “You can’t have it both ways” and other dated #NotAllMen rhetoric.
When Male Feminists Stay Silent on Social Media
As women continued to come to my defense, supporting the side of the argument where women have a body and a voice and a right to feel safe existing with both, I watched as white male allies did not flood to the streets as these women did. Rather, they came to my defense, privately, in my direct messages.
They remained hidden in their support for our fight, our work towards changing the culture. These men congratulated my bravery from the safety of private one-on-one message threads. I asked them what their closeted support lends to the cause? How does their hidden cheerleading allow me to gain the same safety men statistically hold in public and digital spaces? Many chose not to respond. Some took my questions as ungrateful, thankless proof that “I will never be satisfied.”
A small few apologized. Those male-identifying allies then took to the public comments, voicing their shared thoughts with us, “irrational and boisterous angry women.” I watched as the original aggressors welcomed the differing opinion of their fellow male, never seeing the point made by someone of their same gender to be hostile or ridiculous.
The Changing Culture
The culture is changing. This is a headline, a hashtag, and a trending topic I’ve seen over the last few years. Men are finally being held accountable. I see it across every one of my newsfeeds. But how many men are actually seeing the error of their ways?
I can count on one hand how many women I love, who I call friend, soulmate, sister, who has not been raped. When I was eighteen, I was taught that being too drunk made it my fault. How it hardly counted because I’d been flirting with him earlier. It was my word against his. When I was twenty-five, he didn’t know I didn’t want to. I needed another woman to remind me that everything other than a yes is a no.
I have often wondered if we lined men up and asked them if they’ve ever participated in nonconsensual sex (which should be called nothing other than rape) would they say no? How many would actually believe it? How many thought her tears were out of pleasure?
Men on Social Media: Squirrels and Seagulls
As the comments continued to expand, another category of men popped up in this Facebook war. I’ve likened them to squirrels. They’ll come close to you and the argument but scurry away the second you make direct eye contact.
These men made statements like, “I want to comment, but I’m afraid of being called out.” Their fellows replied with remarks explaining how “It only hurts for a minute.” Publicly recognizing their lack of awareness for the daily pain experienced when we’re catcalled, followed home, raped, murdered in our own beds, and forgotten come next week’s news cycle.
Some of these newly vocal male allies thought giving us permission would somehow be supportive. They commented, “I approve of everything that’s happening here” under my posts regarding absentee ballot voting and other slippery topics in today’s times. These men are seagulls. They go in for the leftover hotdog on the boardwalk and they miss by a mile. They had good intentions but it neither added nor supported our fight for safety in voice and in body.
What Action Can Look Like
Men have placed their ignorant, sometimes hateful, rhetoric at my feet without my consent since I was old enough to shave my legs. While in Argentina, I got accustomed to the spit of a catcall, the ones that followed me two blocks, sometimes four, sometimes only stopping when I arrived at the front door, I pretended to be mine. I never wanted them to know where I lived.
But these seagulls and squirrels feel new to me. Stinkbugs, they exist on every street corner. But the shy, well-intended, simultaneously unhelpful breed of men, are almost more exhausting. They ask women like me to applaud them for sliding into our DM’s in a respectful way, while still never bothering to make a poster, sign a petition, or attend a rally.
How do we teach them? Clearly, they know enough to warrant a reach out but not enough to publicly wear a pussy hat while taking on their fellow, albeit more ignorant, male. I think it starts by calling them out. Even if in doing so pushes them back towards misogyny.
When I responded to the men who arrived in my private messages rather than the public comments, I had no idea how quick the switch from, “You go girl” to, “What a bitch” was. Except, that switch proves how they were never feminists, to begin with, not in private or in public.
This movement requires education. That education must remain constant. There is no PhD for this level of ally-ship and activism. The waves of feminism have grown due to need and previous intentional exclusion. There must be room for all women, all gender non-binary folk, and anyone who wishes to join the cause. In order to do so, we must continue to question the intentions of those who remain performative and therefore problematic, as well as those who remain silent in times of need.
This looks like asking the so-called ally to do the following: ask questions, call a feminist they trust to support the education, encourage them to not get discouraged. They can visit their local bookstore and purchase Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks, Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks, to name a few. Our job is to arm ourselves with facts, questions, and patience. We need to engage in self-care. It is not always our job to push the movement forward.
We all need to listen with the intent to understand, rather than respond and we need not be ableist about this movement. There are plenty of ways to show up that do not look like attending a protest. However, a thumbs up emoji in our private messages does little for the movement as a whole.
Ask yourself, “What have I done today to support equality and change?” You can sign a petition, donate to a cause, volunteer your time, sponsor an event, and bring your support to what’s been deemed a social media fight, especially if you are a white, cis-gendered, straight identifying male. Utilize your privilege to question those not yet educated and to support those advocating for a more equal and safer world. Ensure you are not part of the problem so we can all keep moving forward.