On the day Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee – she about a sexual assault she experienced and alleged was perpetrated by Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to the United States Supreme Court, and he in his defense – my college ex-boyfriend sent me an undoubtedly tipsy text after patroning a beer hall in Germany.
We’re friendly, so I didn’t find it odd that he was checking in – until I found out what he wanted to talk about.
“Hey, what’s up?” I asked.
“I’m drunk and pretty worried I was a Kavanaugh-y monster in college. Well, scared? I don’t recall myself that way. . . . But now I’m in a tent in the woods in Munich with a bunch of Australians and am trying to get my first college girlfriend to say I’m not a monster.”
Just FYI, this isn’t going to be a column about the Supreme Court nomination, and there aren’t going to be any opinions about that beyond my ex’s verbatim drunk, German beer-laced reaction above, so relax. Now, moving on.
My mouth fell open in surprise. Laughter quickly poured out of it. Knowing he was sincere, I composed myself to reassure him that – while he full well knows he wasn’t the best boyfriend, and frankly, while he was often quite drunk around me – he never did anything that I would even put on the scale of sexual assault, period. Not even on the same page. Not even in the same book. Not even on the same bookshelf.
I was shocked that he’d even ask, but after that subsided, I felt gratitude. I have never, ever, had a man ask me if he was making me feel uncomfortable – not in the moment, and not after. I can think of many instances where I wish they had. A few where I wish they had listened when I said that I was. And several where I was too naïve to know I should be uncomfortable.
But I also felt frustrated that such a well-meaning retrospective review of male-female interactions would come from someone who shouldn’t have to worry about such a thing, rather than someone who should.
A few times in the past week, I’ve read and listened to some commentary on this topic. The discussion has revolved largely among young men, since, presumably, those are the majority still in the dating game. BBC News, for example, ran a story titled, “Brett Kavanaugh accusations: Are young men in America scared?” And, on CNN: “Trump: ‘This is a very scary time for young men in America.’”
Such discussions have made me wonder . . . are Millennial men, and those younger, really scared? If a guy like my ex was questioning his past interactions with women, how are other men feeling? Are they even thinking about this? Are they anxious? And . . . should they be?
So, I asked Millennial men in my social network to tell me how they’re feeling. This is what they said.
One who traveled in my circles in college reached out when he saw my Facebook post on the topic. I haven’t heard from him in eight years, which made it crystal clear to me that he was being forthright. Why else would he bother? Despite not wanting his name printed, he wanted me, and people who read this column, to understand his experience. Much, I think, like Ford originally wanted when she sent her letter to her senator.
He told me he was “100% nervous in this environment,” and that he has had two women accuse him of sexual harassment since the #MeToo movement erupted. In one instance, a woman he said initiated a hug claimed it was sexual assault, and another did the same when he accidentally grazed her arm. “At this point due to the increase in hostile emotions from the left (in my opinion) I refrain from even giving a high-five to women now,” he wrote in a private message.
What upset me was the next thing he had to say. “The #MeToo movement has blown up WAY out of proportion. It is a double standard. Men cannot use it (I tried and was laughed at by a woman from a sexual assault I experienced in college).”
While some men have taken #MeToo as an opportunity to express their own experiences with sexual assault – because, while less common, men of course are victims too – it was disturbing to hear that a man has been shamed for doing just that. And it’s inexcusable.
Others who responded largely did so along a similar vein. A friend of a friend, whom I have met only on one occasion, said, “I’d say the #MeToo movement has caused me to reflect on my interactions with women in new ways. It’s been a positive thing.” #MeToo has not made him nervous, he said. “I’m not important or rich enough to be targeted by false allegations, and I’ve always tried my best to live above reproach, so I’d hope if I were somehow targeted, that my character testimony and honesty would hold up,” he explained. He added that he understood why men in power would be nervous, “either out of fear of false allegations or because they only they’ve been skeezy in the past.”
Someone I was in a theater club with in college said that the #MeToo movement has caused him to reflect on interactions he has had with women in the past, and to ask his close female friends how he can do better.
Another male acquaintance said that if #MeToo “makes guys have second thoughts about saying unsolicited inappropriate things and ends up with guys making fewer creepy comments, that’d be a nice byproduct.”
A guy I was quite close with in college – he dated my best friend, after all – said that he was nervous not for himself, but because of “men and boys who are so quick to jump on the fear train about false accusations.” He explained, “It shows me that even a perceived threat towards men is more important to them than the statistically more common threats facing women.”
While he led with his more enlightened current stance on male-female interactions, he was also honest about past behaviors he regretted. “The rise of the #MeToo movement definitely caused me to personally reflect on past behaviors, realizing just how many times I made a woman uncomfortable and I was too unaware or selfish to care,” he said.
What did I learn from this outpouring of responses? (By the way, there are more, but I don’t have room to share them all.)
Well, first off, the fact that I heard from men I haven’t spoken with in years told me that this is an issue that men are taking very seriously, and that, if given the opportunity to have their feelings made known, they’ll take it. But most won’t take that opportunity unless they’re anonymous; only one of them gave me express permission to use his name.
That speaks volumes. Some men are nervous of being falsely accused of sexual assault or impropriety, but even those who say they aren’t worried about this are not fully comfortable voicing their opinions on the topic.
Why is that? I’d hazard to guess it’s because they fear being lambasted for weighing in on what has been largely characterized as a women’s movement. While rapes and sexual assaults disproportionately affect women, by far, they also happen to men too – like my friend from college. And he deserves to be heard, just like we all want to, without fear of reproach.
Millennial men, and men of all ages, shouldn’t be afraid to speak about the #MeToo movement. No one should. We should be able to all discuss this openly among all genders, and those non-conforming. Just do me a favor, and do not shout each other down. Do not laugh at each other. Just listen. And when you disagree, do it with empathy. What you hear will probably surprise you.
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