I’m thinking about men today. Nope, not that way.
I’m thinking about this: What if you’re a man, a generally good man, who due to ignorance, wounding and the normalization of rape culture, has perpetrated sexually toward a woman or girl?
[Note: Some of you may not be what I call a “good man.” You may be a man who is incapable of feeling empathy, conscience and remorse. If that is you, and you probably know who you are, then this post is not for you.]
YOU DID THAT TO SOMEONE
So, Good Men: What if in the increasing conversation about Rape Culture it dawns on you that YOU did that to someone: You “grabbed her pussy,” or you bragged that you could. What if you minimized the harm done to a woman or girl through your inappropriate sexual comments, actions and projections directed toward her?
I’m imagining it would be pretty painful and shameful to wake up to that kind of awareness.
If that’s you I’m describing, I’d like to suggest a few things you can do right now to start making things right with yourself again, which may lead to things getting better in the world around you.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW TO HEAL
1. First of all, when you read about the ways in which public figures have shamed or mistreated women, don’t automatically separate yourself from them by putting them down or joking about how messed up they are.
Instead, do this: Tell yourself “I’ve done that.” Then, breathe and stay present with yourself. Be compassionate with yourself. Repeat this process over and over, not as a form of self-punishment, but as a way of busting your denial and being truthful with yourself. Being truthful with yourself is the royal road to inner freedom. Trust me on this.
2. A next step could be to share your story with a mature, wise friend–preferably male–who won’t minimize either you or your healthy sense of shame. A good therapist (preferably male) is another option here.
3. Another suggestion is that you refrain from laughing at the stories and jokes proffered by others (male and female) that demean women or anyone else. And then go one step further by saying: “I’m not feeling comfortable with this conversation.” And then explain why, perhaps including that you’re reflecting on the ways in which you’ve unconsciously contributed to Rape Culture.
4. Finally, make a living amends for the harm you’ve caused by making a donation of money, time and volunteer work for your local Rape Crisis Center. Ours here in Santa Fe is called Solace.
Healthy shame is a natural, instinctual response to our acting contrary to our core values. It’s important to pay attention to healthy shame as it is an ally in identifying and then changing those incongruent behaviors.
Toxic Shame, on the other hand, is a learned behavior that is intended to annihilate the worth of yourself or others as a means of having power over them.
Toxic shame is used to control or diminish you or others. It is invisible and infectious, especially in family systems that normalize it through the guises of religion and the narcissistic tyranny of emotionally immature adults.
Men—Rape Culture has fucked you up, too. You’ve been told that you and your love are worthless. In a Power-Over paradigm, a.k.a. Rape Culture, everyone loses. Men, women, children, animals, nature, the planet. Everyone.
It’s time to reclaim your worth, Men, by having the courage to own and take responsibility for healing the great wound you are carrying.
You learned to shame and devalue others (and in this case, we’re talking about the sexual degrading of women) because you were shamed and devalued.
To the extent that you, Good Man, are not owning your shame about yourself and your sexual improprieties, the girls and women onto whom you perpetrated will carry it as sexual shame, as body shame, as self-doubt.
But you can do something about this. You can help.
Toxic shame is a social and familial infection that can only be stemmed and contained when individuals take responsibility, feel appropriate remorse for their behaviors and then change those behaviors.
I believe in you, Good Men. I believe you can take responsibility and help both yourself and this world to be better, healthier, kinder and more loving.
You hold the key to letting yourself out of the prison of your secret shame, and you also have immense love and compassion-based power to share with the whole world.
I’m rooting for you. And I’m rooting for all of us.