CW: harrassment, assault, rape. What if I didn’t have to say this?
What if, instead of expecting girls and women to learn self-defense, we expected boys and men to learn self-control?
What if the onus of preventing abuse lay on the potential abusers and not on their victims?
What if we taught our children that words have meanings, that “no” means NO, that hesitation and silence do not mean yes, that their rights end exactly where another human’s rights begin?
What if we stopped saying, believing, even thinking for a hot second that “boys will be boys”? What if we recognized that this cliché is exactly as harmful as “a woman’s place is in the home,” both to girls and to boys?
What if we recognized that toxic masculinity is exactly as harmful to boys as it is to girls, that it twists everybody’s innocence and poisons everything?
What if it didn’t poison everything? What if it only hurt girls? Wouldn’t that still be just as good a reason to launch it straight into the sun?
What if everyone understood that words mean things, that “toxic masculinity” means “masculinity that is toxic” and not “all masculinity”?
What if “feminism,” in the twenty-freaking-first century, wasn’t a dirty word? What if the people who cringe at it, or bristle, or shout back, stopped to consider the fact that if “mankind” can apply to people of all genders, “feminism” can, too?
What if our outrage was sparked equally by the abduction, assault, murder of all girls and women, regardless of how young/pretty/white/thin/Western/straight/cis/wealthy they are?
What if there had never been barriers to girls’ and women’s achievement? How many times would we have cured cancer by now?
What if we believed girls? What if we believed women? What if we believed that boys and men are capable of unlimited goodness, and set our expectations accordingly? What if we acknowledged how utterly sexist and disgusting and unfair to boys and men it is to speak/act/believe as if all human males are irreversibly programmed to be criminals?
What if I was not incandescent with rage? How many novels could I have written with the time and energy I’ve spent reeling from, thinking about, writing about misogyny? What could I have done with the time boys and men have stolen from me, with the mental real estate they’ve taken over–from the carnie who tried to get me on a ride with him when I was ten to the boy in my 6th grade class who told me to start shaving my legs to the guy who grabbed me outside my dorm to the colleague who told me male students liked me because I was pretty to the guy who stopped his windowless van to shout at me on the street? What could my female friends and I have done with the time we’ve spent in rape-prevention classes, the time we’ve spent processing their assaults, the time we’ve spent explaining to girls that their bodies are their own?
What if productivity experts calculated the amount of time girls and women have lost to fear, to grief, to trauma, to the long slow uncertain process of healing? How many times, in that amount of time, could we have saved the world?
What if I wasn’t anxious every time I hit “publish” on a post like this? What if my mind didn’t churn through the list of everyone who might read it, wonder whether to engage or block? What if it was enough for a girl, for a woman, to share her lived experience? What if men just listened?
What if our time, our bodies, our lives, were our own?
3 thoughts on “What if…?”
I feel embarrassed reading this. Though I’ve done my best not to be a perpetrator and to teach other boys/men to do the same, it seems like we should be able to be better. I wish I had helpful words of hope or wisdom to add to yours, but I don’t.
Thanks for being one of the good ones, and thanks so much for your honesty. This is one of the thousand gross and awful things about toxic masculinity–that the good guys feel rotten about it while the jerks who should feel rotten don’t.
Most powerful and salient Brenna! I am so glad to read these words and so glad you shared. I just read through all your Florida-based posts for the first time (for some reason COVID has impacted my ability to correspond?) and I LOVE hearing your words and your cadence and your thoughts and it’s so nice to have them in my head again. Thank you for sharing this specifically. And this line struck me the most, and I hope it’s a concept that is translated or in your novel. “What if it didn’t poison everything? What if it only hurt girls? Wouldn’t that still be just as good a reason to launch it straight into the sun?” love you bunches and have been thinking of you a ton lately.
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