This photo isn't easy to share. Neither is the story that goes with it.
I had just climbed the highest point of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. My parents and I were on a vacation visiting national parks across Utah and at the last minute we decided to check out the Grand Canyon. My dad had traveled there with his dad when he was younger and I thought it would be a nice moment for he and I to share. My dad's the one who taught me photography. His dad was also a photographer, and it kind of got passed down to me. My mom, who simply doesn't do heights, waited by the restaurant as my dad and I ventured along the trail to the rim.
When we got there, I climbed up this cliff, leaving my dad below with my camera and his (it was too sketchy to make the climb with my camera in hand). I had wanted this epic photo of me basically on top of the world. "Take a photo with my camera," I hollered at him. He looked at both cameras, confused. "It's the one around your neck," I said. He aimed my camera at me. I looked down and told him the lens cap was still on. "Why can't I see you?" he asked, just looking at the screen on the body of the camera. "You have to look through the viewfinder," I responded. "Okay, I have the perfect shot," he tried to convince himself. "You have the lens cap still on," I said. Tears were welling in my eyes. He didn't understand how to use a camera anymore. He could manage an easy digital one or his phone, but not a single-lens reflex camera (SLR) similar to what he taught me to use years ago, the one he gave me that he got when he served in Vietnam.
My dad took a photo of me. Luckily for me, it was from far away, because I couldn't stop the tears running down my face as I stood there. There, on top of the world, while my entire world was shifting below me. He was fading away right before my eyes. I climbed back down and we walked back to meet my mom at the restaurant (which is where she took this photo of us). The walk back to meet her was silent between my dad and I. We both knew something huge had just happened, but didn't want to acknowledge it with any words. Instead we kept moving, trying to enjoy the view.
This was only two years after my dad was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. It's been seven years. He's in the middle stage now, and doesn't really take any photos anymore. He goes on walks and listens to music. He's still the same human deep in there, but the person I grew up knowing, the man who taught me the art of photography, the fearless man who I used to go on epic hikes with, he's sitting back on the rim of the Grand Canyon with his own camera in hand, capturing moments of life and smiling.
I remember texting my friend, asking her if she thought it was weird that I was going to grab a drink with a male coworker one evening. I thought it was a little strange he asked me out, me knowing he was married, but it seemed friendly and innocent enough. We walked to a nearby bar, each had a beer, shared an order of onion rings, and that was it.
A couple months later, at the office holiday party, I remember dancing with some coworkers, only to look up to the balcony and see him watching me. I smiled. He smiled back. We had become friends since our first beer and onion ring outing. It was nice. I enjoyed hanging out with him.
A bunch of us continued the holiday party to an Irish pub nearby. I remember it was raining. I don't remember much else. It's all kind of a blur of images between me leaving the bar, this male coworker following me down the street, pulling me aside and kissing me under an awning. The only reason I distinctly remember the rain is because of how miserable I was standing in a puddle of water trying to hail a cab, trying to get away from this man as fast as possible after pushing him away. I remember sobbing to my friend on the phone as the cab drove me away. I remember asking, "is it my fault?" I remember the gut wrenching pain I felt that night. I remember feeling so incredibly low and ashamed. I didn't want to go into work. I didn't want to go anywhere. And I blamed myself over and over again for his actions. I counted it as my mistake. Maybe I had flirted too much. Maybe I liked the attention. Maybe I was looking for the attention from a man because the guy I was seeing at the time was treating me like utter crap.
I remember sitting in a psychiatrist's office the morning after the holiday party. The appointment had been scheduled for weeks, but timing worked out great for me. He recommended a therapist to me, which helped me deal with some of my issues with men. Not all, because they never go away completely. I can't forget the other married one who groped me in my car after a small cast party which I was the designated driver for, me hoping he was too drunk to forget that uncomfortable situation. He wasn't, and wanted to pursue an affair (to which I said hard pass). I can't forget the guy I worked with at the feed store who pinched my ass (to which I turned around and punched him in the arm). More than that though, I can't forget the stories I've heard from my friends, both male and female over the years. And you know what? It's not fair that we have to continue to relive these moments, to share these accounts, in order for everyone else to wake up and pay attention.
Sure, expel Harvey Weinstein from the Academy, but let's not focus on one awful human being when we need to shine a big massive light on this systemic problem that's been going on for years. Going back to what I wrote about in my last blog, The Tyranny of Masculinity, this is something we need to find solutions for instead of continuing to point out the problems. As Jackson Katz (seriously, watch his TED talk) says, "We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women... Even the term 'violence against women' is problematic. It's a passive construction; there's no active agent in the sentence. It's a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term 'violence against women,' nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them... Men aren't even a part of it!"
While I do think it's important we hear and share the #MeToo stories, we also need to keep in mind that the perpetrators people are writing about aren't just monsters that go away when we turn the light on. No, these are people in our everyday lives. One of my favorite Instagrammers, @feministastic posted this today and I had to share because I couldn't have said it better myself:
This is not to say that #MeToo is a bad thing at all; just that, once again, the burden falls on the oppressed group (people who have been assaulted/harassed) to appeal to the moral sense of their oppressors. @femmefeministe explains, "Each time I pour my soul into a piece about assault, I draw out words and put them together with the hope that someone will feel connected or some sense of solidarity.
I write for victims, but I also write for those who don’t know what it’s like, I have written with the hope that those of you who have never felt themselves shredded and stripped of their autonomy will hear us and fight alongside us because we need more people to stand up against rape culture.
We march, we carry signs, we hold hands, we cry, we scream — but who’s listening? Sometimes it feels as if no matter how many times we write our stories, no matter how many statistics we show you, you don’t really care. For a moment you ingest our pain; you read details and see flashes of images pushed into the sentences we stitch together. Perhaps you almost feel a sense of revulsion, or even guilt.
You think we were raped by monsters, but the people in our nightmares are people like your fathers, your brothers, your friends... How many stories will we have to write for you to care? Or have you read too many of our horrors? Are you desensitized now? Your friend made a rape joke, but hey, he’s a good guy. Right?
I won’t tell you about the person who destroyed me. I won’t tell you about the scars. I won’t tell you about the night terrors or the depression or the anxiety or loneliness — because, to you, I’m just another bitch who was probably asking for it. I’m a statistic you will forget, these words of mine, you will forget but I will go back to bed and not have the luxury of forgetting.
I am tired of proving to you just how difficult it is to recover. I cannot do that labor anymore. The numbers are out there for you to research: the essays, the songs, the art and the speeches are there for you to absorb and carry within your heart so that perhaps one day you can find the time to actually help us dismantle rape culture.”
So yeah, #MeToo. And yeah, I hated being reminded of that male coworker who followed me after the office party years ago, because it brings me back to that moment of sobbing in the cab. I don't want to relive that, but I also don't want young men and women to have to live through situations like that themselves as well. That's the thing though, isn't it? It shouldn't have to fall on the survivors to prevent it from happening again. We've done enough and have lived through it. What about you? Those who are remaining silent. Those of you who are standing by watching all this happen. Those of you reading the statuses and the comments, saying how you get in almost fights defending harassment. Those of you who say you're heartbroken seeing so many of your friends share #MeToo. Those of you who have witnessed sexual assault and said nothing. Done nothing. Those of you who enabled people like Weinstein for years, knowing full well what was going on. Where's your action with all of this? And what are you going to do now that you know the monsters aren't just going to go away because we've turned the lights on?
I've been thinking a lot about that word a lot lately. Masculinity. It's hard not to with the news surrounding Stephen Paddock and the Las Vegas shooting, Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault allegations, Trump, with well everything he says and does. My partner was recently watching Manhunt: Unabomber, and as I caught bits and pieces of it in the background, I found it interesting to hear the history behind the Unabomber, what were the causes that led him to those horrendous life-altering decisions. There's some kind of empathy that goes with it when you learn more about the type of upbringing a person like that had. You see them more than what their actions represent and realize there's layer after layer built onto them as a person. There's things that happen in all of our lives that shape us, change us, and influence us to become the person we are today. So what is happening to men that leads them to behave in such an atrocious manner?
Now, I'm not pointing fingers at men, saying "What's wrong with you? It's all your fault!" On the contrary, I'm looking at our culture and trying to figure out what we can all do to help the toxic masculinity syndrome that's been breeding for far too long.
"The feelings of entitlement behind so many mass shootings may explain why shooters skew not just male but white male. According to the findings of a 2013 study at the University of Washington: “Among many mass killers, the triple privileges of white heterosexual masculinity which make subsequent life course losses more unexpected and thus more painfully shameful ultimately buckle under the failures of downward mobility and result in a final cumulative act of violence to stave off subordinated masculinity.” As Madfis explains, “If we’re talking about mass murderers, they often have gone through life with a series of losses—they’ve failed in lots of respects, haven’t gotten jobs they wanted, been passed over for promotion, these kinds of things. Then something bad happens, they get fired, there’s kind of an acute event” that triggers the shooting."
I recently watched a couple TED talks surrounding this subject. In the first one, I found it interesting that Tony Porter's 2010 talk titled "A call to men" ended with him bringing up his daughter and the type of world he envisions her living in. He says, "how do I want men to be acting and behaving?" in relation to her. Yet, he didn't bring up his son (who he mentioned at the beginning) and the type of world he envisions for him or what actions he can take as he grows up. Why is that? Why do we tend to focus more on the world we want young girls to grow up in but not young boys? Do we assume they're taken care of? That it's more important for girls to feel safe than to help men from acting out in a dominate manner?
In the second TED video, Jackson Katz turned the table with his talk "Violence against women — it's a men's issue". He focused on the type of language we use (based on the feminist linguist Julia Penelope's work) and how important it is to ask a different set of questions when looking at violence. Now, instead of reiterating it, I want to share with you exactly what he said: "Because this isn't about individual perpetrators. That's a naive way to understanding what is a much deeper and more systematic social problem. The perpetrators aren't these monsters who crawl out of the swamp and come into town and do their nasty business and then retreat into the darkness. That's a very naive notion, right? Perpetrators are much more normal than that, and everyday than that. So the question is, what are we doing here in our society and in the world? What are the roles of various institutions in helping to produce abusive men? What's the role of religious belief systems, the sports culture, the pornography culture, the family structure, economics, and how that intersects, and race and ethnicity and how that intersects? How does all this work?"
Jackson Katz's TED talk is from 2012, by the way.
"I understand that a lot of women who have been trying to speak out about these issues, today and yesterday and for years and years, often get shouted down for their efforts. They get called nasty names like "male-basher" and "man-hater," and the disgusting and offensive "feminazi", right?"
The language sure has shifted over the years (note the sarcasm, please). Nowadays, women just get called "nasty" if they speak up.
"And you know what all this is about? It's called kill the messenger. It's because the women who are standing up and speaking out for themselves and for other women as well as for men and boys, it's a statement to them to sit down and shut up, keep the current system in place, because we don't like it when people rock the boat. We don't like it when people challenge our power. You'd better sit down and shut up, basically. And thank goodness that women haven't done that. Thank goodness that we live in a world where there's so much women's leadership that can counteract that."
Again, this talk is from 2012, so I wonder where the women's leadership lies nowadays. In a world where the Education Secretary (who is a woman) scrapped a key part of government policy on campus sexual assault, where the President is rolling back the birth control mandate because it's important to focus on limiting women's reproductive rights rather than gun control. With all this, it's evident how scared the current administration is of women and men speaking up, wanting to shift the system, and free others from toxicity of masculinity we've been seeing. The masculinity of men carrying tiki torches, so afraid of their role in society being compromised.
"But strip away the so-called toxic aspects of masculinity: the aggression, the violence, the hate, the guns, and what are you left with? Strength, endurance, a woody-scented perfume, a liking for the colour blue? Certainly nothing that need be associated with manhood or maleness. These are simply individual qualities. The only reason to code them as “masculine” is to preserve a social hierarchy that ought to be destroyed."
We see men like Harvey Weinstein who claim they need training on how to be appropriate in the work place and to women, saying his behavior is due to growing up in a different age. To quote Jackson Katz again, "My argument is, he doesn't need sensitivity training. He needs leadership training, because he's being a bad leader, because in a society with gender diversity and sexual diversity and racial and ethnic diversity, you make those kind of comments, you're failing at your leadership." And how can we not hear that, look at Weinstein, and then look at Trump and hear the leader of the United States say "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now."
We see it. We hear it. We know toxic masculinity exits, and yet so many people will say things like "boys will be boys," and let it go. No. We cannot be silent when we hear that. We cannot be silent with any of these situations. It's time we stop being bystanders and get involved. The topic of toxic masculinity is a hard one to tackle, but it's important to recognize it than to just pretend it doesn't exist in hopes that it will go away. Young boys are still being brought up with the idea that they shouldn't cry, that conquering women is the goal, that if they fail - then their manhood is in question.
I've started coaching a group of young girls through a running program. The other day, we were outside and their male classmates yelled at them, "have fun at girls on the walk" (implying girls can't run). The girls asked me to call them jerks, but I told them I couldn't do that because I have to set a good example. I want to be a good leader for all genders. Because, while a lot of my work focuses on empowering girls and women, I don't want to leave behind the boys and men who are struggling to find their place in society as well.
So I replied to the boys, "I don't know what you're talking about. These girls run." Not at all what I would have liked to say. I would have liked to ask them why they felt the need to make fun of the girls. But I know the answer. They're jealous they don't have a group of their own to partake in. And if there was a group dedicated to empowering young boys, people would say that's only feeding into the patriarchy or something like that. Which yeah, some of those that I've seen out there seem like they're doing that. But there are some organizations dedicated to mentoring young boys, which is awesome. We need more of that. Because if we continue to only focus on lifting women up, we're going to leave behind a lot of people who are struggling to find their place in the world too.
"Well, the tyranny of masculinity and the tyranny of patriarchy I think has been much more deadly to men than it has to women. It hasn't killed our hearts. It's killed men's hearts. It's silenced them; it's cut them off."
Again, we all have our own stories and backgrounds that have shaped us into the people we are today. And toxic masculinity isn't going anywhere anytime soon. But it starts somewhere and we don't have to be silent about it. One way to start taking action against it is to take the following pledge with the Representation Project: "I pledge to use my voice to challenge society's limiting representations of gender." Other ways to get involved are signing up for their campaign and newsletter for more information, continue to educate yourself and others, and join forces with those in your life that are leading by an amazing example for our children. It's up to all of us. Not just men. Not just women. We all have to partake in this conversation and get involved to see the changes we want to see.