My father is a good man. He is supportive, loving, and a good role model for me and my brother. He’s active in the community. He continues to be emotionally supportive of my mother even though their relationship ended. He’s what the Gillette ad encouraged. Unfortunately, all his guidance and protection didn’t stop me from being raped and abused. And that’s not his fault. Or mine.
As a feminist, I often get told that — not asked if— I “hate men.” How on Earth could I hate men when I have such a loving father? I don’t hate men. Quite the contrary. Like many feminists, I’m concerned about people’s welfare, not the end of men. But like with most discourse these days, people with an agenda are quick to gloss over complexity in favor of screaming about straw men/women.
Recently someone commented on one of my stories about toxic masculinity. As a wonderful example that proved my point, he wrote a long, laughable response that gaslit me, asserting that if women had strong men in their lives they wouldn’t have any problems. In addition to mocking my (male) partner for being abused by a previous girlfriend, he suggested that my father didn’t teach me well enough to be cautious and protect myself from rape, and that women need only choose “good men” over “assholes.”
First of all, rape isn’t usually done by strangers leaping out of bushes. So all the caution in the world wouldn’t save me. Nor did rape happen to me while I was intoxicated. And of course, the rape was not my fault, nor is it any victim’s fault. It’s the rapist’s fault.
Second, although this person heavily implied that he is one of the “good men,” it is pretty dang toxic to mock someone’s parent. So I won’t say anything about what kind of parenting this guy must have had to instill in him such toxic ideas about gender roles and sexual assault.
I was sexually harassed by my boss, sexually assaulted by a friend, abused by a boyfriend. My father couldn’t spare me that. But that isn’t his fault.
My father was the guy who grilled, who mowed the lawn, who told dad jokes. He always supported me, through my winding academic career to my passion for producing art shows to my darkest moments in which I contemplated suicide. He showed me love and compassion at every turn.
To people with toxic masculinity like the dude who responded to my story, these attributes are not enough. If a man fails to protect “his” women, he is a failure.
But I am not owned by my father. Nor by my partner. I have my own life, voice, and agency. People who demand that men be providers and protectors are dehumanizing the protectees as well as handing men an impossible responsibility. What an awful burden to place on men, to insist that the women in their life must be “unspoiled,” or else they’ve failed as men. It’s this disgusting attitude that brings us purity balls and “nice guys,” that gives men another reason to be shamed rather than praising them for being loving family and friends. It’s this attitude that spurs men to suicide because they feel inadequate for losing a job, losing a fight, or being sexually assaulted. Toxic masculinity goes hand-in-hand with this attitude.
My father did teach me well. He taught me to live with compassion. He taught me to respect myself and others. He taught me to speak up for myself, to be skeptical of people who offered the world on a golden platter, to be genuine in my pursuits.
He still couldn’t save me. Because abusers are predators. And sometimes they nab their prey. And thanks to assholes like the one who commented — that prime example of toxic masculinity — I worry that my father feels lesser, because he too hears this messaging from people who seem almost proud of being toxic, who hold positions of power in our country, that men have an impossible responsibility to protect the weak (read: women), and should “assholes” strike and succeed, both the victim and her manly male protectors have failed. The common thread is that the asshole is absolved and apologized for, while the victims and their fathers, brothers, and partners are shamed.
So go ahead, bearers of toxic masculinity. Comment on this piece and prove my points. (I get money for engagement on my posts, too.) If you really believed that assholes are the problem, you wouldn’t place the blame on the victims and their fathers rather than on the assholes. If you think that good men prevent rape and abuse by their very presence, you’re naïve at best, sexist at worst. Women’s lives are not so governed by men that the simple presence of a “good man” can spare her the torment of “bad men.” You know what good men (and women!) do? They don’t rape and they don’t victim-blame. They support the dismantling of toxic ideas that enable rape and abuse. They support the people — of all genders — who’ve experienced these things.
As you say, assholes are the problem. So, why not blame them instead of everyone else?
Rachel Wayne is a writer based in Gainesville, Florida, USA. She earned her Master’s in Visual Anthropology and Film Studies from the University of Florida; her thesis was on the relationship between the media and interpersonal violence, particularly bullying and sexual violence. She writes about society, culture, film, politics, feminism, and entrepreneurship.