Loving Women: On Being a Good Ally

photo: ALEX PRAGER

photo: ALEX PRAGER

TRIGGER WARNING - This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors


I know you would probably say that you love women and would never do anything to hurt them. You're a corn-fed country boy who followed your tech company to the big city, all wide-eyed, innocent and big-hearted. You’re close with your mom and your sister and your little niece. You embrace your own femininity as a gay man. You usually have good taste in friends.

So when you first started bringing your friend Sam around, I liked him. I'm not someone who's naturally suspicious of people, so even when he told me that his strategy for getting laid was to wait to approach a woman until after she was drunk, so he only had to buy her one drink and could “seal the deal” in ten minutes, I shrugged it off.

The other red flags were ignored too, until the night my friend Mila joined us at the pub. He waited til the end of the night to pounce on her, after she was wasted and his first “sure thing” of the evening had turned him down.

A man of his word, it took him about ten minutes to convince her to go home with him. I stepped in; if she wanted to cheat on her boyfriend, that was fine by me, but I thought she should at least make that decision while sober. Yet he shot down every attempt I made to suggest that they hang out some other time when Mila was sober, or that I be included in their plans.

It had to be now.

Did you know that I was raped last summer? Of course you didn't; I only told Peter. The only reason I told him was because my car had broken down, and I needed him to pick up plan B for me.

I had gone out with friends and had had too much to drink when I left them. I got into a car with a stranger who told me he was my Uber driver. He wasn’t.

I thought it was weird that he didn't have a GPS with directions to my house, and I thought it was even weirder when he put his hand on my thigh. He pulled into a park, pulled up my skirt (I was dressed femmy that night) and had sex with me while I laid there, disoriented and confused about what was happening.

When I told Peter what happened he was horrified. He was equally shocked by my nonchalant, passionless tone, saying that he would be flipping-the-fuck-out if that had happened to him. But I didn't flip out because that wasn't the first time something like that had happened to me. Stories of these experiences are so commonplace as to be almost banal.

"Women live in a different world than men," I explained to Peter. I then told him about the ex-girlfriend I'd had who got drunk at a party and woke up in a stranger's car with her pants down around her ankles, and also the childhood friend who got roofied at a club and gang raped in the back of a van.

He said he had no idea. And the next morning, I didn't bother to call the police because I didn't know the guy's name or even what kind of car he drove. I knew what they would say to me. I was already saying it to myself... “What were you wearing?” This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't dressed like a girl last night... “How much did you have to drink?” I should know better than to be drunk and alone in public! Stupid! Stupid!.
 


And isn't it insane that I would instantly jump to blaming myself instead of questioning why we live in a society that assumes that the logical result of being a woman and being drunk is getting attacked by men?

I didn’t report, falling in line with the 90% of other rapes that go unreported.

So much secret shame… there's not a woman alive who doesn't have some private tragedy, or a time they were violated or afraid for their lives. Groped on the subway or followed on a dark street. It's something we discuss with each other but not usually with men because most men simply don't care; it's not their problem if it's not affecting them.

If a guy gets drunk around men, usually the worst thing that can happen is that he may wake up missing his wallet or his phone, or with a penis drawn on his face. Yet under the same circumstances, given the rate of infection in the Atlanta area, I'm left wondering if I'm going to die of AIDS, and too terrified to go find out.

I have always shied away from the word “rape,” even though I've experienced the technical definition on at least one other occasion. That's not something that's supposed to happen to someone like me. I instead use words like “took advantage” or “had non-consensual sex” as if somehow those words give me more agency.

In that stranger's car that night, I didn't say no, but I sure as hell didn't say yes either; I was too inebriated to really even process what was going on until long after it had happened. Had I been sober, the same attempt would have cost him a broken nose.

I'm telling you this because I think the perception is that rape only happens to young sorority girls. Or pretty girls. Or femmy girls. Or stupid girls. Or straight girls. This isn’t true.

And the men who assault us aren't trolls beneath bridges, lunging out to capture their passing prey, and they weren’t grown in a vacuum.

They're your witty drinking buddy, your cheerful neighbor, the accountant you play tennis with. They are the cop sitting in his squad car in the run-down neighborhood, and the guy who writes your checks. And they grow and continue to be nurtured and sustained by environments that are hospitable to their transgressions.

So when I first told you my concerns about your friend--the things he’d said that your female friends had found questionable, and the dubious ethics behind the night we all saw him take my wasted friend home--you said that it was normal and shrugged it off as boys will be boys. You assured me, though, that you were “such a huge feminist.”

Because I consider you a good person, I wondered if I was in the wrong. I called several of my  friends, both male and female, and repeated verbatim the things Sam had said over the past several weeks and described what I’d seen him do. Every single person responded “Uh, that’s hella predatory.” Every. Single. One.

One even likened it to stalking the residents of an adult home for the mentally disabled, given the effects of alcohol on brain functioning and motor control. But since I wasn’t in a hurry to police anyone’s sexuality, I let it go. Until I heard him describe his tactics to you yet again, and I heard you laugh.  

“I like to go for the drunk ones," he said. I guess because he was smiling when he said it, you thought he was making a joke (although for the life of me, I can't figure out why you would find that funny). Of course he said it with a smile. How else would he say it? With a grimace?
 

Considering that he had already admitted that at least one time before, and we had all witnessed him actually doing that, I would’ve thought hearing him say it again might have finally raised a red flag with you, but such things slip beneath your radar.

There was also that time a few weeks ago. Your other friend launched into a story about how he’d been fingering a girl at spring break when she suddenly passed out. He looked up from his beer, read on my face what he was about to admit to, backpedaled and changed the subject. You laughed, I guess finding it amusing that he might’ve assaulted an unconscious girl. I picked up my beer and stood up from the table to find better company.

Since you are ‘such a huge feminist,’ I thought I should bring it to your attention that you might want to consider what kind of behavior you’re endorsing among your friends. I asked you if you thought it was funny that Sam likes to target drunk women. You said that I “shouldn't go around spreading accusations about people.”

The fact that multiple women had heard him say questionable things, and you yourself had heard him say something questionable, didn’t bother you. It didn’t bother you when he took my wasted friend home with him, and it also didn’t bother you when he came back to work on Monday and felt the need to humiliate my friend by informing everyone in your office that she “looked gross naked.”

What bothered you was that I was “spreading accusations.” Even though by asking you to think about what you condone, that’s not what I was doing. Even though you can't accuse someone who’s confessing, and it was he who had incriminated himself through his own words...twice. He had even demonstrated this behavior, in front of all of us.

You don't believe your ears and you don't believe your eyes. So tell me--what is it you believe?

Imagine that you are standing around the water cooler at your office, with a few coworkers, when one of them decides to tell a joke.

“Hey guys, how do you starve a black man? Hide his welfare check under his work boots.”

Everybody chuckles, including you. Maybe you didn't find the joke funny, but considered it harmless. Maybe nobody actually liked the joke, but you all laughed to be polite, and later gossiped about how the guy is a racist behind his back. But regardless, everyone laughed, and nobody said anything.

What message does this send? Consent, agreement, approval. Your coworker thinks “Yeah, they get it--because everyone knows that black people are all on welfare and they're also lazy!” Since he got your approval once, he'll probably think you agree with him. He might tell another racist joke. And another. But what if you didn't laugh? What if you stared at him sternly, or even pretended not to understand and asked him to explain it, just to watch him flounder?

The thing is, this isn’t even an issue with you, because since you’re not a racist you would never laugh at such a joke. If you profess to be in favor of creating racial equality and social justice, it’s obvious how telling racist jokes or laughing at them undermines those goals.

But it’s different when it comes to the subtle and pervasive forces of misogyny, isn’t it?

Men want to be accepted and respected by men, all men, regardless of character, more than they care to be respected by women. It’s a boys club, the top of a pinnacle of privilege, where a man is willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a male who's already told him and shown him who he is, rather than listen to the multiple women who are merely pointing out what he’s already illustrating for himself.
 


The reason people use the term rape culture is because it's so culturally ubiquitous that it's like sitcoms and football, Pepsi and bicycles. It’s the “boys will be boys” mentality that doesn’t hold men responsible for their actions: that admonishes middle school girls for distracting boys with their outfits; where an entire fraternity can rape a girl and still graduate on time; where lawmakers state that if a woman can breastfeed in public, men should be allowed to grab her breasts.

A lot of gay men believe their homosexuality exempts them from the privilege of their gender and their race; “I can’t be a misogynist, I’m gay.” But liking women as friends doesn't make you a feminist. Having no interest in raping women yourself doesn't make you a feminist.

But hear this: normalizing and condoning bad behavior certainly makes you decidedly anti-feminist.

I realized that both you, individually, and the entire group of others I had asked, were both right. Sam’s behavior was predatory. It was also normal; but that doesn’t make it right.

Just like white people will never know what it's like to be black in America, men will never know what it's like to be a woman in this world, which exists as an invisible dimension to the men who don’t bother to look.

But just like the most intelligent, progressive, and big-hearted Caucasians try to understand white privilege and work for racial justice, the most intelligent, progressive, and big-hearted men try to understand male privilege and the impact that they have on the lives of women. You're part of a world that I can't reach and wouldn't be welcome in anyway; we live in a patriarchal society, and so it's men who still have the most power to check other men on their beliefs and their behaviors.

In the aftermath of the Isla Vista killings, when it came out that the shooter was motivated out of resentment toward the women he felt entitled to have sex with, the hashtag #yesallwomen provided some sobering insights into the violence and misogyny women deal with on a daily basis. One of the most memorable stated: “‘I have a boyfriend’ is the easiest way to get men to leave you alone, because he respects another man more than you.”

We all have to work together to shape the world we want to live in, and the world we will leave to our children. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’re doing it every single day, with every word spoken or left unsaid.

History shows that the world lies stagnant and fetid while people sit on their hands and do nothing. Nothing is improved by people who bite their tongues while Jews are gassed or laugh along while mosques are burned. You can't call yourself an ally to people of color while you're spreading or condoning racist propaganda, and simply liking women doesn't make you an ally to women any more than my liking astronomy makes me an astronaut.

I know you want to have kids, and you might have a little girl someday. Be conscious in what you’re creating for her.

Or don’t. You know, whatever.

I’m not worried about your friend Sam. If he is what I suspect he might be, his chickens will come home to roost eventually. I’m more worried about you and men like you. Men who dub themselves “the good ones” while passively participating in a culture of violence; men who think their homosexuality and good intentions mean they play no role in misogyny.

You are undermining me, and my friends, and all your other female friends. You are undermining your mother and your sister, your little niece and your future daughter. You are undermining the barista who commits suicide after her rape and the would-be inventor who drops out of school after hers.

If you don’t feel the need to call out misogyny in your brothers when you see it and instead choose to laugh along, that’s fine. But in that case, you probably shouldn’t call yourself ‘such a huge feminist.’ Say, instead, that you like women.

But maybe don't say that you love them. 


Laura is a west coast native who nonetheless has embraced her recent relocation to the south. She worked in social services for a decade and graduated from a liberal arts college with a degree in writing. She is currently pursuing a master's in social work and is generally a boss bitch, enjoying the activities and past-times one would generally expect of boss bitches.