The good news is that your preferred sexual monster is worse than my preferred sexual monster and I can prove it with quickly sourced photos from google.
The good news keeps rolling, as more and more information comes out on the full extent of their deviance, we get to feel even more secure: I’d never do that, ergo I’m not part of the problem. I can feel like a good man because I absolutely draw the line at that kind of deviance.
This is where that overused term “virtue signalling” comes in. Men commenting across the internet sharing their disapproval of “that kind of thing”. Joining in hash tags, arguing with other men about the issue. A virtuous Mr Meeseeks, I only exist to flag my virtue and once I get a like or retweet from a woman on Twitter I cease to exist. Existence is pain.
We were exposed to a similar process during what then seemed like the end of the Trump campaign over the “pussy grabbing” tapes. Slowly most Republicans stepped away from Trump purely because it was only the fact that they had conceived daughters that meant they had a conscience about Trump’s comments.
This was bad news for me. I only have a son and so I haven’t learned empathy or understood what is inappropriate. Alas, I still thought pussy grabbing was perfectly reasonable and had only just been teaching my son the most efficient grabbing technique.
But it wasn’t the end. It lasted for a few days. The main defence from Trump and his fans was that this was just “locker room” talk. Cue the virtue signalling. Several high-profile sports people flew onto Twitter to proclaim that in all their years in sports, they had never, ever, under no circumstances used such deprived language to talk about women. They never did get to take two strokes of Jerry’s game.
Not to be outdone, amateur sports men also chipped in that they too had never used such words in or out of the locker room. Thankfully, their tweets were liked and they could remember that they are the good guys.
It must come as a relief to all us virtuous men that it really is just a few limited monsters out there. But it doesn’t add up. There’s too many experiences being shared for it to just be a few bad apples.
My exposure to locker rooms…or changing rooms as we didn’t have the luxury of a locker, just an old plastic bag to stick our stuff in, is admittedly limited. But I heard that kind of talk. It may not have been as direct as grab ‘em by the pussy, but it was pretty direct.
It might not have always been in the changing room as that was usually reserved for questioning loudly why the fuck I was in the team in the first place after another defeat. But it happened in the pub after, or the nightclub after that, or at work.
The English Premiership has had its share of scandals. There was a trend for a while in the early 2000s for the descriptive act of spit roasting. Apparantly, they organised, took part in (and as was exposed at the time, recorded on mobile phones) a threesome, but never discussed it? Ever?
These are sports whereby the dressing room machismo is so elevated that it is a barrier to gay players coming out for fear of reprisals (on and off the pitch/field). Where wives are seduced/swapped. Where underage girls are texted and groomed. Where rapes occur. But not once did they ever talk about grabbing a pussy while sitting in the changing room.
I can honestly say that I too have never had that specific discussion. But I can also honestly say that I have been and probably still am part of the problem. Thankfully, the likes of Weinstein are so abhorrent that I can overlook any need to address my own behaviour because I’m not that bad.
That’s why we keep the story going. It’s one man, one monster, “not all men”. Keep it about Weinstein and not the culture that makes it acceptable.
Keep the focus on Harvey and not those that facilitated and assisted him. Agents sent their clients to him knowing what he did and would do. Managers and parents the same. But just keep the focus on him and the really bad stuff he did. I don’t want to focus on me. Look at the monster, not me.
But there’s something personally heart-breaking in reading through the #MeToo stories. I can go a few ways. I, like many, can pick out the worst examples and use it as a badge of virtue that we have never and would never do that. But I can’t. I may never have done it, but I’ve seen it. I’ve ignored some, I’ve intervened in others. It doesn’t matter though,
I recognised enough of the stories to know it’s a problem. I always had known though. I didn’t do enough to intervene or stop it. Once or twice I was the guy who’s being written about.
Each generation has a jump towards the more progressive. It’s slow and just seems to happen. What used to happen in the background now happens online and in our faces. It’s uncomfortable because it’s calling out our language and behaviour and it’s never nice to know you might not be the all-round good guy you thought you were.
My generation was the children of those who were around in the 60s. Supposedly a progressive bunch, our parents still demonstrated a tendency to be pretty racist and homophobic. We would never say the “n word”. I can’t even type it. But “Paki” was part of our lexicon as were “Paki” jokes. Weird I can type that.
Just like our parents would have been right-on about the struggles of civil rights in America and the treatment of black people, but never really extended to black people in their neighbourhood. That was different. They weren’t lynching them, so it’s not the same.
Didn’t they know how bad black people had it in America? They should be grateful. (Insert comments to a woman about the size of her boobs being ok because doesn’t she know how bad women have it in Saudi?)
Comedies of the time had no problem with white comedians telling racist jokes, mimicking black people, black-face. So much for being the great progressive generation.
But for my generation, we thought ourselves progressive and accepting of homosexuality. But we’d still insult our friends with “fag”. Our comedies and movies would have gay characters where their only characteristic was that they were gay. Ha! Class. Another joke about taking it up the bum.
I like that I can look back and wince. It shows how far we’ve come. Its sad that the story is always a lamenting “we can’t say that anymore” and never “we shouldn’t have been saying it in the first place”.
We learn. Activists stood up and said it wasn’t right and enough of us took notice to change. Comedians moan about offence getting in the way of telling jokes, but it doesn’t. Offence gets in the way of bad, lazy, cheap jokes (like the gay character). We can still have humour that pushes the boundaries, we can live without the humour that’s just lazy stereotyping.
Words are replaceable. For all the shady history of the English language here and across the world, it still has the benefit of being a very rich language, especially with insults.
There are hundreds of colourful alternatives to calling someone a fag or a retard, we can live without the offensive ones and still a fulfilling life communicating with and insulting each other.
#MeToo isn’t just about words though, it’s about behaviour. That’s harder to change. It’s harder to accept your behaviour is wrong. Words are fine, I can change them, but behaviour means I’m a bad person and I think I’m not. Questioning behaviour feels like you’re attacking me. You are and you should.
But I always knew this really.
I can join the swathes of virtue signalling guys who are mostly in denial. I can make my condemnation about “them” the really bad guys. My problem is I know I’m not Harvey Weinstein, but I might be Ben Affleck.
The virtue signalling is only about the really bad stuff. I can help make the story about just the bad stuff, not all the other stuff. I can pretend I’ve never had the discussions with the lads about the new girl in the office…the ones that went a bit too far.
I can pretend I’ve never laughed at the jokes or comments or put some creepy behaviour by a friend down to them just being a bit weird or not being able to take a drink. I can ignore what are to me the worst stories, the ones that resonate with me because they are about me. It might not be me now, but it was me.
It’s not hard to replace words and be less offensive. It’s actually not hard to listen to stories and be a little less creepy. Heck, go all the way and be completely creep free. Don’t dismiss the stories. Don’t see it as another feminist charge to control men.
These are stories are from your family, friends and colleagues. Don’t just focus on the really bad ones, we can all agree that’s unacceptable, listen to the ones that may seem relatively benign, they’re part of the same picture.
Ease off the need to signal how good a person you are, these stories aren’t being told to validate your virtue. If you don’t see yourself in at least one of the stories, then you’re a better man than I was and I salute you. But maybe you know someone who is like that, maybe we can start there.
Listrade can be found on twitter @listrade