#MeToo: On Trust

#MeToo, of course.

I consider myself exceedingly lucky to have only experienced minor forms of harassment and mostly as an adult, so that its impact on me has felt comparatively very small. But to paraphrase Jessica Valenti, who would I be if I didn’t live in a world of pervasive sexual violence? That’s a question none of us can answer. 

As Mahroh discusses in her piece, there are things to like and dislike about this #MeToo campaign, but I appreciate that it seems to be getting at a few basic things that I think are important for men—since they are the main problem here—to understand:

Literally every woman you interact with has probably had experiences of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, that have been more or less traumatic to her, and you likely don’t know where on that spectrum we fall and how it has shaped us. If you are a person who wants to have any kind of relationships based on mutual trust with women, that should scare you to your core and be something you want to help change—for ethical but also purely self-interested reasons.

Women are affected not just by our own direct experiences but also by those of other women. We talk. We should probably talk more actually, but we clearly talk more to each other about these experiences than we do to you. Maybe you are surprised by all the “me too” posts, but we are probably not. It can, I think, be difficult for those who don’t live it to fully grasp that it’s the cumulative effect of these experiences, individual and collective, big and small—which is visually represented nicely by the stream of posts in our Facebook and Twitter feeds this week—that’s so damaging.

And it’s also this: the perpetual uncertainty about when the “minor” stuff might turn into the “major” stuff, and how the latter gives the former far more power. My own experiences being harassed on midwestern streets and NYC subways are nothing like being raped, of course. But a cat-caller is only scary at all because we don’t know when one might follow us home. And a guy who aggressively pushes for sex wouldn’t make us so queasy if we felt 100 percent sure he’d listen if we said no.

I hope that men see every “me too” post as representing a very good reason—and usually more than one—for all women not to trust men. #YesALLmen because it’s precisely that uncertainty—and the consequent need for constant guardedness—that’s so corrosive. If being distrustful of a whole gender strikes you as terrible and unfair—well, yes, that it absolutely is. It is no way to live but that is the reality that all women are forced to manage in some way.

Sometimes, some of us—the lucky ones whose direct experiences have been minor enough that they haven’t been etched into our very nervous systems—may try to distance ourselves from the collective trauma and delude ourselves into believing that we are immune. That the major stuff only happens to other women or perhaps at the hands of other men. That we are smarter, tougher, more careful. Sometimes, some of us—and I’d count myself in this—may recognize that it’s just a matter of luck (often with a good dose of privilege) but consciously and recklessly choose to trust men anyway because, whatever the risks, being always wary takes a toll on your soul too. Sometimes we are just afraid.

him, though

Image via Liz Plank

One of the valid critiques of the #MeToo trend is that it is focused, as these conversations so often are, on the survivors, rather than the perpetrators and enablers; that it asks women to bear their pain instead of asking men for reflection and accountability. I agree that a turning of the tables is useful here, and while like Mahroh, I’m not sure that this current outpouring will change much, if it does provoke some self-analysis among men, I’d suggest starting here: How does it feel to know you are distrusted because of your gender? What toll does that take on your soul? And how much power are you willing to give up to make that not true?

Header image via

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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