To Stop Sexual Assault, We Must Talk About How to Be a Man

The reaction to my post admitting to committing sexual assault and harassment has been interesting. Mostly (on Facebook at least), it has consisted of people lining up to call me “brave” and to thank me for posting. There are people criticising me, or who don’t believe I’ve changed, but they’re a minority. Mostly the people close to me are acting like I’m a hero, and this is upsetting for victims of sexual assault.

When women tell the world that they have been assaulted, they are met with a chorus of disbelief.

You’re just doing it for attention.

If it’s true, why haven’t you told the police?

If it’s true, why aren’t you naming names? [If they don’t]

Why are you trying to ruin this man’s life? [If they do]

That’s not harassment, it’s just a compliment.

Did you do anything to encourage him?

Sexual assault victims met with disbelief
Image: Jim C. Hines. Reproduced with permission. Text description here.

On and on, a sea of disbelief, or of silence, or doing nothing, or worse, of attacking her for having said anything. Meanwhile I come out and say “Hey world, I did some shocking things but I’m not doing them anymore!” and the response has been largely to hail my brilliance. I did start my Facebook post with “I’m scared to post this”, which might be seen as encouraging the “So brave!” reactions. Still, it seems that there are people who are ready to shower men with praise for doing the bare minimum. The women speaking about their assaults are brave. I am (assuming you believe me about having learned and changed) at best an ex-scumbag. Don’t give me a cookie.

The first thing we could learn from the response to my post is that we can make the world better just by supporting victims of assault and harassment the same way we apparently support (reformed) abusers.

No good man commits sexual assault
Image: Pixabay. Public domain.

It’s not just PUAs

I wrote the post because I want other men to look at their own behaviour. I liked the way a friend of mine put it when he shared my link: “Can you say in 100% confidence that you’ve never made someone feel intimidated, harassed or threatened by your behaviour, REGARDLESS of your intent? I know I can’t. It could be something as grossly inappropriate as described in the article, or as simple as inattentively walking a bit too closely behind someone at night. It happens, it needs to stop.”

My last post focused on my time as a Pickup Artist (PUA). PUA ideology absolutely needs to be challenged, but it is not the main cause of the harassment epidemic. Most men are not PUAs, and will never be PUAs. That doesn’t mean that they haven’t absorbed some terrible ideas about what it is to be a man.

PUA ideas are really just a turbocharged version of widely-believed ideas about masculinity. Men want sex all the time. Women want men who are traditionally masculine and powerful, even dominant. The number of women you can attract is a measure of your manliness. Women don’t think like men at all, so to ‘understand’ them you need some kind of system. Manliness is embodied by aggressive heterosexuality. PUAs just take these ideas, treat them as though they are objective facts, and claim to make you a Real Man. Lots of men have similar beliefs without getting sucked into the PUA subculture.

I didn’t enjoy it

Two days ago, I posted a list of twelve ways I have assaulted, harassed, or made women feel uncomfortable. I didn’t enjoy any of it. I’m not saying that as an excuse. I am not that child-molesting priest from Spotlight who thinks “I didn’t take any pleasure from it” is some kind of defence. Everything on my list is inexcusable. But I still think it’s worth investigating why I did what I did. It wasn’t because I got physical or emotional pleasure from it. I didn’t really enjoy any of those encounters. And that’s not because of casual sex: I’ve since had lovely, mutually satisfying sex that we both knew wasn’t leading to a long-term relationship.

Everything I described in that post happened more than eight years ago. Back then, I was having sex to prove to myself that I could. Real men want a lot of sex, and it’s a measure of your masculinity how successful you are in getting that sex. I was trying to prove to myself that I was a man. It is pathetic, but it is true.

We need to change our ideas about what it is to be a man.

First and most obviously, if you commit sexual assault or harass women, this makes you a worse man.

Also:

Being ‘dominant’ makes you a bully, not a better man.

Your manliness is not determined by the amount of sex you have.

Your manliness is not determined by the amount of sex you want.

Asexual men are real, and they are no less men for it.

Honesty and vulnerability are necessary parts of being a good man.

Women are not some impossible-to-understand alien race. They are people who can be understood through a) listening to what they say, and b) empathy.

It is an odious cultural lie that women do not mean what they say.

If you’ve been called a man but you don’t feel like it, that’s OK. Gender is a spectrum. You can be non-binary.

Other genders are worth the same as men.

Women are not on the whole more attracted to Alpha Males.

The whole idea of Alpha Males is pseudoscientific bollocks anyway.

Men are absolutely capable of controlling our sexual desires.

Your sexual orientation has nothing to do with whether or not you are a man. Gay and bisexual men are equally manly.

I am only one data point here. I haven’t talked to other men about this, and I have no informed view on why other men did similar things to me. But toxic beliefs about what it means to be a man are damaging for a whole host of reasons. Men who are convinced they need to be dominant commit more violence, including violence against women. It cannot be a coincidence that mass shootings are almost always by men. Men who are convinced they should not have or express ‘feminine’ emotions become repressed and mentally unhealthy. They kill themselves at an alarming rate. They miss out on intimate friendships with both men and women. If they are in a long-term relationship, that may be the only semblance of an emotional connection they have, which means they put all their emotional load on their partner. A few men appear to be so homophobic they can’t even wipe their own arses.

There’s a phrase for this: toxic masculinity.

Regardless of how you feel about me, there’s no doubt that we need to kick toxic masculinity to the kerb. There’s an abundance of evidence that ugly ideas about manliness contribute to the deaths of both men and women, and assaults on others.

What you can do

Beyond a) not committing sexual assault or harassment, b) believing women and c) challenging bad ideas about manliness wherever you see them, there are some concrete things you can do:

Nicole Stamp has an excellent list. (“1. Practice these phrases: ‘That’s not cool’ and ‘That’s a sh*tty thing to say’. Say them to other men who are saying disrespectful things to or about women.”)

Eli Bosnick shared this: The opposite of rape culture is nurturance culture

Donate to a charity that’s doing something about this, like RAINN. (All advertising revenue from my blog will go to women’s charities this month and every month until traffic returns to a normal level.)

If you’ve been affected by my behaviour in the past, you can contact me about it. If you don’t want me to reply, I won’t. If you want to be anonymous, just put a fake email in the form. My contact form is here.

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