The recent “Me Too” campaign, which started on Twitter and quickly spread to Facebook, threw me for a bit of a loop. I do not have a Twitter account, but I am very active on Facebook. At first, I simply read my friends’ “me too” posts and any elaborations they cared to add, feeling both admiring (for their brave disclosure), sad (for their pain and suffering), and angry (at all the perpetrating men) over so many stories of sexual harassment and/or abuse that largely women posted. A few men here and there shared “me too,” and I felt their pain as well. Some of my women friends invited men to post too, changing one word in the meme on their profile pages from “women” to “people.” Interesting and very moving, I thought, not to mention generous. I considered posting my “me too,” but decided to sleep on it and sense how I felt about doing so in the morning. The next day, I posted “Yeah, me too,” though nothing else. I didn’t want to take up too much space drawing a lot of attention to myself, a man, on this matter. And, frankly, that felt like plenty for me to say on such a public forum. Also, I thought how my own childhood experience (I was nine at the time) of sexual coercion by a teenaged boy in which I managed to run away before actually performing fellatio on him barely counted. But, then there were also numerous verbal insults and threats against my sexuality and person that I lived through during middle school, high school, and adulthood, given my somewhat femme demeanor as a gay man. (Now and then, my husband and I occasionally get yelled at obscenely by men speeding by in their cars while we walk down the street together.) Still, those all combined didn’t feel to me like they added up to much compared to others’– especially women’s– living through horrendous incidents of rape, molestation, and/or pressure to perform sexually to keep one’s job, among any number of scenarios of abuse of power by men over (largely) women via hostile sexual behavior and/or talk. The pandemic is real, just as I’d always thought and known. Yet, out of solidarity, I added my small truth. I had been invited, by women. Women who I know and deeply respect. I had honored their lead and followed. I had also dared to stop the self-minimizing of my own “me too” experiences by publicly acknowledging them as significant and painful, however briefly on Facebook, but then by writing about them openly in this blog.
What shook a part of me deeply were posts by a few others, all gay men (granted, a great many of my Facebook friends are gay), interestingly, coming down hard on any men posting their “me too”‘s. Some men stated they had deleted their “me too,” not wanting to co-opt or overshadow women, yet again. After all, this campaign was for a day, started by women, and was for and about women, a means of educating the public at large about a very real problem a vast majority of females have lived through but largely kept secret and way underreported. All very true, of course. Those of us men who posted “me too,” were acting from male privilege, sidelining women yet again, diluting the message about this largely female plight. We were being part of the problem. Shame on us. I tried to explain to one man, who I admired for his educational, activist-minded posts over the years, how I was not at all coming from such a thoughtless, selfish place, but from one of joining, commiseration, and empathy. After all, women had invited me, themselves having changed the meme of “women” to “people.” I pointed out how the campaign was in flux, had multiple narratives happening now. He would hear none of this, though, interestingly, he didn’t argue against these particular points of mine, but basically repeated himself and took on a tone of endurance, saying how others had “thrown shade” at him but he was going to keep telling it like it is, stand up for the truth no matter what. He also shared how he thought the world was going to shit, or something very close to that. I thought to myself during this difficult exchange, It feels like he’s mansplaining to me here. Shouldn’t each woman be able to decide and speak for herself how she wants to engage with this campaign and in what words to pass it along, for women only or for others too? Oh, the irony. A day later, I unfriended him, concluding that I did not need to take on his negativity and make it somehow about me. For one thing, he and I had never met in person, he had no clear understanding of my well-meaning intentions, and did not seem interested in learning about them. He seemed to mainly want to grand stand. I unfollowed another friend who also just kept reiterating how this was a day for women only, but not before I explained to him how a posting “campaign” on Facebook is different than one stemming forth from out of solid clarity and infrastructure, such as Black Lives Matter or any number of extant organizations that sponsor educational and legislative strategies and programs for crucial women’s causes. Those are backed up by physical headquarters, people on the ground, and clearly-defined “campaigns.” They don’t simply depend on postings in cyberspace that could easily change from participant to participant who could each tweak the message a bit or a lot. I told another fellow, who I have begun developing a friendship with in real life, that I was going to have to agree to disagree with him. That was in his response to him telling me I was acting from my male privilege. All of these judging, shaming statements from a few of my gay brethren hurt a part of me deeply, and I made that known up front. It’s like they felt a need to speak from their tone deaf moral high horse. Typical of a good share of men, I thought to myself, regardless of their sexual orientation.
I’m sure a number of outraged women posted similarly to these handful of my men friends, but I did not run across such angry women’s sharings on my own Facebook newsfeed. I did see some women express agreement with my gay male friends’ chastising statements, however. Clearly, they appreciated their male allies’ show of well-meaning support and I understood that. But, I did not at all appreciate the few of my (male) friends’ shaming of me, one of their own, or so I thought, who is also completely for women’s full empowerment and rights. And, for me, somehow a woman posting her anger over her perceived selfishness of men, the typical sidelining and co-opting of women– yet again– by choosing to post “me too,” doesn’t quite feel the same, even if some or all of these women may also have been coming from a tone deaf place. They were simply speaking from directly knowing and feeling oppression, from an old place of pain. On the other hand, men coming down on me and not wanting to try and understand where I was coming from, felt like some unduly competitive-oriented beating down that I have experienced from other men (albeit more frequently heterosexual ones) so often in my life, starting with my father (though, to his credit, he has long since softened, and generally evolved out of this) and then soon with peers in grammar and middle school. Fascinating, tiresome, and so old hat. I realize as I write this now, this was likely some men’s way of speaking from an old place of pain, which I am admittedly grappling to better understand. If men always supported each other in every sense, including in our genuine, varied efforts to be vulnerable, and, from there, be more caring, respectful, and empowering of women, just think of the positive differences that would make, both among men and for women around us. If we men, from a place of openness/vulnerability, can more often acknowledge when we are wrong, or even partially so, and see when we have hurt someone else, even inadvertently, just think of the social progress to be made. Acknowledging mistakes does not equal weakness, the ultimate shame for men in general, being viewed as weak, but I’m certain a lot of men still believe that it is. I know I have come from that way of thinking in the past. And I am heartened by the men I witness or hear about taking chances with being vulnerable and letting go of the rigidity of needing to always be seen as right, strong, super smart, masterful, generally powerful, or some combination of these.
Less than two hours after posting my own “me too,” for which a lot of friends– most of them women– “liked” it, often either with a “sad face” or “heart” emoji, I posted this:
“Hello, dear women friends: If only just one of you is offended by me posting ‘me too’ because I am somehow taking away from the original intent of this campaign to underscore the surviving of sexual harassment and/or abuse as a women’s issue and yet another way how women are oppressed, etc., please let me know. Then, I will delete my original post. I only posted because a few of you women invited ‘people’ to post. (And thank you for your shared support around this pandemic area of awful experience.)
In advance, please accept my deepest apology for inadvertently disrespecting you for also posting. That was not at all my intention. My intention was to commiserate and empathize, that is all. Truly. May you be well, everyone.”
Nine women out of thirteen friends “liked” or “loved” (“heart” emoji) this message. Not one woman posted feeling upset or offended. Thirteen women and two men wrote supportive statements in reply, many of them very thought-out and thought-provoking in their own right. Some women said how it’s a “people” issue. A very savvy woman who runs a domestic violence shelter program, wrote this: “Interesting. I was told the same thing when I opened our (domestic violence shelter) services to men/trans/gay folk. Speaking for myself, I am neither surprised nor offended. And I am very sorry that happened to you.” Another woman, herself a seasoned social worker and former coworker of mine, posted: “Sean, it was just on tv that Alyssa Milano was the one to start the campaign and did not mean to leave men out.” I haven’t verified this statement of my friend’s as fact, but I do find it interesting. What I can say is that she tends to post information that has been fact-checked somehow– for what that’s worth. A kind, gay male friend of mine replied with this to me: “The text of ‘me too’ depends on the generation of the post. Some say just women, some say women and men, some include gay and transgendered.” I agreed with him, and, after taking a twenty hour or so break from Facebook to regroup myself and regain perspective, I elaborated on this point in a future post, which is also the next paragraph below. It is my message to everyone who engages in social media platforms such as Facebook, which is, well, a whole damn lot of people.
Please consider, folks, that a single narrative or message on an active, ever-changing (in real-time) medium of communication, such as Facebook, can quickly morph and split off into several narratives or messages, different from the original message and its intention. Personally, I don’t think it makes anyone somehow “wrong” for changing and/or following whichever message comes their way first, which may very well no longer be the original message/narrative. This simply makes things quite varied and interesting(!). What I look for and try to maintain with any posting on Facebook that I want to somehow engage with and even re-post is a good intention. I think of the game “Telephone” I used to play with other kids in grade school. The message inevitably got changed along the way from ear to ear– except we’re talking exponential amounts of circles of “kids” in the case of Facebook. Multiple messages, multiple narratives. There’s room for them all. We can weed out the ones with bad intentions, individually and collectively, and all while doing our best to avoid assuming the worst, or assuming at all. And we can do so without shaming those with good intentions. One message/narrative need not supersede the other. And that’s okay. Please think on this, friends, including over the recent “Me Too” campaign.
And there is my summed up, “two cents” on this unique, initially painful learning experience on social media, in this case Facebook. As I have done many times before, I find myself remembering with deep appreciation Nietzche’s words: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” And I do indeed feel stronger inside than how I felt earlier in the week shortly after sharing my “me too.” My hope and wish are for everyone to feel stronger for sharing their own truths and, from there, be able to live more truthfully.