In light of my recent post (Why I Did Not Attend My High School Reunion), I have continued to reflect on the countless times in my life where I was ogled, groped, shamed, cat called, name called, threatened and assaulted by men. It is like a constant stream of images, experiences and memories that filter through my mind. Just when I think I have made a solid tally of all of the times men have behaved badly, I remember something else and I dig deeper until I unearth another memory and then another and another and it just keeps going.
I used to think I was one of the “lucky” ones as I had never been raped and since I had normalized inappropriate behaviours of some men for so long (just a part of being a woman, you know), I didn’t give these things a whole lot of thought until a well known Canadian musician, writer and radio broadcaster was found not guilty of four counts of sexual misconduct in 2016.
I remember lying with my husband on our bed one Sunday afternoon and talking with him about the measures I had gone to to keep myself safe throughout my life. He listened to me explain how most of these behaviours are unconscious and become second nature. Although well informed, he was perhaps, a little shocked, to know that this was the experience of all women from the time we venture out on our own. And for some women we hone our safety skills long before that if we are raised in abusive and unsafe home environments. Even if we are in safe home environments, outside experiences can leave us feeling anxious from a very young age. We learn fast how to protect ourselves and hopefully not get assaulted.
With the #metoo and #timesup movement and the highly publicised sexual assault cases in the news along with the spotlight being shone on pompous, sexist men in power, we have been inundated with a reality that all women have been aware of for as long as we can remember. I have contemplated creating a detailed list of unwanted sexual experiences I have endured over my life. Add to that the hundreds of times I have been grabbed, groped, and objectified and well, I would have a pretty good list in a short amount of time.
Last week, I was sick in bed for three days and found my thoughts turning away from social media and the negativity that comes from watching the news. Instead, I turned my thoughts to the many good and decent men who have come in and out of my life since the beginning. And there have been many. So many that their numbers far surpass the ones who failed me.
I was born to a really great dad who didn’t have a lot of skills as a father when I was born as I was his second child of four. He learned along the way and navigated fatherhood with a sense of intuition, consistency and some tough love. I grew up knowing that he had my back and that he would keep me safe. Even when outside forces hurt me, I knew my dad was always there for me, no matter what. I grew up with two sisters and one brother and although my brother is seven years younger than me, he is one of the kindest, coolest men I know and I call upon him when I need sound advice or a listening ear.
As a child, I chose to play with girls but as I moved into adolescence, I became a part of a close knit group of friends made up of both girls and boys. I have remained friends with most of this group. Just last week, one of the guys was in town from the Yukon and we sat at my kitchen table drinking wine and laughing our heads off just as we did as teenagers. Although we hadn’t seen each other in a few years, we picked up where we left off. I shared with him that I was about to post a piece about my high school experiences and he offered support and understanding and checked in with me the following day. A good man who is now raising a son and daughter of his own.
Being someone’s wife was never something I aspired to until I met my husband. It took me a long time to trust that he wasn’t going to turn on me and end up being a controlling asshole. He is a kind, steady, loving man who has my back in everything I do. In the 23 years we have been together, he has never uttered a derogatory term. He has a gentle strength that brings balance to my primal need for independence and the necessity of a safe space to retreat to in a very busy life.
There have been more than a few good men who have passed through my life. Some are obvious, like the ones mentioned above and then there are the ones who were going about their day with no idea how their actions impacted me as a woman. There were the ones who crossed the street when they saw me coming towards them knowing that I might feel apprehensive. The ones who got the message loud and clear when I stopped them from “going too far.” The ones who, when recognizing our signals got mixed, backed off immediately and then apologized. The ones who saw I was drinking and rather than drag me off to a room to be assaulted, kept a eye on me and made sure I got home safe. The ones who respected and valued my opinion even if it differed from their own and didn’t resort to calling me a bitch because I stood my ground. The ones who valued our friendship and never made me feel unsafe.
And then there are the men who found themselves in circumstances where they could have assaulted me but they didn’t. I remember travelling through Europe as a 19 year old backpacker and the many times I drank in a pub with strangers in a country where I had no home to return to and how I made it back to the hostel safely, every single time. And the only reason that happened is because the men I was keeping company with weren’t rapists. As a birth doula, I used to leave the hospital at oddball hours in the night. I had to walk to a parking garage to my car and I remember eyeballing the security guards to determine their “creep factor.” If they seemed creepy, I would take my chances and walk to my car alone. If I got a sense that they were unlikely to assault me, I would ask them to accompany me. After decades of this unconscious self safety management, I started believing I could pick them out. It wasn’t a perfect system but sometimes it was all I had to go on.
As I think about my life and reflect on all of the times I wasn’t assaulted or harassed, I can create a list that far exceeds the list I have spent the last couple of years preoccupied with. The good men are among us. Their numbers are great and I am counting on them, more than ever, to stand with us.