WRITTEN BY: KRYZIA
I watched the now infamous Gillette ad when it came out last week. The funny thing is, I started writing this post before the ad came out. I watched the ad. Here's what I saw. I saw men objectifying women, harassing people, and bullying others. But I also saw men stepping in, calling out that behaviour, and holding their fellow man accountable. I saw a man asking other men to hold each other accountable. I saw men stepping in to stop other men from being creepy in their approach to women. I saw a man step in to stop a bunch of kids bullying another kid. I saw a video of a man stopping a group of boys from resorting to violence over nonsense. I saw a man being there for his daughter.
Yet, there are men who are furious because they see this commercial as a portrayal of men in a negative light, completely missing the juxtaposition. They got so fixated on the negative portrayal that they completely missed the point. Comments about the ad being "anti-white" and "anti-man" and "leftist liberal propaganda".. It makes me shake my head. Asking for accountability, encouraging respect and civility, and believing we can do better is "anti-white", "anti-man", and "leftist liberal propaganda"?
In a time when the horrible actions of certain men (i.e. Harvey Weinstein, R. Kelly, etc.) are currently under immense scrutiny, I think it's necessary to acknowledge we've created a toxic and dangerous environment that has allowed horrendous actions to thrive and repulsive men to get comfortable. I think it's necessary to tell each other to do better, to hold each other accountable. I think it's necessary to admit that we haven't done the greatest job, that there's room for improvement not just for ourselves, but for our future children. Because isn't that whole point? To leave this place better than when we got here?
When I was ten years old, something happened that changed a few things for me. I don't remember what the weather was like. I don't remember what class period we were in. I don't remember little details that many people would say are important enough to prove or disprove my experience. But what I do remember is this:
I was handing out papers from our grade five teacher. Our desks were arranged in groups of five or six. I remember approaching a group of desks with a group of boys to give them their papers. As I walked away, I felt a slight tap of the hand, then a small linger, on my butt. I remember feeling embarrassed, stunned, and afraid. I remember not wanting to turn around to face the perpetrator. I don't know what words were exchanged or what facial expressions were made, but my gut reaction was to immediately tell an authority figure. In this case, I told my teacher. We were called to the principal's office and there were numerous discussions. At the time, I was supposedly "dating" another boy from the other grade five class. I use the term dating very loosely because what were we really doing besides passing notes in grade five? One thing that really stood out to me in those discussions was what one of the boys told the principal: He told her that the boy I was "dating" gave them permission to do what they did. That was the starting point of me learning a long and difficult lesson of how some boys viewed women as objects, as things to play with, as things they owned.
The principal's office became familiar to me throughout the whole ordeal. I immediately became enemy number one to the boys in my class. They teased me relentlessly, ostracized me. I was labelled "stush", which in Toronto slang meant stuck up, uncool, a prude. I was labelled a "snitch". In the midst of all of this, I remember being incredibly afraid to tell my parents. I felt like it was somewhat my fault. Maybe I did something or said something that made those boys think it was okay to grab me inappropriately. I remember feeling guilty and dirty, that I could've done something to prevent it from happening. I believed I didn't do enough for my strict, Asian, religious parents to take my side. I didn't tell my parents about it at all for the longest time. I couldn't bring myself to tell them to their face that their ten-year-old daughter was slapped and groped in the ass. I felt so guilty and so afraid that I wrote them a one-page letter, left it in a place where they could find it, and prayed I wouldn't get into more trouble.
That experience in elementary impacted my high school experience. I didn't want to be known as "stush" or a "snitch" in high school, so when boys decided to slap or grab my ass, I said nothing. When boys decided to come up from behind whenever I bent over to get something in my locker, I pretended like it wasn't an issue. When boys decided to push me in a corner and grab wherever they wanted, I let them. And I know I wasn't the only girl who let it happen and said absolutely nothing. We all lived in fear of being ostracized, of being "uncool", of being "that girl". I remember putting up with anything, letting anything happen, just so I never had to go back to being that girl who told on a boy and got him in trouble for "no reason". I wanted to be cool. I didn't want to go through the painful experience of being an outsider again.
This is why I get incredibly annoyed when I read men's posts about being afraid to say hello to women because of the #metoo movement. Granted, there are definitely women out there who abuse the power of the movement. However, I think comments like "I can't talk to women anymore" or "I'm afraid to say hello to women now" are the height of ignorance. Because that's not the point and you're completely missing it. For far too long, women have lived in a culture where men felt like they could say anything or do anything to women, including touching them inappropriately or making suggestive comments without invitation. For far too long, women have lived in a culture where "no" wasn't an option, unless they were okay with being labelled certain words or they were okay with possibly getting hurt. Women are finally realizing that it's okay to say no, to express that something makes us uncomfortable.
Listen, I know that there are some women out there lying through the skin of their teeth, taking full advantage of the power of the #metoo movement. To those women, I say shame on you. You are robbing women with real stories and real fears of the opportunity to speak their truth, stand in their truth, and be believed for their truth. Despite the handful of women out here lying, there are more women who have true stories. Charlamagne tha God said it best, "Listen to all women. Believe all proof." Just because there are women who have chosen to lie, it doesn't mean we stop listening.
When asked about the #metoo movement, Idris Elba said it best, "It's only difficult if you're a man with something to hide." I grew up in that culture, in that environment, of being afraid to say no. Whenever I look back at some of the situations I got myself into because I told myself that I couldn't say no, I cringe. I share some of those stories with my husband and some of them still bring tears to my eyes. I feel dirty; I feel used; I feel helpless. And it's these feelings that I never want my daughter to feel or my son to make another girl feel. I definitely think the culture is transitioning from a culture of men doing whatever they want to a culture of women trying to figure out how to say no and when to say no. We're trying to find the balance, so it's going to be uncomfortable for awhile as we establish a new norm. While we find that balance, we just all need to do our part of treating others with respect, holding our circles accountable, and calling out behaviours that don't align with respect and accountability.