Am I a #MeToo man?
It’s not often a hashtag can make you feel sick. The last 24 hours have done that to me. It’s been an endless litany of people I admire, people I love, rolling out the admission that yes, they too have been the victim of a sexual assault.
It’s horrific. As I was walking home I innocently checked Facebook, and saw three of the most amazing women I know adding their names to the list. It’s everywhere. It’s everyone.
I had a version of this feeling in microcosm a few years ago. A relationship ended after my partner was raped, and every close female friend I confided my pain and anger to at the breakup would tearfully confess that yes, they too had been raped. I felt like I was going completely insane, that the rules of the world as I understood them no longer applied. Rape was rare, it was like murder, something you read about in the papers, something in crime fiction.
Except suddenly it wasn’t.
Looking around at the sheer volume of assaults, I thought you could come to one of two conclusions – either all men do a few or some men do hundreds.
It led me to deeply examine every sexual encounter I’d ever had. Was it consensual? Was I sure? Really 100 per cent sure?
I was 99 per cent sure. When I was 16, awkward and dumb and with no idea what I was doing with women, I was dancing with a girl in a nightclub. Drunk and excited, I grabbed her bum. She gave me a look of shock and horror.
At the time I instantly knew my hand was not wanted. She thought I was a friend, and I’d just been predatory towards her. I don’t think she ever spoke to me again.
I hated myself then for putting her in that position – I even hate myself a little now. I don’t think I’ve touched a woman without literally asking her since.
Even so there’s a couple of moments that trouble me. A time in bed a girl asked me to stop, I stopped instantly, pulled out and accidentally came on her sheets and leg. It was an automatic reaction but it still can’t have been nice. Is she posting #MeToo and thinking of me?
Another time a woman invited me home, and I only realised when she staggered on the steps that she was too drunk to consent to literally anything. As I tucked her up under a duvet on the sofa in the recovery position, I remember thinking that while nothing had happened beyond some passionate kisses on a club dancefloor, was it too much? Had I taken advantage?
I really wonder whether I am one of the #MeToo men. All three of these incidents were probably horrible for the women involved. The hashtag has made me want to reach out to them and apologise.
It’s also made me realise there are probably things I’ve done that I don’t even realise were grim.
It’s also made me reassess my conclusion that it had to be either a few men doing hundreds of attacks or most men doing a few – what if it was both? What if most men were like me, awkward and fumbling and selfish and stupid in their teens and twenties, and some men never got past that stage?
Instead of pulling back from a horrible act they kept going, kept escalating? It all seems so horribly likely.
So, men. If you’re reading this, don’t throw a stupid fit about that time you got punched and how that’s the same. It’s not.
Look over your behaviour, your whole sexual history and ask yourself: “Have I ever done anything that these women are talking about?” If so, what can I say? Stop telling yourself it’s not people like you. And most of all, draw a line under it and never, ever do it again.