I read the Babe story about Aziz Ansari and cringed. I could feel my heart start to race, my palms got sweaty, and the knot in my stomach, my no-doubt-about-it sign that my conscience is kicking in, had me taking deep breaths in my living room. I wasn’t cringing because I was disappointed in Aziz Ansari. I wasn’t reacting out of anger or some self-serving #NotAllMen nonsense. My reaction was embarrassment, entirely my own. And I think that is the point.
I can remember with humiliating clarity the times that I behaved in similar ways. The times I skipped any semblance of respect and went straight for the “so we getting down or what?” I remember attempting to convince girls that it was all good. I remember the other men in my life not only supporting this behavior, but encouraging it. And ain’t that the point of Grace’s story?
That’s the question we are struggling to grapple with: What is the point of the story? Some, mainly white, straight, cis men, such as Mike Cernovich, read it as an accusation of sexual assault, and rushed to Ansari’s defense. Even if only to say he did it wrong because he is a Beta male. Other’s read the piece and ascribed weakness on to Grace. Then, there are those asking us –- straight, cis men– to be better. It’s here that I want to add my voice, and I want to do it by talking to other straight, cis men.
Fellas, first off there are far too few of us speaking up regarding this situation. Nearly every piece I’ve seen has been written by a woman. In one sense that’s a good thing, women should be the ones speaking to their own experiences and telling their truth. In another sense that is terrifying. As straight, cis men we occupy a position of power that renders our silence a co-sign of what we know is a violation of basic decency and consent. It is imperative that we speak up. Too many of us are hiding behind disingenuous rationalizations of “nothing illegal happened.” It is, frankly, embarrassing that such a weak excuse resonates so well with so many of us. None of us would want the women in our lives who are interested in men to be treated like Grace was by Ansari, and we need to say that. Legality does not equal morality. We know that. Some of us even use that argument in other situations. Our silence speaks volumes.
In her take down of Grace and the encounter Caitlin Flanagan, when talking about how her generation prepared for a date, says: “You were always to have “mad money” with you: cab fare in case he got ‘fresh’ and then refused to drive you home.” What does it say about us that a woman feels it necessary to chastise another woman for not being prepared for our fuckery? How is it that we have been ok living in that world for so long? The number of women I have seen report this type of routine is chilling in its normalcy. While respecting the women in our lives who are interested in intimate relationships with men is reason enough to step up and speak out, there is also the issue of our own health, and the health of the boys who will grow into men interested in women. The most salient piece of understanding that we can take from Grace’s story is that what appears to be “normal” to many of us is causing harm. That harm is not limited to our relationships with women, just today a 15 year old young man was arrested for shooting 17 people and killing 2. Mass shootings are almost exclusively carried out by men, in fact since 1966 only 3 women have carried out a mass shooting. Toxic masculinity and rape culture have socialized us to believe we are entitled to women, wealth, and pretty much anything else we desire. When we don’t get what we want we respond with fragility and violence. The presidency of Donald Trump, and his obsession with all things phallic and war-like, is a clear embodiment of this form of masculinity, on the largest and most dangerous of scales. While women, especially women of color, have showed us endless compassion and patience, and have tirelessly worked to save us from ourselves, it is not their job. It is time that we help ourselves and save our own souls.
This weekend I celebrated my 35th birthday. It was also the one year anniversary of the Women’s March in protest of Donald Trump’s misogyny as well as one week since Babe ran Grace’s story. It’s clear to me that in my 36th year what it means to be a cis man is going to change. It is also clear that we, straight, cis men, have an obligation to embrace that change and set an example.