#ItWasMe: Men Taking Ownership of Sexual Abuse?

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Over recent weeks, there has been a change in public consciousness. Though I suspect we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, something had shifted. Women are speaking out in droves about sexual assault and naming their accusers. Ever since the story broke about Harvey Weinstein, there’s been a flood of other accusations. Mostly men in Hollywood are being named (and the entertainment industry beyond Hollywood— also in Canada and England), but politicians and executives are being accused as well.

The key common denominator is that women are speaking out against men in power— the type of man who has been able to perpetuate abuse because of his power and position in society.

I’m encouraged by all of the women speaking out, and weeks ago I was also encouraged by the new hashtag on twitter that followed #MeToo. Given the number of complaints and the wave of stories the average woman shared with the #MeToo movement, it had to make the average man think. Women were sharing stories of the kind of abuse we deal with daily, and men had to be seeing themselves within these stories. It’s not one man perpetuating sexual assault and harassment on thousands of women. Sadly, it’s many men behaving inappropriately.

Some courageous men decided to step forward with the #ItWasMe movement. I was greatly impressed. Finally, men were starting to share stories of when they saw themselves as abusers. I firmly believe we will only see an end to sexual harassment and assault when men acknowledge their behaviour and speak out against all inappropriate behaviour when they see it.

One man said he was young teenager and tried forcing himself on female friend. He only stopped when she started to cry. Other men recounted tales in bars where they realized they were inappropriate with a woman after she had been drinking. Other men acknowledged being that guy who said nothing when they saw their friends behaving badly. Women thanked men for sharing these stories—but then the stories stopped after a day or two. Recently I went back and looked up the hashtag to see what else had been shared. I was disappointed.

Some men did share a few more stories of inappropriate behaviour, but the stories all but faded after a few days. Since then, hashtag has fizzled out and has become more of a joke. The comments now largely have nothing to do with men owning their sexually inappropriate behaviour.

It’s disappointing, because as I say this problem will only be solved when all men see sexual violence or harassment as completely hideous. When men stop being “victims” of a woman’s beauty to the point where they “can’t help” but say something inappropriate, or possibly try to touch, or worse—follow her off the subway or down the street because they want to get to know her. Yes, the latter scenario happened to me. More than once.

The one thing that has come out of the #ItWasMe hashtag is a documentary that will feature men sharing their experiences as abusers. It’s raw, disturbing, and honest. Yet it’s hopeful. Because acknowledgement is the first step.

Executive produced by Sarah Polley, it’s called A BETTER MAN. It was in the works before the Harvey Weinstein scandal, but it’s timing couldn’t be more perfect. It’s being screened in many places, and will air on TVO on November 26, 2017.

Here’s an interesting story I’ll share. When the men in Hollywood started to be named, including Kevin Spacey who most recently used his accusation of being an abuser as a platform to come out as a gay man, I mentioned one man to my mother whom I wouldn’t be surprised to hear named as an abuser. Years ago, I worked with him on set. At that time, we knew that he had an underage girl traveling with him.

Apparently everybody knew—from the producer down to the extras. I, an extra, had heard the word along with others. The girl was allegedly fourteen. I remember wondering why no one would speak out against this—those in power that is. I.e., why would the producer or the director allow this star to have an underage girl with him? Why would her parents allow it? Simply because he was a big name star? (And honestly, why did no one speak out against these predators in Hollywood over the years? Clearly, people knew about their behaviour.)

Anyway…this actor I worked with has recently been named as someone perpetuating sexual assault against another actress in Hollywood. I won’t say who he is, but I now look forward to hearing whether or not the story of the underage girl comes out. I won’t be surprised. And when I heard his name added to the growing list, I definitely was not surprised.

While the #ItWasMe movement did not go very far—at least not yet—I hope it won’t be forgotten. I did see and comment on one man’s long and honest post on Facebook. And the fact that there will be a documentary taking a look at abusers who are reflecting on their behavior and understanding the gravity of what they’ve done is promising. I hope men in their shoes will see it. Men who will be inspired to make changes.

But will they? I’ve got one Facebook “friend” whom I contemplate having a frank discussion with, especially as I’ve seen some of his posts and I know he doesn’t get it. He was my friend, and I trusted him—and he took advantage of that trust. That’s all I’ll say. But despite what he did to me, he seems completely unwilling to own his behavior. Women on his timeline adore him. I don’t yet have the courage to speak out to him, but perhaps one day I will. He’s exactly the kind of man who needs to do some serious self-reflection and see his behaviour for what it was.

For men to actually see themselves and their behavior as abusive they have to take off the rose-colored glasses. I know that if my abuser were to actually look at what he did from my position, versus the position of what he wanted, he would see exactly what happened. This is why there aren’t more men speaking out against their own behavior.

Maybe they don’t want to accept that what they did was hideous and wrong—that could be a big part. Seeing the truth means owning a very disturbing part of themselves. But until they do, they run the risk of continuing to perpetuate abusive behavior.

In the meantime, I applaud woman who continue speak out. More need to, especially against men in powerful positions.

Movies scheduled to be released featuring abusers are being dropped, series are being cancelled. These are serious repercussions. Hopefully the shift of consciousness and the repercussions will have wide sweeping effects in this part of the world that will spread across the globe so that finally, women can feel safe just being women.

Kayla Perrin is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning USA Today and Essence best-selling author, with 46 books in print. Perrin is best described as passionate, fearless, motivated and self-driven to excel at whatever she pursues.

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