#QuestionsForMen is trending on Twitter, and some men aren’t very happy about it. But the hashtag isn’t about misandry, and it’s not about hating men. It’s about the systematic oppression women experience growing up in a patriarchal society. So let us speak.
Have you heard of the #questionsformen hashtag on Twitter? It takes common experiences women share and flips them, asking for men to consider what their lives would be like if those were their experiences. For instance:
Unsurprisingly, some men on Twitter are a little bit pissed about this. This tweet pretty much sums up the male (not all men, hopefully) rebuttal:
Okay. You want to talk about this? Let’s talk. This could get long, so today I’m just going to address the first tweet I included above, the one about walking home at night with one’s keys clasped between one’s fingers (a makeshift weapon because I refuse, on principle, to carry pepper spray).
The fact that I walk home at night with my keys between my fingers does not mean I hate men (I don’t), or that I think men are evil.
It doesn’t mean that I recoil from my father’s hugs. It doesn’t mean that I am scared of my mailman, or my dentist, or that I ever felt unsafe in any of my relationships with guys.
Let me take you back for a moment.
I grew boobs at twelve. Big boobs. They were probably C-cups at that time. I mean, I was a child, I had the brain of a child, I played with toys. But I went from looking like a child to looking like an adult within the course of just a few months. It was pretty traumatic.
How did I know I looked like an adult? Because people told me. Strangers at the gym where I was on swim team, for instance. “Aw, sweetie, you don’t look twelve,” the guy who hung out in the gym lobby told me. Then he tried to give me a boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia he found in a dumpster. (You can’t make this stuff up). Even the girls said it. “You look so much older than you are,” the teenagers said, approvingly. It felt good and bad and strange all at the same time.
And guys on the street started looking at me differently. I didn’t really get it, but I felt it. Something had shifted, and I no longer felt the same degree of safety and ease I had felt when I was unambiguously a child.
My parents had always been big on warning me about stranger danger. Ever since Polly Clause was kidnapped when we were in second or third grade, my friends and I had been terrified of being snatched from our bedrooms at night. And as I grew up, the stranger danger message took on a specific aspect that had been missing, at least in my own mind, when I was a child. By high school, I was told pretty unambiguously: don’t go to remote areas by yourself. Don’t walk home at night alone. Don’t put yourself in x, y, or z situations, because you will be attacked. And the attack will be of a sexual nature. Don’t forget, don’t ever forget, I was told in school, at home, on the news: one in six women in the United States has been raped (or experienced a rape attempt). We all know someone. We all will know someone.
And the thing is, while I hated hearing that message, while I resented my parents to perpetuating that culture of fear, that idea that it was my responsibility to limit my movement in the world in order to keep myself safe…they weren’t wrong.
I walk home with my keys in between my fingers because one in six women has experienced (at least) a rape attempt. That’s not even counting the numbers of women I know who have been sexually assaulted (many women I know), or sexually harassed (virtually all women I know). The danger is real.
I hate that the danger is real.
I hate that awareness on some level of these issues has been with me since I was twelve.
I hate that as soon as I started to become a (future) female sexual being, I was no longer safe. And I knew it. I grew up knowing it.
It’s not a contest, and the experiences of people of all genders can be as diverse as people themselves are. I am not for a moment saying that there aren’t cis men who experience sexual assault and/or rape. What I am saying is this: I grew up in a culture that taught me, from a very early age, to be fearful of the generic male, who was an unknown quantity — and for good reason. I grew up hunching over myself, trying to hide my breasts, trying to keep the gaze of strangers off of me before I was ready to deal with its implications. (Some days, I’m still not ready to deal with it). Even before I started dating, even before I entered high school, I grew up being defined, and defining what I could and could not do, by my sexual desirability. And regardless of family’s education or economic status, to one degree or another, every single woman does.
And that’s what #QuestionsForMen is about. That is the simple thing I would ask a cis man who is angry about the hashtag. I grew up limited by, defined by, and assaulted by my own nascent sexuality. So tell me, men: did you?