As I watch so many people post #metoo, I look back on my youth and I think I was, and try to be now, one of the good boys- and this terrifies me because I was horrible. If I was a good kid, and I know how bad I was, how much worse were, or are, the others? And even now, like someone carrying a benign cancerous tumor, I wonder how healthy I really am.
I grew up with strong female role models, grandmothers, mother, four sisters, and my father demanded the women in his home be shown respect. So much so that the only time I can recall my father ever raising his arm as if to hit me, was when I made a flippant remark toward my mother. I had not defied her, but simply been less than respectful. Dad would not stand for that. I had women teachers in school who were formidable and bright, I knew and believed that the smartest students in my grade were all girls, and in church I was taught of the existence of a divine feminine, a Mother in Heaven.
And still, in my mind, women became objects.
I had no idea how to talk to girls. I couldn’t do it. I was so caught up in an internal inferno of sexual desires, hyper male competitiveness, and crippling pubescent insecurity that I could not deal with anything beyond myself in the presence of a girl. All I could see was the shape of her body. All I could think of was whether or not she wanted me in the same way I might want her and if so what were the physical possibilities and how could I really know what she thought, or wanted, and how could I get there.
Sex was everywhere and in every thing. It was in the music I listened too, the shows I saw on tv, in my science text books, in Sunday School lessons, in the jokes my friends and I told each other, and most of all, it was in my head and all throughout my body. It was simply a part of the atmosphere, like oxygen or carbon. There were other things there too, like ozone, STD’s, and god given commandments against fornication, but somehow there was so much sex that if it didn’t crowd everything else out, it at least engulfed it, like an oil spill covering a beach. There might be a bird on that beach, but it would be an oil covered sex bird.
And this was before the internet.
The other things, the ones that were not sex, were either trivial, like algebra, or important, like football. Football was power and glory both on the field and off. It rewarded strength and violence with points on the scoreboard, and it brought me, or anyone associated, an elevated status among our peers. It wasn’t just football, there was basketball and baseball too, and all were important, almost “most” important. And they were really meant for boys. There were of course girls’ teams and even a separate girls’ gym. It was smaller and less elaborate. The girls sports did not have cheerleaders or dancing girls at half time. The sports I played did. The boys with status played and the girls wore short skirts and cheered us on. It was how the school, and the community, were set up. It did not matter that the girls teams won more games and garnered more awards, the pageantry and focus was on us- the boys.
And I bought it all.
Because of all this, and because of me, I went on dates, and took girls to dances, and talked to girls in class and on the phone and all the while I am not sure I ever truly treated them, or considered them fully, as people.
They were body parts. They were trophies. They were potential reflections of myself. I did not go on dates to share ideas or witty banter. I did not have a relationship because I valued the companionship of this other person’s soul. I surely did not share my soul with any of them, I was simply navigating the build up in the teen movie relationship where looks and status are the driver and there might be some words or events that crescendo in what it is all really about anyway- which is the kiss, or depending on the movie, sex. That was the win, the goal, the point.
This was me and I do not think I grew, or evolved, or was taught, out of that mind set and attitude. I wonder, or fear, that I might not have ever changed at all had I not detached from society all together for a full 2 years. For me that is what it took. I went away to a new geography without my friends where I knew that for a solid 24 months I would not go on a date, hug, or even hold a girl’s hand. I did not listen to the radio or watch tv. I wore uniform clothes in a uniform style where status, sex, or social rewards were completely off the table and my only true focus, was talking to people about what was important to them. That time taught me a lot in a very fundamental, very foundational way.
I went through a 2 year hyper masculinity detox, and in large part, I think it worked. I hope it did. But when I came home, it was all still there, it was all the same, it was just me that changed. It was like I had been washed free of the oil slick but no one had touched the beach and I was back. So I wonder how clean I really am and want to know how much oil I swallowed with all those years of swimming. I wonder how clean I ever really got because that 2 year detox wasn’t built “for that”. There was no lesson or curriculum deconstructing paternalistic hyper sexualized masculinity. There were lessons that related, or maybe correlated, but brushing against is not the same as confrontation. Correction and eradication, while related, are not the same.
So as I see people post #me too or #I have and I consider them and I reflect on me, I know that I have a part to play. I know I have been, and probably am, part of the problem. Sexual harassment and objectification isn’t a them problem, or a girl problem, or a Hollywood problem, it is a me and us problem. And when I reflect on my own experience and heart, knowing my own truth, my own sincere desires for goodness, I have to admit- I have.