A companion to “That One Time in the Store”, this is my contribution to #NotAllMen. And to the new tag, #AllMenCan.
Now that the hashtags have been drawn, what next? I get that #NotAllMen harass/abuse women, and that #YesAllWomen get harassed/abused. I get that it’s wrong for men to think women are their property to use as the men see fit. I also get that rape culture and misogyny are so ingrained in our society that most people participate in them without realizing it. What I’m having trouble with is how to live with it all.
People who think abuse and harassment are acceptable may be beyond help. I prefer to stay as far away from them as I can. But what about the others? What about people who don’t think abuse is right but who don’t really stand up to it? Or the people who don’t understand what rape culture is, or how and why they are perpetuating it? Or the ones who sort of understand but not completely, or not enough to stop doing it? What do you do with them?
Fairy tales are more deeply entrenched in our lives than most of us realize. Example: Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. In a fairy tale world, this is how change happens. Drogo lives in an extremely misogynistic society where women are routinely subjected to rape. Drogo buys a wife and forces her to have sex because that’s the way his people have always done it. Then one day Daenerys stands up to him and says no. Miraculously, it works. He begins to treat her with more respect, the two end up falling madly in love, and they live happily ever. (Well, as far as that lasts in Game of Thrones, anyway.)
There are Drogos in the world – men raised in misogyny who manage to change their views. But the love of a strong woman may not be the best or most effective way of changing a beast. First of all, there are not many heiresses-of-House-Targaryen around to tame these men. Second, a woman raised in misogyny isn’t likely to stand up to a rapist, especially not if he’s her husband. Third, that’s an unacceptably harsh way to go about changing things for the better. And fourth, most men are not Khal Drogo, no matter how much they like to think they are. A writer can imbue a character with the traits he needs to change, whereas men in real life don’t necessarily possess them. Even the love of a “good woman” can’t make it happen if the man isn’t ready, willing, or able to understand why and/or how he needs to change.
I’m not sure reasoning with these men is the answer, either. They’ve been brainwashed, just as we women have, to believe in fairy tales and in doing things the way we’ve always done them without question. “That’s just the way it is between men and women.” “That’s the way God made us.” “It was good enough for my parents, it’s good enough for me.” How do you un-brainwash an entire population? How do you convince them change would benefit us all?
Sometimes I get so frustrated with men. They agree that abuse is wrong, that misogyny is hurtful, and that women shouldn’t have to spend their lives in fear of what men might do. Then they turn around and make rape jokes. Women do it, too. They dress up like Daenerys and beg to be raped. They think it’s sexy. They think it’s how humans play.
The “real” Daenerys knew that rape was wrong. She didn’t like what happened to her, and she struggled to change it. For her, it worked. In real life, don’t expect that to happen. Drogo had probably never experienced any other way of life, so he had little resistance to the ideas Daenerys introduced. But today, men are aware that rape is wrong. They know women don’t like being harassed. Yet they do it anyway. It’s going to be harder to convince them to stop. In public men say, “Sure, rape culture is wrong,” but behind closed doors, they continue their behavior. And how can you stop that?
Methinks that if we do manage to change #YesAllWomen to #NotAllWomen or even #NoWomen, it’s going to be a harder fight than the battle for the Iron Throne in the Seven Kingdoms.