The details are hazy. I was 12, entering puberty. Tight Jordache jeans adorned most every bottom. A baser part of me wanted to pinch one too, but didn’t think I should.
I had a sense it was wrong. Some of the girls in school pretended to tolerate it, others got visibly angry. The male perpetrators acted like it was some big joke. No other boys intervened to stop them. I recall some teachers knew, but didn’t do much about it. It was written off as “boys will be boys.”
That’s how I remember the 80s beginning, with lots of boys non-consensually pinching the buttocks of girls. Who knows? If I’d been one of the “cool” boys, I might have done it too. And yet I am not innocent. I have done things that made women uncomfortable. I expect almost all men have.
Men exist on a continuum of horror.
It is not a bimodal distribution, with good men clustered at one end, bad at the other. It is more a bell curve. We have a small percentage of the absolute worst murdering rapists at one extreme, an equally small percentage of innocent on the other, and most at varying degrees of bad behavior in between.
I can’t objectively judge where I fall on this distribution. I know I’ve never touched without consent, but I’ve said and written things I should not have. I contributed to the problem.
2017 is a reckoning. It’s not women coming forward. It’s not men suddenly becoming aware. It’s men being forced to care because it’s finally affecting them.
For millennia, sexual assault has been a power play to keep women down. Now, slowly and slightly, the tables are being turned. Now the perpetrators are having their wealth, power, and prestige negatively affected because of their crimes. Men who relished in their egregious past are beginning to fear the consequences of it.
You think 2017 was the year women finally complained? Fuck you. They’ve been complaining about it forever. You either chose not to listen, or didn’t care. But then we got a Pussy Grabber in Chief, and people got pissed. I’m not sure Weinstein would have gone down in 2015.
Now there is momentum. Now cries of foul are finally receiving attention, and it is prompting more to come forward with their stories. If we can’t take down the mango molester, we can perhaps finally address the serial assaulting elephants in rooms o’er the land.
But women do bad things too!
Again: fuck you.
Yes, women’s behavior exists on a bell curve as well; mostly bad at one end, mostly good at the other, the majority clustered in the middle between the two. But the horrors committed by men are so very much worse. Just ask the FBI.
- Murder and non-negligent manslaughter committed by men: 88.7%
- Forcible rape committed by men: 99.1%
- Aggravated assaults committed by men: 77.1%
- Violent arson committed by men: 80.1%
- Other assaults committed by men: 72.3%
- Sex offenses (except forcible rape and prostitution) committed by men: 92.2%
- Offenses against the family and children committed by men: 73.4%
- Overall violent crime committed by men: 80.1%
It may not be all men, but it is mostly men.
The “men’s rights” crowd scoff at the words of Margaret Atwood: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” But looking at those statistics alone, there is clear evidence women have every right to be afraid. And angry.
I wonder how these men would feel if the size and strength imbalance of the genders were suddenly reversed.
It’s not just the statistics, however. It is the personal experiences of women. When I asked for examples of women being treated like property by men, I was overwhelmed at the response. It is detailed here.
Because even though it’s the men in the evil-leaning quartile of the bell curve committing most of these egregious acts against women, almost every woman will experience it. Likely more than once. Because such men don’t stop with one victim.
What the hell is wrong with us? I mean, I know testosterone is a helluva drug, but let’s be real. For most of human history, the world has been horrible. There are many parts of it today that are still awful. And it’s been mostly men making it awful.
Men’s rights types like to talk about how it was men who brought all the great scientific advancements and civilization and women should be grateful. Besides being bullshit, men created most of the destruction and built a patriarchal society where the ones with the penises have almost always been in charge.
For most of our history, brutality was an asset that was rewarded.
In ancient times, the earliest royal families came to be in charge largely through physical and psychological dominance. Status, women, and gold were often achieved via the sword. This history has sculpted the modern world. To this day, boys are conditioned to see what they can get away with. We are taught to take. Girls are taught to give, to not make a fuss.
Socrates was believed to have proclaimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I have examined, and there are things that cause me to cringe. Some men are predators, others are mere assholes. I have been an asshole, and not merely a clueless one. Read about “The Myth of the Male Bumbler;” we often know what we’re doing is wrong, but we find a way to justify it. I’m a jokester at heart—it permeates my writing and has advanced my career—but most times I knew when my jokes crossed a line, and yet I crossed anyway.
And so, I’m not going to Morgan Spurlock this piece and make it all about me, fill it with excuses, and fail to apologize. Instead, I’m going to admit there have been times I have run my mouth, and my keyboard, making inappropriate commentary that has made women uncomfortable.
And I am sorry. I will do better, move further to the good side of the curve, and drag my fellow men with me as best I can.
It’s time for us to evolve further as a society. We can do it.
Speaking of evolution, here’s an example of how we’re different. Infanticide is not uncommon in the animal kingdom as a reproductive strategy. When a new male replaces an old male, he may kill the previous male’s children so as not to waste resources on offspring that are not biologically his. Infanticide has also been shown in non-human primates to kick-start the female’s ability to reproduce, making it a further genetic advantage for the supplanting male. The evolutionarily beneficial nature of infanticide dictates humans should do it as well to give supremacy to the individual’s biological line, and if we go far enough back, I expect it happened.
But society created civilizations and laws to prevent that. Reason prevailed for the greater good.
More recent examples of how this can work regards things like seatbelt laws, drinking and driving, and smoking regulations. Laws were created because lives were being lost. The data were clear on this, and it created public outcry that changed the world, despite there being large corporations against the change. We are capable of thinking of the greater good, and enacting change in the face of pushback from the powerful to achieve it.
But there are men who don’t want to change the status quo regarding the sexual assault of women. They want it to remain “no big deal.” They don’t want us to value women as real human beings. They like the power imbalance, and would prefer us to go backwards, not forwards, because they fail to see a problem. These men know they hold this power, yet pretend they don’t. They use minimizing language: “How could I have any power in this situation?” and “Men are oppressed too” and “I’ve never seen that happen” and “Feminists are taking over the world!”
But change is coming. Change must come.
We are the most intelligent creatures on the planet. We have proven we have self-control. Testosterone, societal conditioning, upbringing, alcohol … these are not excuses for assaulting women. We possess higher brain functions. We can stop ourselves. These are choices people make.
These are choices people make. Men choose to assault, they are not destined to. It is far from inevitable.
2017 is not a witch hunt or a warlock hunt or whatever people are calling it. It’s delayed justice. It’s a sign of an all-too-slowly evolving society. It’s a long-awaited backlash creating enough critical mass that men are finally feeling the negative impact of their behavior and being forced to pay attention, because it stings them.
It should sting. It should sting a whole fuck of a lot.
Because if it stings enough, perhaps the men of the future will make better choices.
Thanks to my friends Carrie King and Natalia Reagan for their assistance with this piece.
UPDATE: The predictable backlash to this piece prompted me to write a follow up.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end. Perhaps I can interest you in checking out my next book, titled The Holy Sh!t Moment, about the science behind the life-changing epiphany. Learn more about it here.
James S. Fell, MA, MBA, has bylines in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and many other publications. His blog has millions of readers and he is the author of two books: The Holy Sh!t Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in an Instant (St. Martin’s Press, 2019), and Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind (Random House Canada, 2014). Order them here.