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My little brother once carried an unconscious woman to her friend’s house so that the man who had roofied her, whoever he was and nobody seemed to know, would be far away; so she would wake up in a familiar and comfortable place.

This is for all the men who have chosen to use their strength that way rather than the other way.

A man I knew once slept outside a drunk woman’s room because she was scared of something; maybe it was illogical of her, and maybe it was inconvenient for him, but he curled up in her doorway — not inside it, because that would have been disrespectful — and kept her safe.

This is for all the men who have cared more about women than they cared how “logical” or with-it they were being.

Another man I knew told me his deepest, darkest secret: that when he was a broad-shouldered teenager, he was walking by himself at night through a park and he stumbled upon a man assaulting a woman. So he, the teenager, attacked the man, stabbed him, and grabbed the girl by the hand and ran with her. He did not know if the man survived. That was the secret. He had maybe killed someone.

This is for all the men who have risked themselves for someone smaller than them.

A friend of mine invited me to visit him in his home state, and met me at the airport with flowers. I blushed and worried, because I wasn’t sure if I liked him like that. Maybe I did, but I didn’t know yet. He took me out, showed me things I had never seen before, sat on sunny benches with me while I sighed and put my head on his shoulder. One night, he spent a hundred bucks on complex cocktails and we went home to his apartment, where I was sleeping on a couch made of pillows. I hugged him and I thought, maybe I want to kiss him now. So I kissed his cheek, shut my eyes, and then changed my mind. He let me go to my pillow bed unpestered, unkissed. He never made me feel guilty about any of it. He never pushed me, he never acted grumpy. I didn’t know how to tell him thank you; how much it had meant to me that he let me not know what I wanted.

This is for all the men who understand that women owe them nothing.

But. This is not for the brand of “nice guy” who thinks of himself as an upstanding all-American Christian, the guy who didn’t quit no matter how many times I told him no and shoved his hands off me, overandoverandover. I know how offended he would be if I suggested that he had done anything to violate me. I told him no and he asked why not. “Because I said so,” I retorted. He groaned. “That’s the best reason ever,” he said, and then, five minutes later, he tried again.

This is not for the pair of well-off, “upstanding” males who started talking to a friend and I at our local pub. She liked one of them; let’s call him John. John bought us drinks, which I refused to do anything but sip. He tried to dance with my friend, and I watched them; watched her tell him that he’d have to take her out on a real date and get to know her, that she wasn’t going to do anything with him that night, she just wasn’t. I watched her smile at him as she said this, trying to smooth the presumptive assertions by making the smile arch, feminine. Watched him buy her drink after drink, watched her drink them. I tried to scoop her away, but when I got close, John’s friend — let’s call him Fred — would start touching me. He tried lifting the hem of my shirt up, tried grazing my thigh with his hand. I yelled at him and whacked his hand. Overandover. After awhile, I told her I was leaving and asked her to come with me. “I’ll be right behind you, ten minutes,” she said. She never followed me. I texted her all night, asking if she was OK, guilt coursing through my veins. The next morning, she came to my house and lied; she said she was fine with what had happened. So what was I going to do except hug her? And hug her, later, when she admitted she was not fine with it, that he hadn’t listened to her, that she wanted to swear off men entirely.

This is not for the school principal who spanked a pre-teen female student. This is not for the “repentant” husband who demanded his wife move back in with him. This is not for the male teacher who made a joke about a female student’s body. This is not for all the men who are subtly-but-not-overtly creepy.

I’m positive these men think of themselves as model citizens. They would be appalled if anyone punched them; nothing wrong, nothing untoward going on. Pushing a woman’s boundaries, ignoring the words that come out of her mouth, that’s just part of being an all-American male. Women want a man who is assertive, who doesn’t back down. Women, also, don’t always know what’s appropriate, since their feelings are on the delicate side. This is often what they tell me when I broach the subject. “I’m so glad you know me better than I know myself,” I snort. “I’m so glad I’ve got a big, strong man to interpret my feelings for me.”

This is not for these men. But.

This is for all the men who have felt ashamed of their sexuality because of these stories, like maybe it was something that would hurt women.

This is for all the women who have felt ashamed of their sexuality because of these stories, like maybe it was something they had to hide under layers of fabric or it would somehow hurt them.

 

 

 

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