Trigger warning: This post refers to harassment and rape.
Masculinity sits at a café table waiting. Femininity rushes in and sits themselves down, flustered.
Masculinity: You made it!
Femininity: It’s a miracle. Jeez.
Masculinity: Is everything okay?
Femininity: Ummm. No. Obviously not. I’ve been reading post after post about sexual harassment and I’m positively fatigued and horrified.
Masculinity: Me too! Get it? You know…because of the hashtag?
Femininity: Not funny.
Masculinity: You’re right. Sorry.
Femininity: I guess that’s why we’re meeting. Catherine Hernandez sent us both here.
Masculinity: Are we in the blog again?
Femininity: Yup. And for good reason.
Masculinity: She’s such a shit disturber. It’s brilliant.
Femininity: If the diaper fits. Okay…so, remember in our last conversation when we talked about toxic masculinity?
Masculinity: Oh yeah.
Femininity: You know, the blog piece Catherine wrote where we spoke to each other and it was all metaphorical and surreal?
Masculinity: Fucking shit disturber.
Femininity: I know. It’s amazing that Buddies in Bad Times Theatre pays her to write whatever she wants. Anyway… so here we are. Again.
Masculinity: Why? Didn’t we talk about this already?
Femininity: Yes. That’s the point. In the wake of #metoo, it’s obvious this conversation has to happen on the regular. Allyship with survivors means taking as many opportunities to consider your own toxic masculinity, checking your privileges and checking masculine folks around you.
Masculinity: What does this have to do with being masculine?
Femininity: The patriarchy is structured so that, by enabling structures to exist that allow harassment and rape, we are being complicit in those actions. But truly, I want to focus on what you can do to change your behaviour instead of trying to prove it’s needed in the first place. If I had a dollar each time some masculine person tried to discredit my argument by saying “Actually…”
Masculinity: Well, actually…
Masculinity: Whoa. I actually actually’ed you.
Femininity: I’m not surprised. I’m so used to it. Are you open to hearing what I have to say?
Masculinity: Ummm. Okay.
Femininity: First, I want you to look at me. What feelings are going on in your body hearing a feminine person check you?
Masculinity: I feel attacked. I feel defensive. Like what you’re saying is bullshit.
Femininity: Where does it sit in your body?
Masculinity: My throat. My chest. My palms.
Femininity: Cool. It exists. Acknowledging your resistance is a huge discovery, right?
Masculinity: Yes. Like, if I use my calories denying I have those feelings, I can’t really deal with them, right?
Femininity: Exactly. One’s misogyny – like racism, classism, ableism etc. – is similar to trying to hold a beach ball under water. Every now and then it pops up. For some, more often than others. Now, I need you to say what you just discovered.
Masculinity: I am averse to what you are saying because you are feminine. Society has told me that the space I take up in the world, what I say, the work I do, is more important than your presence and your opinion. So when you check me, I feel heat in my throat, my chest, my palms.
Femininity: Excellent. I want you to keep this in mind when I tell you that this. What you see here, is my body.
Masculinity: Okay. It’s your body. I never said it wasn’t.
Femininity: Well… in not so many words. But your actions say another thing. I want you to practice asking for consent. Every touch from hugs to sex, I want you to practice consent.
Masculinity: Even for hugs? For reals? That’s ridiculous.
Femininity: Where are you feeling resistance?
Masculinity: Oh! My throat. My chest. My palms.
Femininity: Good. Keep track of those feelings. I am generously offering you action items for change. These are gifts. Accept them with gratitude. Take a breath. (Masculinity takes a breath.) Okay. Ready? (Masculinity nods.) You have to practice with any touch because any touch is access to my body. I’ve been told, as a feminine person, that everyone has access to my body, no matter how uncomfortable. I want you to practice asking for consent, and I am going to practice saying what I actually want. Did you know Catherine is a survivor?
Masculinity: No way.
Femininity: Yup. And when she was raped, her body just froze, trying to appease her perpetrator. As a femme of colour, she was taught over and over again by society that it was her job to appease masculine folks and her job to stay silent. See, even now, while checking you, I can feel myself crafting an apology because I’m not supposed to challenge you, based on society’s standard behaviour.
Masculinity: Fucking hell. How do we change that pattern?
Femininity: Lots of ways. Perhaps we can start with allowing feminine folks to say no. What can you do to make it a safe place for people to say no?
Masculinity: I can watch my body language when a femme refuses something and honour their request. This can be refusing to speak, refusing touch, refusing any correspondence. And this refusal can happen at any time. I can also celebrate their refusal by thanking them for telling me what they feel comfortable with.
Femininity: And if a femme tells you they were harassed by someone else, the first thing you need to say is “I believe you.” When Catherine told the first few people about her rape, no one believed her. It was devastating. Years later she is still learning that what happened to her was wrong and that she had every right to not report it as much as others have the right to do so.
Masculinity: What if I make a mistake? I will fuck up, won’t I?
Femininity: Hell yes. But that’s part of liberation from oppression. This type of change demands both bravery and loving care.
Masculinity: Well… I guess I can apologize and mean it.
Femininity: More like apologize and put it into action. Now, let’s talk about other masculine folks around you. What can you do as someone who is on a journey of allyship?
Masculinity: Shit. My throat. My chest. My palms.
Femininity: Right? It feels shitty to challenge masculinity when being masculine often means upholding a bro culture that turns its nose up at fragility, vulnerability, and emotions.
Masculinity: Exactly. I feel unsafe.
Femininity: But how good would it feel to be soft? Vulnerable? Emotional? Think of all the calories you spend puffing your chest out. Try it now. Just for a second.
Masculinity softens and smiles.
Masculinity: Shit on a stick.
Femininity: See? Now with that openness, consider how much change can happen when you encourage others to do the same. When we say “Hell no, we won’t bro!” suddenly the need to conquer, to master, to humiliate, melts away. You won’t need to take up space in a room. You’ll actually learn to listen. You won’t have to dominate other people’s bodies. Your softness allows other beings to co-exist without you stamping your power upon them.
Masculinity: Holy. I am changed. I feel it. We should write an open letter about this!
Femininity: Sure, open engagement is good, but what’s better is ongoing engagement with masculine folks on the regular. Never let that rape joke get a laugh. Ask for consent always. Respect survivors reporting, respect survivors’ privacy.
Masculinity: This is a lot of work.
Femininity: It is. But not as much work as it is for us femmes to say this over and over again. Once we’re done here, can you promise to read this every day, share with your masculine community and never stop being an ally to us? We’re kind of tired.
Masculinity: Hell no, I won’t bro.
They both sit in silence, smiling and tired.
*P.S. The phrase “hell no, I won’t bro” was learned by my partner, Nazbah Tom, who is in partnership with me to battle misogyny in our marriage every day.