#MeToo Should Be About Transformation, Not Punishment by Tina Phillips

Ever since #MeToo jumped off I have noticed a concerning trend… Although many positive developments have arisen out of the movement, there have been some drawbacks, and one I am noticing is men being thrown under the bus. What is the price we pay for this “reckoning” in the long term?

I am definitely not a supporter of the torch and burn approach. This is the one that seeks to damage men in the wake of #MeToo instead of trying to bring healing or transformation into the situation. There is a real lack of care for how men end up. Many say, “Why care? They hurt us, so they deserved to be hurt. They deserve to lose their jobs, their reputations; to lose everything.” Many go as far as to say. “They deserve to be imprisoned, raped, or even killed.” Is that what feminism is about?

I would argue no. We have to be very careful as feminists not to buy into retaliation, retribution, or revenge. That is antithetical to feminism! Furthermore, men are half of humanity and we cannot just throw them away like “trash,” as it has become popular to call men trash as of late. The implications of which are that we consider some human beings disposable. That is a big problem feminists who claim to be about doing away with hierarchy and being for humane treatment of all people. In addition, socialist feminists should absolutely not be about carceral feminism—we should not be supporting the prison system as a solution. We should be against it.

Are we committed to real fundamental change or not? Thinking that throwing people in jail changes our social problems is very faulty thinking. In fact it often worsens problems. It can lead to repercussions we don’t want. Of course, if someone is a danger to others, keeping them away from the general population may be a last resort ( something akin to a locked treatment center). But prisons are not a good solution and not a humane place for human beings to reside. So actively pushing for prisons is not something feminists should be rallying for.

Have women put up with too much for too long? Yes, they have. And this has lead to a lot of pent up resentments for sure. There is so much anger and so much pain underneath it, and a literal traumatic history all women have to some degree or another. And these strong feelings are now bursting out. So, many women have held in their feelings for too long. #MeToo is like a watershed moment, releasing the floodgates of emotion.

We are definitely making men uncomfortable with our anger. Which is not what I take issue with. Men need to learn to deal with women being angry at their poor behavior. Women have every right to be angry. The fact is all women are victims of men’s bad behavior to one extent or another. I choose to use the word “survivor” though. And as survivors, we cannot just “get over it.” I am a professional medical social worker with a master’s degree in social work and many years of experience. I can tell you this: Trauma does not just go away! It takes years and years of therapy to help heal a person from trauma, and even then the scars never go away. Trauma impacts the brain, often permanently. Anyone who tries to deny, ignore, erase, invalidate, or minimize is gaslighting others.

Men must be held accountable for their wrong actions. This may involve consequences to some degree: a removal from power or the ability to keep perpetuating harm. Punishment need not be part of this process though. In addition, patriarchy, as a system, must be taken apart piece by piece. Toxic masculinity cannot stand. We must keep fighting for this new world we are building. Our shared strength is in owning our true stories, telling them out loud, and in each other. Organizing together makes us unstoppable. But our movement must be inclusive. In order to dismantle patriarchy, we must work with men to do it.

The danger with this new moment we are in is it is very tempting to now use our pain as an excuse to perpetuate harm. Getting swept up in thinking that men who have done us wrong need harsh punishment is the wrong way to go. What I am saying here is absolutely not in any way an apology for what men have done, or an excuse. But there are reasons why men act the way they do, and that behavior is  created by powerful social forces and are rooted in systemic oppression. Knowing this, how does punishing individuals solve these problems?

Does harsh punishment help anything else, anyway? No, it does not in my experience. Sure, there is a tendency in this society to say the worst acts deserve the strictest  responses. But does that really bring us the society we truly need and deserve? No. It is a conditioned response and impulse. We should be questioning that very conditioning if we want to transform society. We must lead with empathy and compassion, and stand for humane treatment as our principles dictate we do. Surely, as hurt and traumatized people, we may want to strike first and ask questions later. It may even be part of the post-traumatic response to become hyper-vigilant and go on to the defensive. But these actions do not bring us healing nor transform the fundamental situation. They are actually counter-productive. Often they are dehumanizing to others and turn people away from the feminist movement we all need. I have seen this many times myself over the years. And so, many men are afraid to get involved in the feminist movement at all to begin with. Women are even turned away from getting involved because they think the feminist movement is anti-men. And we do not help our cause when we advocate for men to take a hike.

The fact is the feminist movement needs men. Now more than ever! Why do we think we can do this alone? Even more, why do we think we should do this alone? If men are half the people on earth, don’t you think they ought to pitch in to solve some of the problems we are having? Especially considering most of the oppression comes from their direction? And to think they will do so in isolation from women, instead of in conjunction and cooperation with women, is unrealistic.

Sure, there are men’s organizations doing this type of work now and that is great. But let’s face it, the typical guy out there is not part of these organizations. But they are part of our workplaces, our families, our friend-circles, our organizing groups, and our communities. And what better way to engage them then say, “Hey, this is what I am going through, and hey, patriarchy sucks for you too. Why don’t we work on this together?” This allows empathy to develop and take root.

Women have so much to teach men. Men are not going to get to where they need to be on their own. None of us is getting where we need to be alone. Feminism and socialism teaches us that. Heck, understanding basic human needs tells us we cannot survive without each other– we are wired for connection and cooperation.

And what is definitely not getting men any closer to where society as a whole needs them to be is to blame, ostracize, and demonize them. This can actually lead to bad outcomes for men, and in turn for women and all of society in general. In fact, the social exclusion and isolation of men are reasons we are seeing the violent acting out of some men.

Blaming men instead of social systems, including patriarchy,for our social problems is a big mistake! Yes, men do need to take responsibility for their individual actions contributing to an oppressive environment for women and others. Yes, they need to give up male privilege and power. Yes, they need to change their behaviors. But what drives all of those things? It is the systems and the cultural landscape. Unless we tackle the systems that drive the behaviors and social constructions, we will not see any fundamental changes we need.

And when did blaming individuals ever make them motivated to do anything? It sure has not in my experience. It usually backfires immediately because it puts them into a defense mode. We need instead to say, “Hey, we have this social problem here that is hurting us both. Let’s work together to do something about it.” Basically, instead of pointing your finger at a man, offer a hand. Is that exceedingly hard when they have hurt you? Yes, it sure is. But it does not make it any less necessary.

As women, femmes, or survivors of any gender, we need to work on doing our own healing of the traumas we have face in order to do the work needed to transform society. We have to transform ourselves. That may mean therapy, support groups, consciousness raising circles, or whatever works for you. In fact, Tarana Burke, who started the “Me Too” movement ten years ago, believes that the most important part of the movement is its potential to provide healing. We need to look at how to focus on this and not on punishing others.

In my experience, resentment and bitterness will not bring us the society we want. We need to stop counterproductive behaviors that are toxic and instead use our anger to fuel change, not perpetuate pain. Feminism was never meant to be weaponized. Feminism is about transforming society so that we end all hierarchical systems and institute true egalitarianism. Feminism is about transforming the systems of power over others to that of sharing power equally with others. Creating a humane and ethical society where all people are treated with dignity requires we are careful in the actions we take today. It is about remaking our social relationships. Yes, even between women and men. And how do we do that, if we advocate for men to be punished and cut off from society?

We need to see a way forward for the redemption of men instead of acting as if they are a lost cause. We need something for men to aspire to and not recoil from. What does social justice look like within a #MeToo framework? Solutions such as transformative justice can be used to create systems of accountability for perpetrators and healing for survivors; while simultaneously looking to prevent these things from happening again by identifying root causes, which are social and systemic in nature. How transformative justice will look like in practice is still a work in progress, but we should be working to develop and implement these models in our own organizations and communities. In a wider framework, we can look to methods such as “calling in,” instead of out: bringing people into our movement by asking them to be personally part of the change, and allowing people chances to make mistakes. Given that we know many of these behaviors are motivated by systemic causes, and people have been conditioned since birth to act in these manners, we need to give people chances. Understanding how people got to be this way in the first place is fundamental to this process. We need to also keep in mind that one  in six men are also survivors of sexual assault or molestation (for women it is one in three). There are many men who can literally say “Me too.” We need to realize that men are part of this thing called humanity. To solve these issues, we need to involve them and work with them, including those who have done harm. Going forward the aim needs to be to transform, not to punish. In order to do this we need to work on transforming ourselves and the actions we are taking now. Critical examination of our own practices determine the future success of the #MeToo movement, as well as the feminist movement in general.


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