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Why Men Don’t Ask Women About Sexual Assault

To hear survivors’ stories takes a kind of strength we never learned.

One of the most shocking aspects of the Alito opinion reversing Roe v. Wade is the degree to which men on the far right are bushing off the question of rape induced pregnancies. They’re finally admitting the ugly truth of male supremacy. “We’re okay with rape.”

The only way such an admission is possible is if the larger population of men remain silent, refusing to acknowledge the degree to which sexual assault is widespread, affecting every woman we know. How can men not see? Because we hide this fact from ourselves.

All men have to do to learn about sexual violence against women is ask. Our sisters. Our mothers. Our wives. Our friends. Our daughters. But we don’t ask. Because the answers are too hard on our egos, our beliefs about our fellow men, or our recollections of our own actions in the past.

And there are ways of asking that will only add to the harm. Asking with a skeptical tone or hearing a story and becoming enraged (making it about ourselves). If men do ask, we need to be ready to sit with the story, center the teller, and determine how a woman wants us to listen.

Many of us can not imagine how to even begin to do this kind of interpersonal work. But the good news is we don’t have to rely on women, expecting that they will “teach men.” Instead, we can learn how to hold space for women and non-binary people’s stories of trauma as part of men’s work. We can learn how in men’s work, because there are thousands of stories of being sexually assaulted in those circles as well.

It’s about decentering our reactivity, fears, anger, or defensiveness, and doing so enough times that others trust us with their stories. This earned trust changes us forever.

You want a definition for true strength? Holding stories for survivors of harassment and assault is a powerful human capacity that men can learn. I did my learning at the Mankind Project, and am continuing to learn in our healthy masculinity community with leaders like Charles Matheus and Boysen Hodgson. I also learned to master these capacities from Saliha Bava, and the women leaders in my life. And although women have a lot to teach us, men also need to do our own work, grow on our own willingness to lean into discomfort first.

Brothers, we have a lot of trauma to undo. Our own pain. The pain of all those whose lives we impact. It’s our responsibility to do this work. No one else can do it for us. But I promise you, a rich, connected life waits on the other side, if we only end our silence and begin.

Want to learn how to do this work, how to break out of Man Box culture? Our books, podcasts, videos and more are all here: linktr.ee/RemakingManhood

Boysen, Charles and I share a wonderful conversation on men’s work here:

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