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I’m a man who has been sexually harassed – but I don’t think it’s right for men to join in with #MeToo

 Yes, I’ve been sexually assaulted. Many men, especially gay men, have. But it’s not a systemic problem we face – not like it is with women

Skylar Baker-Jordan
Wednesday 18 October 2017 16:18 BST
Millions of women shared their experience of sexual harrassment and abuse on Twitter
Millions of women shared their experience of sexual harrassment and abuse on Twitter (Reuters)

Like a lot of gay men, I’ve been sexually harassed. Men touching my legs or crotches at gay bars or parties or even at work, making innuendos behind my back, or refusing to leave my apartment when I asked – on this occasion a man pinned me to my mattress and told me he was going to “rape me dry.” A friend of mine was so terrified by my phone call she came running in from a couple doors away carrying a butcher's knife. He was gone by then – and thankfully didn’t rape me.

So yes, me too. But not #MeToo.

#MeToo trended across the world as women used it to share their experiences of being sexually assaulted and harassed. Seeing the sheer volume of female friends, acquaintances, and family members using #MeToo to speak about their experiences of being sexually harassed, assaulted or raped was staggering.

The numbers took me by surprise, though of course they shouldn’t have. Rape Crisis England and Wales took over 200,000 calls last year, and reports that one in five women aged 18-59 has been sexually assaulted. I knew this before the hashtag started trending, but seeing the faces of the women I know put to the statistic was jarring and unnerving.

I didn’t use the hashtag – although lots of men did. I didn’t use it because I recognise a huge difference in my experience and the experiences of women around the globe. Ninety-three per cent of services used by Rape Crisis England and Wales were by women. There is a worldwide epidemic of violence against women and girls, including sexual violence, which kills three women a day in the United States alone.

Yes, sexual assault is a horrific crime no matter who the victim is. But #MeToo was meant to highlight the structural oppression women face and the sexual violence that goes hand-in-hand with it. That is something that men, as a class, cannot possibly understand – even if we are sometimes the victims of sexual assault too (typically by other men). Women used the hashtag to talk about shared womanhood and girlhood, experiences I can never know as a man. Butting into that conversation felt counterproductive, at best, and flat out intrusive at worst.

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This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. In 2013, Newsnight ran a segment on sexism, and women began using #NNSexism to discuss the shared experiences they have living everyday as women in Britain. Men (including myself) jumped in, using the hashtag to talk about our experiences too.

I get it. As men, we should talk about our experiences, be it with sexual assault, gender stereotypes, domestic violence, or any other issues we face. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of my career writing about them.

Yet it seems the only time men ever want to talk about these things is when women start the conversation. After all, the thing that kicked this whole dialogue off is the allegations against Harvey Weinstein – made by dozens of women. This conversation was always about women’s experiences, and somehow some men felt the need to chime in.

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There are ways for us to talk about the issues and pressures we face, even the trauma and violence we’ve experienced, without waiting for women to perform the emotional labour of starting the conversation. We should get our own hashtag, not steal theirs. And we shouldn’t try to steal the spotlight when women are talking about something as important as the epidemic of sexual violence they face.

It’s easy to see #MeToo as just a collection of individuals telling their stories, but to do so is to miss the forest for the trees. The thing about #MeToo was the similarity in stories, the shared experience of being a woman and being sexually harassed or assaulted. It illustrates how sexual violence is used to systematically oppress women as a class. As much as it was about individual women, it was much more about women together.

That’s why I didn’t use the hashtag. It wasn’t about me. Yes, I’ve been sexually assaulted. Many men, especially gay men, have. But it’s not a systemic problem we face – not like it is with women. Any sexual assault is horrific, but just as not all murders are hate crimes, not all sexual assaults are part of a wider oppression. #MeToo recognised that. I wish men would too.

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