Will Johnson was inspired to examine his personal complicity in rape culture by the recent #MeToo social media campaign. Photo: Jennifer Cowan

COLUMN: From #MeToo to #HowIWillChange

Reporter Will Johnson examines his complicity in rape culture

Last week my social media feeds were deluged by #MeToo posts coming from friends, family members and pretty much every woman I know. Some were pithy copy n’ paste jobs meant to demonstrate the breadth of the issue of sexual harassment and assault, while others went into disturbing detail.

One person described a drunken bus grope, another shared raw details about repeated violent encounters with a sexual partner, and many complained about all the men out there who can’t take no for an answer.

They shared their feelings of betrayal, their experiences of not being believed by their friends or authorities, and called out aspects of rape culture that have impacted their lives.

Reading all of this, I knew I was part of this particular problem. I knew that multiple women posting #MeToo on their timeline could very well have my behaviour in my mind — whether we’re talking about an inappropriate joke, an overly aggressive advance or a failure to act when faced with inappropriate behaviour from a colleague or friend.

Furthermore, I know for a fact that I’ve hurt people in my life, some of whom have forgiven me and others who would rather have nothing to do with me ever again.

For these reasons and others, I consider myself complicit in rape culture, which is something I’m currently exploring with my mental health counsellor and aiming to change.

As these posts continued to appear, day after day, I became increasingly disheartened by how few men were engaging in the conversation. As follow-up think pieces and memes made clear: for every woman writing #metoo, there’s a person responsible for their pain — and they have the luxury of anonymity, as well as silence.

I decided I wanted to do something more meaningful than writing “I hear you” or “sorry that happened to you” in the comments section, and was inspired to see links about a follow-up movement called #HowIWillChange. So I decided to engage further, inspired by my friend Shawn Stephenson.

“I’m #partoftheproblem,” he wrote.

“It’s time for all men, me included, to listen to what is being said and try not to defend ourselves or other men, try not to color what is being said with our own experiences, our own suffering, our fear of ****ing up or being called out.”

‘Focus on the solutions but never forget the problem’

Shortly after I wrote a Facebook post about #HowIWillChange, Nelson Leafs hockey coach Sean Dooley contacted me. He was sexually abused as a child, something he’s bravely shared with the community in the past. A new father, he’s passionate about this topic and about raising the next generation to be better than we were.

“Although I had a secret about my childhood, I was wired like the rest of the teens in which we used hurtful words and looked at girls in a sexual light like so many teenage boys,” he wrote.

His advice: “Get the word out, talk about, get in peoples faces, repeat, repeat, repeat. Focus on the solutions but never forget the problem.”

When it comes to summing up the problem, I can’t do it better than Shawn when he wrote, “it is so wrong that we take for granted, disregard, demean, talk over, doubt, question, pass over, chronically sexualize, objectify, mansplain to, mock, disregard, ogle, cajole, coerce, intimidate, shame, abuse, harass, assault, rape and kill women and girls, then punish those that can for speaking up or deny justice to those that died and their families.”

As I reflected on the situation more, I kept thinking about all the School District 8 students who posted about #MeToo and wondered what we as a community are doing to help them navigate these conversations.

Dooley is just one example of a male authority figure with this on his mind, and I wanted to find more role models in the community that were being proactive.

When I reached out to actor Lucas Myers, who has two daughters in SD8, he told me the #MeToo campaign made the issue real for him in a way it hadn’t been previously.

“As heart-wrenching as it was to see the breadth of abuse, the realization that it’s systemic is a necessary impetus for change.

“We have changed our attitudes in the past. In the same way that using the ‘n’ word is wrong, we need to make objectifying women wrong,” he said.

“We need to stop letting things slide if they are borderline sexist, and we need to tell the ‘boys being boys’ to be men, and that to be a man is about having empathy and respect. That learning has to be reflected in school, in their social circles, not just at home.”

What I’ve heard, what I’m going to do

The prospect of writing about this topic made me feel profoundly uncomfortable, and while I initiated conversations with female friends and fielded emails from community members sharing details of their abuse, I wondered if I was the wrong guy to do this.

I wasn’t the only one.

“One thing I’d love to experience is men asking more questions and listening to the answers. This is a really really big shift that could happen. It’s not always about springing into action, there must be listening first,” my friend Rhoneil wrote.

With that in mind, I’ve spent the past week asking questions — both of the educators in SD8, and of the women I’m in direct relationship with. Meanwhile, my friend Susan questioned whether focusing on men’s reaction to the debate would result in further perpetuation of the issue I’m trying to address.

“I’m not saying this is necessary, but if you want to actually repair some of the things you’ve done, it would be good to acknowledge, specifically, what it is that you think you’ve done,” she wrote.

She then gave me an example of a good apology, which I plan to use moving forward.

“An apology looks something like this (this is what I try to get my kids to do when they’ve hurt each other): I’m sorry for _ It was wrong because __ In future I will ___.”

I told her I plan to deploy that apology, with the blanks filled in, to particular people — and I’ve already begun to do so.

As the week reaches a close, I have no grand revelations to share or prescriptions for how we should proceed.

But I do feel like I have a heightened sensitivity to what the women around me are experiencing on a daily basis, and a renewed motivation to prove that I don’t have to be part of the problem.

When my mental health counsellor saw the photo I posted on Facebook, she left an encouraging comment.

“I wish I could cross this out and write ‘part of the solution’,” she wrote.

Maybe one day.

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