Ten of the Reasons I Believe You

I am not a monster. I am a man who, like other men, has been conditioned to do things I can now see as monstrous.

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By Paul Hartzer

Women, why would you lie? That’s not to say you couldn’t be lying. Plenty of women lie. But experience has taught me to trust men less than I trust women. So if it’s down to he said/she said, I’ll believe you first. Plus, it wasn’t just one or two of you. It was nearly all of you posting #metoo, or commenting that it applied to you.

But there are some men who still need specifics. So here are some.

  • When I was a child, I was in special education because I had trouble controlling my temper. In the elementary school resource room, a boy and a girl who were a year or two older than me would hide under a table and make out. She didn’t really want to. That was the first time I remember seeing what would become a common theme: She didn’t really want to, but she did because she didn’t know how to say no in a way that he’d hear.
  • Before I started high school, my mother took me to the doctor to get the school’s mandated physical. He gave me a hernia test. I’d never had a hernia test before, and he seemed to enjoy it. Later, I learned that hernia tests were for athletes, and he usually gave physicals to athletes, so maybe he was confused. Later still, he was arrested for molesting teenage boys, so maybe he wasn’t confused. For years I wondered, and I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. It was the crushing fear of guilt and shame, that the few friends I had would think I was now somehow tainted, that kept me from saying any thing to anyone.
  • I went to a technical college in the 1980s. A fellow student had written a chatroom for the computer’s server. When my first novel came out, a book with a girl as the protagonist, I created an account with her name on the chatroom. Within minutes, I had several men chatting me up in fairly aggressive ways. These were engineers and computer nerds, the sort that would fit in on The Big Bang Theory, “adorkable misogynists.” I found myself wondering, perhaps for the first time: What’s wrong with men?
  • When I was in graduate school, a man who was fluent in several languages told me this story. One day, he and his friend were on a Toronto bus chatting in a language that wasn’t English or French, when they started commenting on the woman in front of them, talking about her sexual attractiveness. This went on for ten minutes or so, at which point the woman pulled the cord to tell the bus to stop. As she was leaving, she turned around, smiled, and said, “Thank you” in their language. He told this story as a point of pride and mild embarrassment, as if it was perfectly all right that he was sexually harassing her. At the time, I laughed with him.
  • A few years later, some friends were playing strip poker. We got down to underwear. A woman lost, but said she’d only get naked if I did. Knowing that she didn’t want to, knowing that she wouldn’t, but knowing I had an audience of several of our friends, I did. I sat there, naked, mocking, pushing her to hold up her end of the deal as she curled into a ball. I could have refused, but my need to look like a shameless libertine in front of our friends was more important to me. Plus, I wanted to see her naked.
  • I used to call myself one of the good ones. When I would complain to women about the “friend zone” and why I was so often in it, I knew what I was doing. I took it as my duty once to protect a woman by publicly shaming her for saying no to me after she’d been flirting. I was protecting her, I argued, because some day she’d say no to a man who wouldn’t respect it and take what he wanted anyway. My goal wasn’t really to protect her, though, it was to avenge my own disappointment at not getting what I wanted. Multiple times throughout my life, I’ve moaned aloud or to myself how unfair it is that I’m too nice to just take what I want.
  • Once, I was cuddling with a woman. We got to a certain level of intimate contact, and she pushed me back and said, “No.” So I stopped. Then she squinted at me and said, “Why did you stop?” I said, “Because you said no.” She looked confused and said, “Well, I didn’t mean it.” For a long time after that, the moral I took from that story is that women send mixed messages, and so somehow that explains why some men think it’s okay to ignore “no.” As I evolved, I came to realize that she’d become so used to having “no” ignored that she just said it as part of the performance. Plus, I think she really did mean it, but wasn’t used to having it respected.
  • I was at a friend’s house. She had a twelve-year-old son who played Grand Theft Auto. After he was done playing, he would walk around, heels high, back arched, pretending to be one of the prostitutes he’d just finished driving over with his car. Around this time, Hillary Clinton got upset because the game had a mod where you could have sex on screen. People didn’t seem very concerned that you could indiscriminately kill people, and that boys seemed to have more fun in the game killing prostitutes than anything else.
  • When video came out of Donald Trump talking about grabbing women in disgustingly inappropriate ways, and he dismissed it as “locker room talk,” men fell over themselves to insist that’s not really what we talk about when women aren’t present. I can’t say I’ve ever talked about randomly fondling women, but at the same time, I can’t say I haven’t. I know that I’ve laughed when a man friend has said “Yeah, I’d tap that” about a passing woman.
  • As a teacher, I’ve interceded when boys have pinned girls up against lockers. I’ve heard how some boys talk about their girlfriends. These days, I do my best to communicate what that’s not acceptable, and sometimes the boys listen, but a lot of time, they don’t. The wheel keeps turning: The next generation has its problems.

◊♦◊

Women have told stories to me in confidence, stories I can’t share because they’re not mine, that make me disgusted in other men. It is not a few anecdotes here and there, it has been a constant stream. I can only imagine about the stories that haven’t been shared with me.

And still, despite all the evidence, there are still men who insist that it’s not really that big of a deal, that women are making it up, that women need to stop dwelling on it so much.

Stop, men. Just stop. It’s real, it’s chronic, it’s deep, and it’s up to us to stop.

It’s not enough to be “one of the good guys.” It’s not enough to be against rape. It’s not enough to promise in a hashtag to never do it again.

It’s as easy as it is difficult: Stop doing it, stop tolerating it, stop laughing it off.

I get it: It’s a habit. There’s a lot of pressure. Even after I’ve made decisions because I know better, I have still slipped. But we will keep improving, because we must keep improving.

We’ve messed up, men, all of us. We will clean it up.

This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.

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