#Metoo: How We Hurt Women

 

#Metoo: How We Hurt Women:

I began modeling a year and a half ago. I have thrown myself into an industry that objectifies both men and women, where you’re “just a hangar;” it’s only your appearance that matters. You’re never good enough, just something to mold with the latest trend and then disposed of a lot of the time; that is, unless you stick your ground and know who you are, brand yourself properly, and take it from there. Let’s just say I’ve learned from my mistakes: I’ve had numerous men much older than myself make sexual advances, that have hounded me repeatedly in hopes that they’d be able to “turn me out” in turn for helping me with my career. Microagressive comments and advances that I didn’t know whether I should speak out on on each time or ignore because...well, I didn’t want to seem like a paranoid, arrogant asshole assuming all these men wanted me. When women all over my social media feeds began sharing their #metoo stories to show how much of a normalized issue sexual assault really is (and not just something in Hollywood), I was really hurt by it. Hurt because I saw my sister post on it too. Hurt because I saw some of my closest female friends share their experiences as well. So you all give me the strength to start with this…

Last summer, I was working on signing with a big agency because a director of theirs was very interested in me. He asked me to come down to the lobby of the hotel I was staying in, we chatted it up, and he decided he wanted to shoot me-- I could tell he was feeling me. You play the part, I figured hey, go ahead and objectify me; you like the way I look, so make something happen for my career. He takes me to his friend’s restaurant to shoot in the basement, where there’s some nice lighting, couches, and such. I’m posing, I’m doing my thing-- I’m showing him that I’m comfortable in front of the camera, that I can make nuanced adjustments, take direction, be sexy without forcing it, and that I wasn’t a stiff model exuding awkward vibes; basically, SIGN MY ASS BRO. So I had something to prove, and was committed to proving that. Then he asked me to take my underwear off too, I had told him I was comfortable being nude so I did it. He’s taking more pictures, and I’m trying to be as natural as possible-- I knew this was just a test. Obviously he wasn’t going to show these pictures to the other directors, this was to see how comfortable I was. But then it got weird. He began asking me to fluff myself-- basically to stroke my own dick and make it more full. Numerous times. I felt so violated and uncomfortable, that it kept going back to being flaccid every few shots he took. So he’d ask me to do it again. And again. I tried to think about nudes I had been sent-- anything to keep it going. I told myself that it wasn’t a big deal, get through it, this is just something you have to do. I was new to New York, I was oblivious to the idea that I had to say no for industry folk to understand my boundaries. I just went with it.

Afterwards he made comments that he knew there was something very sexy and comfortable about my presence, but that I was too innocent, that I needed to work on it. I’m assuming I didn’t prove what I was trying to prove, especially with my dick just hanging out like that. I had a huge opportunity in front of me, so I wasn’t going to let it go. Looking back, obviously this was a point I should have said good night, and gone home. But instead I told myself, do what you have to do. So we were there with his friends, and the shoot was transitioning into a hangout. One of the waitresses at the bar had been checking me out earlier and had told the director that she thought I was cute. “You want me to get her to suck your dick?” What? I said yeah sure, whatever’s going to make you think I’m not innocent. Another test. I proceeded to get drunk and high with him and his friends to show what a fun guy I was, that I wasn’t innocent. He was telling me about his relations to all the people there, his friend treated me to a plate even though the kitchen was closed, everyone was getting comfortable. Him and I got comfortable too, I thought we were becoming friends. I tried too hard and definitely overdid proving myself though, and his mindfuckery of getting me out of my box turned into him making advances on me. I told him I didn’t like that other industry men had made advances on me, to which he flirtatiously replied, “is that because they couldn’t do anything for you?” He eventually took me back to his place-- which he later claimed was because “I was out of control drunk.” I felt the advances there too. I kept telling him this was a professional relationship, that I wanted to work with him and that was it. I remember that. I also remember him not taking that well and throwing me in a cab back to my hotel out of sheer annoyance.

And that’s when I realized how fucked up I was. More importantly, I realized how alone I was in this city I had just moved to. I felt so fucked up that I wanted to just sit down on the sidewalk and fall asleep so I could feel better. But I had to give myself one of my own motivational talks like “dude get it together, you are all alone here, and there is no way you’re letting some cop see you like this. Get into your bed and we’ll process this later.” And somehow, by God’s grace and my own will, I made it back into my bed-- where I lay the entire next day feeling like absolute shit. First because of all the liquor and drugs, and then for feeling so violated. I was so disappointed in myself. Disappointed because I wasn’t sober, and then for allowing him to do that to me. I was then infuriated that he then made me out to be the bad guy the next day, telling my agent that “I was being obnoxious and asking girls to suck my dick.”

Sadly I went with it for weeks. I tried apologizing numerous times for my behavior thinking I just needed to play the game and do what I had to do to get signed, as if that mattered more than my dignity. I bought him a gift card, I sent him flowers and chocolate to make amends for getting drunk in the first place. I should’ve been professional, I thought, that was my mistake. I felt like shit, and trying to make it right was making me feel even more undignified. Just please the right people I kept telling myself. I’m still so ashamed of myself as I write this. That guy was a fucking pig. I had so much anger and resentment within me towards him and the other men that have made incessant advances towards me that it’s no wonder I haven’t really even shared this. Over time, I’m beginning to process it and as I dig up these memories,  I admit more and more of the reality to myself.

"That scares me. It scares me to know that I’m contributing to this culture."

I’m not taking this opportunity to prove to you that my recent experiences have added to my credibility as an ally. I’m sharing it because I know what it’s like to want to repress memories and make them out to just be a bad night, a night of mistakes that I could take back but would rather just not even think about. It’s allowed me to relate to the experiences you all have shared-- it has taught me to approach women with even more compassion than I ever have before. That I never want to be that guy. But I’m also scared to think that I probably have been at certain times. My experiences have shown me how fucked up society is because we’ve all been conditioned a certain way: how we look at sex, how we approach those we are attracted to and what we expect from them.

I owe so much of my growth and maturity to all the women in my life that have peeled my calloused layers and connected with me in ways that have encouraged me to only be truer to myself; to love harder, and to always be committed to who I am. Women have helped me become the powerful yet vulnerable and sensitive man that I am today and I am forever thankful for that.

So for that reason, the least I can do is have every intention to at least try and listen and understand all that I, alongside other men, are doing to make women feel powerless, less than, or unequal in any way. It’s hard to swallow that I’m part of the problem, that I perpetuate this imbalance too-- consciously or subconsciously, it’s there, and I’m not even aware of a lot of it.

That scares me. It scares me to know that I’m contributing to this culture. When women began speaking up about sexual assault in Hollywood, I saw it as a bold act to be vulnerable. I thought to myself: how powerful is it to share with the world something you’ve been suppressing out of shame-- because no one would believe you or respect your plight enough to do something about it? Or just acknowledging it to its full extent.

I’ve tried to understand and empathize with the marginalization of women in as many ways as I possibly can; however I can relate to it, I’ve tried. I’ve been marginalized in plenty of ways in my life-- whether it’s for wearing a turban, being Punjabi, being vegetarian, not being Christian, not having money, going to schools in poor neighborhoods, English being my second language, not having educated parents, I can go on. I didn’t have the perfect childhood nor has everything just fallen into my lap-- I’ve had a lot of cards stacked against me. And I’ve tried to use those experiences to relate to the issues women go through. But I still can’t even imagine to know what it’s like..

To be objectified. To be held incapable of doing all that a man can do. To be victim to microaggressive assertions we as men place on women as if you owe us something. To be held inferior in intelligence; to have your opinion ignored or not valued the same way a man’s is. To fear for your safety any time a man you don’t know approaches you. To be reinforced your whole life with the idea that your sole purpose in life is to please a man-- by other women. To have the same sexual desires as men, but told that you cannot express them the way men do. Boys will be boys, but not you, you have to be a lady. I mean, I could go on. I could go on and say everything that I’ve observed or heard from the experiences that women in my life have talked about, and that still wouldn’t cover everything.

Because everyone told you that it wasn’t a big deal, that even you have been conditioned into not making a big deal out of the everyday subjugations of living in a man’s world.  Because that’s “just the way it is.”

Except things are beginning to change. And I love that. Sexual assault, Hollywood or not, is something that’s becoming a more transparent issue, through our discourse. We can all agree that that behavior is utterly heinous. But this isn’t a black and white issue-- it’s not that men are either shitbag assaulters or they’re not. There is a LOT of gray area that we are beginning to address. For instance, the Aziz Ansari case, should “Grace” have spoken up the same way I should’ve spoken up? Should we both have said “fuck this, fuck you, I’m out?” Was he being a sexual insistent bully? There is a spectrum of misogyny here. From forcefully putting your fingers down a woman’s mouth as he did to expecting a woman to entertain you just because you approached her nicely. There is a lot to talk about here and a lot to address.  

My concern however is that the approach we’re taking is leading us down a road of fear, disconnection, and vilification. I worry about the future of the interactions between men and women-- and I’ll elaborate on this in the third piece.

When I say that, I am understanding that I am part of the problem. It breaks my heart that women have to ride the subways and walk around late at night with their heads down, avoiding contact in hopes of not initiating any unwanted interactions. That fucking sucks. I am trying not to take it personally when women hear me walking behind them and begin walking even faster as if I’m some predator coming after them. I’m guilty until proven innocent. All men are. Because we have collectively gotten it wrong. Because we collectively are getting it wrong. That’s frustrating for me to deal with, that when I date a woman, I have to prove that I’m a good guy. You don’t even know me, how are you going to assume I don’t have good intentions? I’m understanding that women most of the time operate from a place of fear and that’s a bigger problem than my ego.

Women are scared. And these interactions are scarring. As more and more women reveal their suppressed stories of assault that range across the spectrum, women are beginning to retrace their own stories, digging up painful repressed memories to reevaluate whether they had scaled down the magnitude of them just to move forward and away from them-- far away as possible.

And ultimately, I think that’s what really breaks my heart. That this is the society we live in. I as a man am trying to understand and listen. I am guilty and responsible for perpetuating this culture as well and I don’t even know to what extent I’ve contributed. Society has conditioned men to think the way we act is okay just as the way women have been conditioned to put up with it.

So what do we do from here?

[Please read “#TheGrey: How Our Patriarchy Hurts Men” before proceeding on to the last piece, “#thedialogue”]