So if men ask before sex, will we have solved patriarchy?

Feminist men* of the internets: I hear you asking how you can help, how you can support survivors. This post was first composed after a certain famous abuser CBC host’s trial concluded; yet it feels relevant once again in this moment before the inauguration, as movements are gearing up to protect those directly affected. We cannot just call ourselves ‘feminist,’ collect the cookies, and say the work is done. The connections go so much deeper than that. For those who take seriously doing this work, the behind the scenes, meaningful, unrewarded, unproclaimed daily work of backing and supporting survivors, I hope the insights shared here, that I have learned by listening to many over many years, are helpful. If you find something here useful, please share.

We’ve just heard several women be incredibly brave by not hiding from abuse they have faced, naming it openly and with dignity. I’m going to go with the raw feelings that are circulating today in light of the Ghomeshi verdict. I actually feel quite peaceful as I’m writing this: curious about these feelings, and willing to be raw. To honour the bravery of these women who just faced down a courtroom to speak of something that was utterly not their fault, I am going to be very honest in today’s post: “so if men ask before sex, will we have solved patriarchy?”


I know this may sound simplistic. And of course I’m being a bit tongue in cheek. I appreciate the notes going around that ask people to keep in mind that this verdict and the media attention to it will mean survivors are re-experiencing all sorts of things today.

But it seems there is more to uncover and reconnect here. As usual, I’m puzzling this out, putting together things that are normally kept apart, and doing it out loud. I’m open to your thoughts.

Please keep in mind as you’re writing “I believe survivors” that there is so much more that is triggering about this day, more than the flashbacks we may be having to sexual assault.

There is so much more that is not being discussed that needs believing, that is tied in to sexual assault but not contained by it.

The ways we doubt women’s veracity about assault are exactly the same as the ways we doubt women’s veracity about all forms of gendered violence, which are all inextricably connected. Do you find yourself distancing from one aspect of gendered violence even as you’re willing to “believe” about sexual assault? We need to draw these connections in order to hold women’s bodies and spirits. Healing begins when someone bears witness.

Let’s make connections here. I want to use examples from my own life as well as things I have been learning by listening and reading, but I want to be clear this is not about me. Lived experience is analysis, is theory, is critique, and it can bring into relief the structures of violence we live in that are disguised.

Only some of the body sensations rising up today are about times I was touched in ways I didn’t want. Massive as that issue is, it’s strangely easier to talk about this one part of patriarchy than to face the bigger structures of which it is a part. Believing survivors of assault is vital, and it remains less than half of the issue of patriarchal violence, of the deeply intertwined things that need “I believe you” as a core response.

Let’s talk about all the faces of gendered violence and help women see them as all one, because whatever is not spoken of remains mired in implicit shame. Otherwise you’re saying “I believe you about this part of the gendered violence you experience… the rest, well…. that must have been your fault… or something… what’s for dinner.”

Assault is rendered more possible by other forms of sexism. Like so many women, part of the reason I was vulnerable to sexual assault and rape in my early teens through to early twenties was because I had been trained to be pliant and acquiescent by a male parent deeply steeped in patriarchal values. I had been literally terrorized into viewing my self-worth externally – by a man who never once touched me inappropriately. He just primed me to make myself accessible to those who would. Do women continue to have contact with men who have abused them? Damn right: if you were raised all of your life to view your own inherent worth and safety as dependent on someone else’s approval, to subsume your own experience and knowledge of yourself under someone else’s version of reality, you’d struggle with the same thing. I wasn’t restrained when I was sexually assaulted. I didn’t need to be; I had been trained from birth to dissociate and go along when a man wanted me to feel or think or move a certain way. We can overcome this harm and the fog and confusion, the delays in comprehension, it creates, but don’t fool yourself: growing up undermined by what Rebecca Solnit has called “this slippery slope of silencings” creates deep roots of self-doubt and lack of self-trust that take years and years of inner work to undo.

Assault is rendered more possible by sexism’s intersection with capitalism. Look at material access, as one piece of this picture. Part of the causes of rape – part of why they happened for me as for so many others – was because as a teen with no access to income and no safe home of my own I was seeking safe places to sleep when I ended up in unsafe situations. Men had access to me by virtue of having apartments and food that I did not have. I was raped while simply trying to find a place that didn’t have my scary dad in it where I could have a meal and a night’s rest in peace. Again, this is not about me: so many young women and girls find themselves in these situations. We need to see the patterns and believe women about all of it.

Assault is rendered more possible by mental health stigma and lack of support. Look at the impacts of patriarchal abuse and neglect on mental health and on the nervous system, which may not develop fully for those who grow up in abusive situations. Because of abuse and neglect at home I skipped developmental stages, which meant my body badly needed touch to feel ok. Not sex, just touch – being held. I didn’t understand this until many, many years later. Meanwhile, in the years when I was most vulnerable to physical invasion, I was assaulted at parties as a teen when I cuddled with guys. I cuddled with guys because I sought out physical touch that my nervous system needed and I had this strong need for touch because of developmental issues caused by patriarchal abuse at home. So though I was never touched inappropriately at home (lots of people are, just not me – we need to believe everyone about all of their experiences, no more shaming of victims), gendered violence I lived at home put me in the path of gendered violence in the world. Strikingly, in today’s verdict, we see ignorance of the ways violence impacts memory and awareness playing out in the courts and in the media. If you want to believe and support survivors, help put the pieces back together that get dis-membered by these kinds of erasure. As someone in my feed said when the Ghomeshi story first broke: survivors in your life are listening.

Assault is rendered more possible by viewing sexual women as less deserving of protection, legitimacy, dignity, for owning our own bodies. Look at the insane double standard women* still navigate in the politics of respectability: constrained by traditional mores that view our bodies as not our own, yet shamed if we do take the empowering step to reclaim our sexuality as our own. Socio-economic status combines with gender to bifurcate women into categories as ‘marriageble’ good girls or ‘available’ sexual objects. Look at the current criminalizing of sex work. Shaming has material consequences when you are not the ones with access to financial and social power. Men can abuse and keep their jobs, their social networks, their homes. Women can lose all of these things after abuse, because we have less ready access to them to begin with.

Assault is rendered more possible by racism. Look at the ways racism, heteronormativity, and gendered violence intersect. We cannot force people to separate out parts of their experience without doing additional harm to their psyche. In a class on Black feminist organizing recently I learned of the deeply silencing ways that police violence and a structurally racist system of incarceration and law forces Black women to not name violence they are experiencing lest the force of the racist state come down on their communities. Black queer and trans women in particular face levels of violence that are systemically erased and condoned. The legacy of myths formed during slavery carry forward into today’s myths that view Black women’s bodies as less deserving of protection, imagining they are somehow less capable of feeling pain, by hospitals, courts and cops. Assumptions about female fragility and deserving of protection somehow magically do not apply to Black women, such that even a girl as young as 12 can be sexualized and beaten by police while playing outside her house. Black women created Transformative Justice to find ways to grapple with gendered violence in ways that centred their experiences and knowledge, and to create community accountability outside a legal system which was never designed to protect them.

Assault is rendered possible by borders. Look at the ways assault is rendered possible by immigration laws that require women to stay with abusive partners in order to keep their status and prevent deportation. Or the ways physically crossing borders, moving through spaces such as airports, shape trans women’s access to safety. Or the ways dependence on a sponsoring employer creates impossible situations for racialized women domestic workers who could lose status and be deported if they report violence by a white male employer or supervisor.

Assault is rendered possible by colonization. Look at the long history of RCMP not only neglecting to take seriously Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, but actively assaulting Indigenous women themselves and getting away with it. Look at how the disruption of cultural continuity and families through laws that sought to dispossess Indigenous people of their land, through residential schools, through the 60s scoop, through continuing land theft, works to increase vulnerability. Race, class, gender, and colonial law work together and cannot be separated out.

There is no way any of us can separate these out, the other forms of gendered violence and neglect people experience, and assault, even though these acts may be carried out by different people.  We live inside a system and we need to see ourselves as whole in a system that wants to separate us out into parts. These experiences can’t be separated out without doing violence to women’s wholeness, to women’s psyches. There is no way to say ‘yes, that instance of invasion with that teenage boy or that 30 year old man was where the problem begins and ends’ without somehow erasing the fact that the rest of the gendered violence and neglect women live in – limited financial access, limited access to space, and, as we see, limited recourse to legal protection – are part and parcel with this picture.

Cosby didn’t just rape his many victims; he also silenced them, gaslit them, shamed them, and was a gatekeeper to a world of power. Ghomeshi didn’t just punch women in the head in a vacuum; he operated in a system in which men reward and recognize one another and do not see women as equals, which has material consequences for our access to social capital, income, opportunities for personal and professional growth. These are all patriarchy and they are all connected. If you insist that you “believe survivors” about assault but you separate out that instance of invasion from the larger fabric of daily life of which it is a part, you are re-enacting a fragmentation of our experience and thought. We need to be whole, and so the ways you think and speak about us needs to be willing to view wholeness in our stories, too.

You can learn to ask ‘do you want me to touch you here’ before you touch, and still be patronizing, controlling, or neglectful to women you get close to.

Anything that is not named openly, accepted openly, and made to be one fabric is going to suggest parts of our stories are not nameable, or that people should feel shame – secrets and erasure are all there is to shame. When I see “I believe you” popping up all over and then realize it only means “about assault” I wonder, oh, is that all? What about believing women about gendered violence and neglect, period?

So for those facing borders, for those facing colonial police and militaries, for those facing theft of land, for those rebuilding their cultural knowledge and languages, for those who parent solo, for those who parent in chosen families, for those who choose sex work and for those who enter it for lack of choice, I believe you.  For those facing a court system and policing and prison that never did view you or your men as worthy of protection, I believe you. For those in immigration detention whose only crime was movement, I believe you. For those whose knowledge, experience, and realities have been denied and turned around on them by men and by institutions that back those men, I believe you. For those who have had our best qualities mirrored back to us as weaknesses, who are just reclaiming our true selves, I believe you. For those who have borne the other impacts of half-grown men who live for sex, including neglect of child rearing or of being a truly present partner, I believe you. For those who at the hands of emotionally stunted men have been beaten, controlled financially and emotionally, or terrorized, for those who were neglected by fathers or partners who were too busy out playing to bother parenting, for those who have been and are being attacked, screamed at, denied basic access to food, shelter, physical safety, we see you and we believe you, too.


Being a safe man is about so much more than recognizing and ‘believing’ assault happens. It is about believing the whole picture, not just this one part of the violence that is patriarchy.

You can’t just wear a white ribbon, or advocate for equal hiring practices at your job, and think you’re a feminist. There is so much more to unlearn.

Learn accountability. Learn healing touch. Learn how to believe more deeply than you ever thought possible, doing the work to step out of the narratives that make you unable to hear or see what is right in front of you. Learn how to help create shelters and safety so that women who come close to you can heal with you from the shellshock and fragmentation that is existing in this world.

We can and are healing ourselves. But harm is relational and so is healing. Half of this healing has to come from you.

On a different day I’ll want to think again about transforming the way we approach justice. But this one day it is fitting to just be pissed.


If you’d like to help us build a safer world for survivors, please share!

Additional resources:

Resources for Dealing with Conflict and Harm

Five Facts That Explain Why Gendered Violence Survivors Find it Hard to Speak

How To Put This All Into Practice. Or: The Tricks of Shame and Hope


See the original viral post The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture


See more of Puung’s art here:

*All references to gender in this post are intended in a trans-inclusive way. I want to recognize that human beings’ lived experience of gender is much more complex than an either/or set of boxes can capture. When I speak of ‘men’ and ‘masculinity’ I am referring to masculine-identified people, including, as appropriate, aspects of the self for those who only partially identify in this way. Open to feedback and always happy to further nuance this analysis, feel free to get in touch. 🙂

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12 thoughts on “So if men ask before sex, will we have solved patriarchy?

  1. some good pieces going around today:

    “What science is telling us is that there are responses beyond fight or flight, that women tend to respond with less fear in a moment of peril, making use these other responses as their primary survival strategies. In the world of sexual violence this has obvious and long reaching effects. We are less likely to be afraid enough to label the situation an emergency, and rather than punch some date rape-y d-bag in the throat or try to flee, we look to deescalate.

    Women stop, behave submissively and then try to connect emotionally. They do what they need to do to survive. Freeze, appease, tend, befriend.”


  2. I might sound a little bit destructive now (and maybe also a little bit off topic… or maybe not), but I think that, in the mean time, while people are (not) trying to solve this problem, one possible solution would be encouraging women to defend themselves, I mean with the fight response. It’s the type of response which I believe is taught less to women. It’s not socially acceptable for a woman to fight, to be even cruel if it’s necessary. But it’s a hell of a response. It’s shocking, it’s powerful, and has a lot of resonance. I think that women in every part of the world should be taught and encouraged to exacerbate their anger and fight the injustice they are being subjected with any possible method. I always hear that fighting violence with violence brings more violence. I do not think so. Not when a part of the population is constantly discriminated against. Not when it’s structural.
    I personally hate the “poor woman” picture I always see when there’s a newspaper’s article about a rape. You know, the classic hand put out to protect herself, or her curled in a ball on the ground. That is not helpful. A woman with the head of the rapist in her hand would be more effective.


    1. There are two parts to that, though — teaching women the actual physical means of self-defense, and teaching us that it’s okay to defend ourselves in the first place.
      Phoolan Devi is a personal hero of mine, and her story pretty much changed my life. Not so much the hell she rained down upon the men who raped her, but the fact that she went on to have a successful political career afterward — that she triumphed, in the end. (Until she was assassinated, anyway.)
      I recently posted on FB about an encounter I had last weekend, where a drunken dudebro had me backed up against a wall, insisting that I must feel his pumped-up biceps.
      So I did.
      “You’re right, those are great. And you’ve got beautiful muscle separation. Feel right here, between these two? That’s where your brachial artery lies.”
      What’s that, he asked.
      “That’s what I’m going to sever with this scalpel if you don’t get the fuck out of my personal space right this minute, son.”
      (I carry disposable scalpels on me at all times. Never had to use one for defense, but they’re great for opening packages and cutting zip ties. Learning about human anatomy has made me incredibly confident about my ability to defend myself with very little resources.)
      And the responses were almost all overwhelmingly positive, but some . . .
      “You should have just left.”
      “You didn’t have to threaten him.”
      “He wasn’t actually touching you or anything.”
      “He was telling you you’re beautiful, why did you get so pissed off?”
      If I had actually hurt him, what do you think the response would have been?
      Every woman on my feed learned, in another small but significant way, what happens when you fight back.
      Not every woman on my feed has had the resources to heal the way I have, is able to throw their middle fingers in the air to that sort of opinion.
      There is so much more that goes into whether we fight or submit than just our ability to fight.
      I agree that the imagery and language used to depict rape victims is bullshit. But not many of us are able to take our rapists’ head. Most of us just live, having done what we had to to get through the moment, and go on to have productive and happy lives.
      That takes more strength than fighting off an attacker, in my opinion.
      Add to that, the fact that most of us aren’t *attacked*. We are violated by men we trust, by men we love, even. By men who are friends with all of our friends. By men who are our pastors, our uncles, our fathers. Our boyfriends. Our husbands.
      How do you explain that you stabbed your freaking minister? That you broke your uncle’s arm? That you shot your husband?
      If we’re not believed when we say “I was raped,” do you think we’re really going to be believed when we say, “I put him in the hospital because he was trying to rape me?”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, this comes after a long time! I had to give a quick re-reading.
        I understand what you’re saying, as I said, I’m perfectly aware that for women is not considered acceptable to fight. The point is, when you’re being physically attacked there aren’t many other options. Or defending yourself or suffering. And it’s not your fault, it’s your attacker’s fault, so he has to pay 🙂 I’m being very simplistic here, but I honestly believe that often problems aren’t solved because people do the tip-tap dance all around it while wandering off in the meantime, when the solution lies just there in front of their eyes. Not a pretty solution, for sure, but for me a bad solution is better than no solution.
        Kudos on you for having threatened him! 😀 that was great, really!


  3. When I went public (on Facebook) about the physical abuse the father of my son did to me while I was pregnant, I was the one that got shamed and silenced, not him. There where like 6 people who believed me and supported me, offered help, asked if I was alright, agreed that what he’s done was not cool. There were other 60–his family included–that said I was lying, that I deserved worse, that we shouldn’t do dirty laundry on Facebook, that I should go to the police instead (like that would solve anything), that there were people going through “real” domestic violence daily, and of course, that I probably did something to deserve it and that I shouldn’t have opened my legs to him in the first place.
    I tried to explain that it wasn’t about getting help or attention to me, but exposing the abuser, because they need to be. They need to be exposed because they’re the ones that need to be looked out for (meaning they need to be taken care of so they understand what makes one do it–in his case, he has Narcissistic Personality Disorder– but also that we need to be careful with what they might do to us). And if they don’t get exposed, it’s very likely hey will to do it again.
    I tried to explain it was not a personal issue, it was not about violence against me, but it was about violence against all women. Why do we see numerous cases of homophobia victims circulating in the web every day, but when it’s about domestic violence it’s a private matter, or just “dirty laundry”?
    After being scolded for my terrible behavior, I lost hope to talk about it, I accepted that no one would care, because, in the end, it was my fault anyways, or I was fine now, so I should just be glad, right?
    So, thank you for this. Thank you for believing and seeing us. I do too, and I encourage every victim to expose their abusers. No more shaming or silencing of victims!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. the problem with this is that it might be unnecessary and do more harm than good. There is a point it’s not about protecting someone but shaming. People can easily do this for the wrong reasons . you should have gone to the police first before saying it on Facebook if u didn’t do that and if u could because if you went to the police, they could have done something about it. I feel that many people complain about the authentic abuse that they suffer to shame the person instead of trying to actually prevent them from doing any harm. it makes more sense to go to the police than to go on Facebook to prevent harm. at least if he was arrested, it might not be necessary to post on Facebook to prevent harm .


      1. and, let’s watch the bystander and abuse dynamics play out right here, shall we? I allowed this post up only so it can be apparent the kinds of silencing survivors experience as a matter of course.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. What is wrong with shaming someone who deserves it? If you want to talk about shame, let’s talk about what women who DO go to the police are subjected to. Let’s talk about sitting in an interrogation room, giving a report to someone who keeps saying that it was all your fault. Let’s talk about the shame of having a grown man with a badge and a gun get up in your face and threaten you with the consequences of filing a false allegation, when you’ve already been traumatized.
        Shame them. Shame the ever-loving HELL out of them. Put the word out. Let every woman in their lives grow this nagging little doubt in the back of their heads, in the pit of their stomachs, every time they look at the abuser. Put all the women in their lives on guard, foster disgust in the minds of all the men in their lives.
        The police COULD have done something about it, absolutely. But the chances that they would have?
        Please. The idea is, at this point in time, absolutely ridiculous. That fact hurts my heart, but it is a fact.
        We live in the real world, not a flippin’ episode of Law & Order SVU. Detective Benson is not going to swoop in and save you.
        It takes an enormous amount of courage and strength to tell ANYONE about the abuse you’ve suffered, much less to make it publicly known, to suffer the subsequent abuse that comes after you voice your trauma.
        Abuse much like what you just posted.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. because the culture that teaches us that anyone is disposable is the same culture that teaches us to dispose of survivors to protect abusers. we need a new way.


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