FYI, Calling out Bad Behaviour Doesn’t Mean We Hate Men

While talking about her sexual assault, Ellen DeGeneres made a comment that she really shouldn’t have had to

Katherine Singh
Ellen Degeneres wearing a maroon bomber jacket and white shirt holding an award
(Photo: Getty Images)

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is speaking up about her own experience with sexual assault, and inadvertently highlighting a still lingering misconception about #MeToo: that survivors, and tbh women in general, hate men.

Per ET, In a season two episode of David Letterman’s Netflix show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman, the reigning Queen of daytime TV (sorry, Oprah!) opens up about her former stepfather; “a very bad man,” her mother married when DeGeneres was still a teen.

After her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, DeGeneres’s stepfather allegedly used her illness as a ploy, giving DeGeneres breast exams under the guise of looking for lumps. “He told me when [my mother] was out of town that he’d felt a lump in her breast and needed to feel my breasts because he didn’t want to upset her, but he needed to feel mine,” DeGeneres tells Letterman.

The comedian also recounted a later incident in which her stepfather tried to break down her bedroom door, with the teen forced to flee out her window, knowing “it was going to go more to something.” Seriously heartbreaking.

This isn’t the first time DeGeneres has opened up about her history of sexual abuse, first speaking about her molestation in a 2005 interview with Allure. More recently, DeGeneres briefly alluded to her experience on The Ellen Show in an October 2018 interview with actress Busy Phillips.

“What most women do is, we just don’t feel like we have a voice,” DeGeneres tells Letterman in the episode. “And that’s the only reason that this is the first time I’ve ever talked about this to anyone other than my friends. We just don’t feel like we’re worthy, or we’re scared to have a voice and we’re scared to say ‘no’….”

While DeGeneres should be commended for her undoubtedly tough conversation with Letterman, her strong statement on sexual violence and her stepfather was largely overshadowed by one clarifying comment she made—that she “like[s] men.”

“When I see people speaking out, especially now, it angers me when victims aren’t believed because we just don’t make stuff up,” she said, at one point in the interview. “And I like men, but there are so many men that get away with so much. It is just time for us to have a voice. It’s time for us to have power.”

We 100% agree. It’s about time survivors of sexual abuse had a voice. But using that voice to call out problematic and, in many cases criminal, men doesn’t mean that survivors—and female-identifying survivors in particular—hate men.

Calling out bad behaviour isn’t about gender

The idea of that calling men out for bad behaviour is the same as hating them is nothing new. For years feminists have been equated with hating men, alongside imagery around bra burning and granola crunching. And let’s not forget the perception that feminists hate men so much that they “go gay.” In 2011, a Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice was called out for columns she penned for her student newspaper in 1992, in which she called feminists “angry, militant, man-hating lesbians.” (Because that’s exactly what you want to hear from a member of the Supreme Court.)

With the 2017 resurgence of the #MeToo movement, this idea has once more become common. Look no further than the fact that the movement has become a verb. When we say men are being #MeTooed (that is, called out or having their careers “ruined” for sexual misconduct), we’re unintentionally supporting the idea that trash humans getting their just desserts is the same thing as an unwarranted and targeted attack.

But that’s not at all what’s happening. As writer David Roberts wrote in a September 2018 article for Vox, the point of the #MeToo movement “is not to punish a handful of powerful men to get some kind of vengeful thrill,” but rather to highlight the abuses of the powerful as a means to “illuminate the fact that those sorts of abuses are ubiquitous.” Spark Notes version: Sexual harassment and abuse happen all the time and everywhere, and we should be calling it out.

Regardless of the time period we’re in, one thing remains the same: Calling out problematic men isn’t about hating them, it’s about calling out trash behaviour and the people who subscribe to it—and that goes way beyond gender. We don’t hate *all* men, we just hate the sh-tty and harmful behaviour *some* men (and women!) exhibit. And should people really be contesting that?

TBH, we shouldn’t have to explain this & doing so is detrimental

Putting aside the fact that this is a conversation that should have ended with the treatment of Anita Hill in the early 90s (aka it’s dated AF), continuously having to explain or clarify that calling men out on their sh-t doesn’t mean we hate all men is super detrimental, to both survivors and problematic people.

While she probably didn’t even realize it, by framing her explanation around the idea that she likes men, DeGeneres unknowingly endorses idea that women who complain about men’s bad behaviour is doing it because she doesn’t like them.

Not only does this type of thinking paint survivors as vindictive or irrational, completely belittling the validity and significance of their experiences, it also takes the onus off of perpetrators. Acting as if calling out bad behaviour is the same as man hating means we’ve taken the responsibility for these problematic men’s actions off of the actual perpetrator (and person who *should* be fixing it), and puts it directly on to the victim as their issue (with men, the patriarchy, the world—you name it).

In essence, it frames the repercussions of bad behaviour as a figment of the victims own making. And doing this is essentially making excuses for trash people, further allowing said humans to perpetuate their harmful behaviour. Because why wouldn’t they, when it’s so easy to explain away any harm as a “them” problem rather than a “you” problem?

Not to mention that fact that, if we introduce some nuance in to this discussion, just because DeGeneres likes men, doesn’t mean that all men (or women) are super stellar. In the same way that one bad man or woman’s actions don’t speak for the entirety of their gender. If loving and living through the many scandals of our problematic fave celebs like Michael Jackson, Drake, Chris Brown and Nicki Minaj has taught us anything, it’s that one singular experience doesn’t speak for everyone’s experience. Two truths can exist. In much the same way, DeGeneres can simultaneously call out one harmful man for his horrendous actions, and still like other men who don’t do horrendous things to her or other women.

But, can we *really* blame DeGeneres (and others) for feeling like they have to?

Regardless of how ludicrous some people (*ahem* any living, breathing woman *ahem*) may feel that we’re still talking about this, the fact remains that it’s 2019 and some people still. don’t. get it.

We live in an increasingly polarized society during an increasingly polarized period of time (thanks, Trump), and it’s evident that a lot of people still see each other in opposition. In September 2018, actor Sean Penn faced criticism for calling the #MeToo movement “too black and white,” saying that the reckoning against abusers is dividing men and women.

“The spirit of much of what has been the #MeToo movement is to divide men and women,” he said. “I think it’s too black and white. Most things that are very important, it’s really good to just slow down.”

Many online took his comments as a slight against the movement, sexual assault survivors and women in particular. “Sean Penn joins the ranks of dudes whose #MeToo hot take is that survivors are man-hating harpies,” one Twitter user wrote.

And TBH, they’re right. Penn’s comments are in line with similar comments made by other famous men, like Superman‘s Henry Cavill, who lamented the loss of traditional courtship in a July 2018 interview with GQ Australia, telling the magazine: “It’s very difficult to do that [chase a woman] if there are certain rules in place. Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her, because I’m going to be called a rapist or something.’”

While Cavill wasn’t going so far as to say women are man-haters, it’s hard not to see his comments and the implications behind them: that women can flip a switch on men and accuse them willy-nilly of sexual assault. The implication being that men and women are in opposition, with men seemingly under attack. That’s not a power imbalance we can say we’ve seen very often.

It’s thinking like this that precludes—and even unintentionally necessitates—comments like DeGeneres’s. So can we really blame her for getting the jump?

Related:

Lady Gaga Just Perfectly Explained the Enduring Trauma of Sexual Assault
R.Kelly Played the Victim—And It’s a Tactic We’ve Seen Before
What Happened To Chris Glover is Workplace Sexual Harassment

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