Women’s #MeToo posts re­minded me I had been that guy

In wake of We­in­stein scan­dal, an au­thor re­calls his own past aw­ful be­hav­iour to­ward women

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT & LIFE - MICHAEL ELLSBERG THE WASH­ING­TON POST

More times than I care to ad­mit, I was That Guy. That guy who thought he was be­ing bold and as­sertive with a woman when I was re­ally push­ing past her im­plicit and ex­plicit bound­aries. I’m ashamed of it and I’m ter­ri­fied to ad­mit this in pub­lic.

But as the #MeToo cam­paign on so­cial me­dia took off last week, many of the women I know have coura­geously shared their ex­pe­ri­ences of be­ing on the re­ceiv­ing end of That Guy’s in­ex­cus­able be­hav­iour. I de­cided it was time for us men to stop pre­tend­ing we weren’t part of women’s #MeToo sto­ries and cop to it. Here’s just one ex­am­ple of a time I had to make amends.

In my 20s, I went to pickup artist work­shops to learn how to ap­proach women. I was timid with women, and the work­shops gave me (false) con­fi­dence. In my late 20s, a woman I knew in­vited me over to her house for din­ner. I was at­tracted to her, and I thought it was mu­tual. I fig­ured that, be­cause she had in­vited me over, this was go­ing to go some­where. Dur­ing a pause in the din­ner con­ver­sa­tion, I leaned in for a kiss. She brushed me away and said “No.”

We kept eat­ing din­ner, drink­ing and talk­ing pleas­antly. We danced some salsa. Thirty min­utes or so later, I leaned in for a kiss again. She brushed me away and said “No” again.

She was laugh­ing. I was laugh­ing. We were flirt­ing. I was sure that was flirt­ing on her part. Maybe it was. We kept danc­ing. I fig­ured each of her brush-offs was just part of the game.

Women play hard to get, right? Women are coy and de­mure, they hide their de­sires for fear of be­ing seen as “easy.” She in­vited me over for din­ner. If she wasn’t in­ter­ested, why would she have done that?

I leaned in again. Another “no” and a gen­tle brush away. More laughs, more drinks, more danc­ing. It all seemed like part of the process of a night of se­duc­tion. Why would she still be danc­ing with me, laugh­ing and jok­ing, if this wasn’t go­ing some­where?

Her be­hav­iour was in line with what the pickup artists’ teach­ing said about how and why women play “hard to get.”

There was a dis­gust­ing term for it in the pickup artists’ world — the “anti-slut de­fence,” mean­ing the re­sis­tance a woman puts up right be­fore a hookup, sup­pos­edly to prove to her­self and to you that she’s not a slut.

Pickup artists taught all kinds of ways to get past this de­fence, most of which amount to play­ing games and try­ing more se­duc­tion moves; you’re not sup­posed to stop un­til she says no force­fully, per­haps with a shove. (I now know this is wrong, but I’m ashamed to ad­mit that, at the time, I thought this was just the way

“What I didn’t think about was how she might have felt. . . . She could have been fright­ened and was hid­ing it, play­ing nice to mol­lify me.” MICHAEL ELLSBERG AU­THOR

se­duc­tion worked.)

I made th­ese passes four or five times and she brushed them all away and said “Not tonight.”

Even­tu­ally, we mu­tu­ally de­cided the night was over, and I left.

We stayed in touch ca­su­ally over the next few years, but she seemed elu­sive when­ever I sug­gested we get to­gether again.

Look­ing back, I can’t be­lieve I won­dered why this might be, but I did. I tried to con­vince my­self: My passes hadn’t been par­tic­u­larly ag­gres­sive. I had backed down each time she brushed me away. I was just mak­ing my in­ter­est known, I thought, and test­ing the wa­ters to see if maybe she had changed her mind.

As I moved on from the pickup artist scene, fell in love and got mar­ried, I also be­gan to see just how un­ac­cept­able my past be­hav­iour had been. I re­al­ized that none of my jus­ti­fi­ca­tions mat­tered. Even if I thought I was just en­gag­ing in the usual mat­ing dance of the guy mak­ing passes and the woman be­ing de­mure; even if I knew that I wouldn’t have pushed harder if she had told me to knock it off and leave; even if I thought I wasn’t dan­ger­ous, that I wouldn’t ac­tu­ally rape her.

None of that mat­tered. What I didn’t think about was how she might have felt. She didn’t know me that well. She didn’t know I didn’t in­tend to push any harder than those passes. She could have been fright­ened and was hid­ing it, play­ing nice to mol­lify me.

Once I re­al­ized I had pushed past her bound­aries un­ac­cept­ably, I wrote to her and apol­o­gized for what a jerk I had been. She said she had found my be­hav­iour se­ri­ously an­noy­ing and she ac­cepted my apol­ogy. She seemed to take it in stride.

But now I see, from all the #MeToo posts, that her seem­ing to “take it in stride” could also have been be­cause she just didn’t ex­pect any bet­ter of men. Maybe she just dealt with this kind of in­ex­cus­able be­hav­iour as part of be­ing a woman in a pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety.

There are plenty more in­stances with other women where I acted in ways that I now feel ashamed of. Most of th­ese oc­curred af­ter my di­vorce, when I was par­ty­ing hard with psychedelics and was out of con­trol. I was hav­ing sex with seem­ingly en­thu­si­as­tic new part­ners at a rapid clip, when we were way too high to be mak­ing re­spon­si­ble sex­ual de­ci­sions. Since then, I’ve gone back and talked to for­mer part­ners, lis­tened a lot, got­ten clear on where I went wrong, made a lot of apolo­gies and amends.

I’ve ed­u­cated my­self on af­fir­ma­tive con­sent, the prac­tice of get­ting a crys­tal-clear ver­bal or non-ver­bal “yes” be­fore es­ca­lat­ing phys­i­cal in­ti­macy, rather than as­sum­ing an ab­sence of a “no” (or a “get the hell out of here”) means it’s OK to pro­ceed. I used to think this kind of thing was silly and “killed the mood.” Now I think it’s es­sen­tial.

Men, I know it’s hard to look at our­selves in the mir­ror. I know it’s ter­ri­fy­ing to ad­mit that we might have been in the wrong.

But the out­pour­ing of ac­counts from the coura­geous women that have been all over our Face­book feeds and all over the news are prov­ing that it’s not just a few bad ap­ples who are per­pet­u­at­ing th­ese vi­o­la­tions. It’s not just the other guys. There are way too many harms and vi­o­la­tions be­ing de­scribed than could be ac­counted for by just a few men.

We can step up by tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ways we’ve harmed women, know­ingly and un­know­ingly, di­rectly and in­di­rectly. We can step up by lis­ten­ing to women’s sto­ries with­out get­ting de­fen­sive, by apol­o­giz­ing to and ask­ing for for­give­ness from the women we’ve harmed. By get­ting ab­so­lutely clear on the acts we will not com­mit again. And by en­cour­ag­ing our fel­low men to do the same.

DREAM­STIME

As Michael Ellsberg saw so­cial me­dia posts about women’s ex­pe­ri­ences, he wanted talk about his time as “that guy.”

DREAM­STIME

Men need to re­al­ize that de­spite play­ing nice and laugh­ing af­ter re­ject­ing passes, women could ac­tu­ally be fright­ened while hid­ing it.

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