“Just the three of us? Where are all the young dudes?” I asked my sons as I pinned my number for our November 5K to support Coastal Horizons Rape Crisis Center. My wife has spent much of her life as an activist and women’s rights advocate. Partly because of the recent high-profile disclosures of sexual assaults, my sons thought supporting this issue would be a good way to start their mother’s birthday.
“There’s actually one other dude,” my oldest said.
“Only one dude? POTUS 45, right?” I said. “Running to make amends.”
“Nope,” my younger son said. “No men of power. Just another dude like us. The woman at the registration table expected more of a blend of men and women. She’s glad we’re here.”
He shrugged, stretched, and continued his warm-up.
The only dude running (the other dude walked), the three of us were greeted by mostly positive responses from the other runners, volunteers, and family members.
“Curious,” I said, still pondering our minority status. “There should be more dudes.”
“I’m not into ‘man-shaming,’ Pops,” my younger son said as he hit his stride. “That gives ammunition to the alt-right, blood-and-soil crowd, aggrieved white males, and unaffiliated angry dudes everywhere.”
“It is the ‘women’s half marathon,’ Pops,” my oldest son reminded,. “It benefits a woman’s cause.”
“The Rape Crisis Center isn’t really a women’s cause,” I said.
“How is it not a women’s cause?” my younger son huffed.
“Rape and sexual assaults are like mass shootings,” I responded.
“Pops,” my oldest questioned. “Yesterday you were worried that, with the astronomical increase in public allegations and admissions of sexual assault, we risk losing scalability and perspective—that there’s a difference between lewd whistling, groping and rape.”
My younger, faster son said, “And you said we risk taking our eye off the ball of existential threats like global warming and nuclear war. Now you’re saying sexual assaults are like mass shootings! Sounds like a flip-flop to me.
“And,” my older son added, “you are man-shaming and patronizing women at the same time. Men aren’t bad and women aren’t perfect. Think about it.”
They sped out ahead of me. As I struggled to keep up, I took up the challenge of listening and thinking. Was I flip-flopping, “man-shaming,” and putting women on a pedestal?
Women aren’t perfect. Women marry death-row dudes, sexualize, and objectify men, and seem to have a love/hate relationship with their own bodies. As a health-care professional, I don’t use the president’s 1-to-10 sex-appeal scale, and body shaming either sex isn’t healthy. But, when I see a 6-footer of either sex weighing less than 100 pounds—or anyone who’s 5-foot-5, weighing 350 pounds—I see a body-mass index well out of bounds, diabetes, heart disease, and increased risk of all kinds of health conditions. (Unless your name is Mr. or Mrs. Claus, there’s usually a lot of emotional pain that rides with an astronomical BMI.)
Yes, women have a laundry list of problems that even Atomic Blonde or Ann Coulter can’t solve. Perpetrating sexual assaults and mass shootings just aren’t on the list.
Throughout the last mile, I scratched my head and scrolled through a mental list of recent celebrity sexual assaults looking for disconfirming evidence. Then I went through my mental files on serial killers and mass shooters. There’s always that woman teacher in somebody’s Brunswick County that sexually assaults a student—and some Atomic Blonde will shoot her “murder one man” from time to time—but most violent crimes, including sexual violence, are perpetrated by males. Say it ain’t so, Joe, but simply being a dude is the single biggest risk factor to overt aggression.
As we finished the run, I connected the dots to a conversation about sex and power at a pre-holiday gathering of friends and activists. “Sex crimes are really power crimes, like war, global warming, mass shootings. Women have been stepping up and speaking out on power crimes for decades. Mass shootings in America are clearly a white-dude problem. Sexual violence is a dude in general problem. Men have to step up, speak up.”
“Power crimes, Pops,” the boys said in stereo. “You should write something about power crimes.”
I raised my Gatorade to the idea and to the women runners stepping up and hitting their stride.