Trigger warning: rape, violence, and other forms of abuse mentioned as well as the ignorance of those around it and the institutions that are largely performative and traumatic as well.
As more women come forward about Matt Barnum and Matt Izzi of Homewrecker who solicited, targeted, assaulted, and were generally pervy toward underage girls and of-age girls, we’ll see a rise in other men distancing themselves from guys like this. I have a had a couple of friends come to me in disbelief, “are all guys this fucked up?” Uh, I don’t know, but I’ve sure experienced my fair share of them.
At any rate, while the title suggests it’s for men, I have a feeling it will be mostly women the themes resonate with. For the guys that do read, I hope you genuinely want to make a meaningful impact to improve conditions for women as part of your everyday life. You will have to learn to put your egos aside and commit to seeing women as equal humans.
1. Shut the fuck up.
This is not the time to let all the girls know that you’re not like the other ones. This is the time to pass the mic to women who have experienced it and have different perspectives to offer that you have long ignored in favor of having a good time.
You can’t properly listen if you’re going on about how fucked up it is. Duh, we know. Now go educate yourself by following more outspoken women and reflecting on the things they say.
3. Reflect Honestly!
As a woman, I have not always done the right thing when it comes to sexism because I have internalized rape culture and patriarchy. As a man, you have internalized these things too. The general unwillingness of people to acknowledge where they learned some fucked things thanks to institutions, conditioning, and culture is one of the biggest reasons for the lack of change. If you’re not committed to being anti-sexist—no different than people committing to anti-racism work—you will continue to be part of the problem when it comes to microaggressions and other things you choose not to see in order to maintain your belief you in no way contribute. As Ijeoma Oluo said, “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward,” the same can be applied to sexism.
I respect how Ezra Cook, former Homewrecker bandmate, shared his experience with @survivingmattbarnam and ended it beautifully after admitting he gave Matt the benefit of the doubt for years: “I’m so sorry to everyone that was affected by this piece of shit and I stand by you. I’m sorry if in some way I helped enable his problem by playing with him as long as I did and anyone was affected because of this. I never meant any of you any harm. If anyone would like to reach out and talk about this situation I’d be more than willing to talk with you.”
Notice that he didn’t play dumb like he never heard anything? When guys feign ignorance around abuse and then turn around and promote themselves (or bands, labels, venues, etc.) as if they’ve always done the right thing, they re-traumatize the women they ignored.
4. Stand up for women, even when they’re not around to pat you on the back for it.
Are you the type that degrades and dehumanizes women with your friends? Are you quiet when that kind of conversation is going on? As a woman, I have opted for silence and even participated in my own degradation at times, young and dumb. I also grew up where it was totally normal for adult men to comment on my body, including ones related to me. At most they were met with “c’mon..” But often their statements went ignored. Only very recently did attitudes around this begin to change.
The biggest impact men have is challenging sexism is when it shows up and women aren’t around to stand up for themselves. Until it is as uncomfortable to be sexist as it is to speak up about sexism, women will not know peace.
5. Check-in with survivors! We are not ok.
Triggers are real and unpleasant. I’ve experienced PTSD episodes that trigger year-long suicidal depression. When abusers are brought into light #MeToo style with a seemingly never-ending stream of cases, even girls not impacted by that abuser are being actively retraumatized. While commenting has improved in recent times, there are always people who remind you of the ideologies that feed and support the realty too many survivors know.
Let’s take this MetalSucks comment thread for an example: Godless Angel’s sympathy is directed at the band mates of the abuser. Never mind the people who have had to live with these guys going largely unchecked for years and Bluething getting at the heart of that issue. Those close to abusers know there is something up, they don't want to admit it. Or they agree with how the woman is being treated. No middle ground. Then we have xyz's rebuttal, “oh stfu. Young chicks swarming around rock musicians because of what? Intellectual discussion? Yeah right.” Because you know, willing underage girls are essentially women, right?
One thing you learn in the isolation recovering from sexual abuse is the many ways people dehumanize and justify violence against women. When you let a woman know that you see her pain and are willing to sit with her in that discomfort, that means more than some arbitrary status to let everyone know you’re not like the other ones.
I can’t change what happened to me, but you have the power to make it so I don’t have to live in this pain alone and unseen. And who knows, by creating a safe space for women to share, you might gain some insights to apply to your own life.
6. Dismantle the idea that women have to be young and beautiful
Attraction and relationships with underage and “barely legal” females have been normalized for centuries. It is more than the aesthetic, it’s the naivete of the young that abusers love. Some teens and early twenties are easily manipulated and eager to please in exchange for some kind of acceptance. We all remember our teen years, they’re awkward as hell. Adults should not be making it more awkward for them.
I grew up during a time where men could say anything about a girl’s beauty, even if they were related and there were 50-years between them. Respect your elders? Many girls grow up with the idea that they have to be beautiful first, from tv to family to magazines to movies, and especially boys-- y'all let us know. It’s deeply embedded in culture and upheld in our behaviors in ways we aren’t all cognizant of and damaging to women in a myriad of ways. Some learn it is the only way they’ll receive attention and feelings of love from men… Why does society treat girls more harshly for seeking affection than the men that take advantage and abuse them for it?
Could it be that younger girls are more easily dismissed as “crazy” and not capable of understanding what happens to them? Reality check: people do get crazy when they are being abused and don’t understand it as abuse, they just know that things don’t feel right. It becomes common practice to gaslight young people. Many parents use this technique to control realty around children, and similarly, adult men who seek teen girls are gaslighting pros. It’s effective because the abuser doesn’t have to be accountable for their actions and people are quick to help them maintain their reality in favor of not dealing with the uncomfortable ideas around the abuse of women that happens under our noses. Which is why you need to…
7. Stop using crazy as a means of dismissing other women
While in general people should not be dismissed for having a mental illness, it’s important to understand the historic context of its application in the oppression and abuse of women. Mental illness has been weaponized against women for a long time. In the Victorian Era, there were very defined ways in which women were to behave and anything outside of that was “not right in the head.” As a result, women were kept in-line with psychiatry. A trend that continued into the 70s when women were not obedient housewives. Special thanks to Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf for raising awareness around the abuses of the mental health system in a palatable fashion. Also, big nods to Kate Millet and Judi Chamberlin.
In the modern era when we see these serial abuse cases, if you know anyone around those guys there is prevailing attitude: “Bitches are crazy.” Not just the abusers feel this way, their friends who live in a world of plausible deniability feel this way too. With the underlying belief that women are “crazy” for having feelings that require men to think differently about the ways they act, they don’t have to change their behavior. They don't have to acknowledge our humanity. Around bands/the music scene, the other guys don’t want to lose their bands or connections, so if you have a couple of guys ready to vouch for each other, it’s easy to dismiss the girl’s accusations because "bitches are crazy."
One of the most common microaggressions I faced when I came out was people asking if I was sure of what happened. I suppose my girl brain can’t accurately understand what happens to me, huh? Understand that when you ask questions like that, you are actively siding with the abuser and demonstrating that you do not believe what is being told you. This response is very traumatizing for the victim which is part of why we learn to suffer silently.
Girls that are outnumbered by guys often learn to be quiet in situations that make them uncomfortable, they want to be cool and not rock the boat. It’s a way I have participated in these messed up norms as well, I just wanted to be the cool girl that was nOt LiKe oThEr GiRLs…
8. Stop complimenting girls for not being like other girls. It’s not a compliment.
Ah, the many ways in which it is communicated to women that she should be what men want in a girl instead of being what they want absent from a man’s opinion. As if our interests should be fetishized for male pleasure. Like men, there are a variety of women to choose from. We have a wide range of beliefs, interests, and goals.
Furthermore, this is a tool men use to generate insecurity and jealousy between girls. Don’t be a part of that as a lot of women are learning how to be better toward each other.
9. Be mindful and honest with your public statements of allyship
Maybe you are active in the music scene, maybe you’re a big name, maybe you’re a promoter, or you own a label: it is important that you are speaking from a place of responsibility and not performance. Put another way, are you making a statement for the ego strokes or are you making a statement because you really want to sabotage the culture that has long been permissive of the sexualized violence against women?
The sheer volume of rockers who had relationships with underage girls—you still listen to Zeppelin, right? Aerosmith, Rolling Stones, Ted Nugent, Iggy Pop, and I could go on... While it may only be a member or two from each, it doesn’t mean that a whole culture looked the other way because let’s face it: status is important.
My point is: if there have ever been times where you have been quiet, or even predatory… Be honest. Not that you have to admit everything, just don’t get up there and post something like you’re a perfect ally because in doing so, you cause harm to anyone you may have ignored along the way. Be authentic. Growth is a beautiful thing.
10. When you cause harm, even unintentionally, own it!
As I said, growth is a beautiful thing. If you truly understand the subtle ways sexism and patriarchy work, you'll be open and committed to learning about where it resides in your attitude and behaviors. A lot of men internalized sexism in ways they don’t understand. Do you talk to women differently than you do men? Is different, equal?
If you’re not open to hearing how you cause harm around these situations, you have no business claiming any kind of allyship. Yes, that girl does want to hear your apology. Most of the reason girls come forward like this is because they go unheard for so long. I long tried to work things out under the table before I came out more publicly. To me, justice is changed behavior and the acknowledgment of harm caused. In fact, society has a habit of making abusers more comfortable and accepted than the survivors that speak up about it.
In my experience, the ego is the primary driving factor around ignoring women.
11. Check your ego at the door
If you feel defensive when a woman is providing feedback, resist the urge to project onto her out of anger. Can you have a conversation and address her points, or are you going to shut her out of your life? Many survivors get shut out for correcting men or questioning their allyship. The silent treatment is a hallmark of emotional abuse, affecting the same areas of the brain as being punched. Fake male allies choose this method because they avoid accountability all the while lying to themselves that they are taking some kind of high ground (because that bitch is crazy). The silence communicates to the victim that they are not worthy of a response, and when a woman is not only coming to terms with her abuse but simultaneously has to manage the emotions of insecure men more interested in feeling good and appearing right, than the hard work of doing right… It’s another way in which survivors are retraumatized.
If you care about improving conditions for women, shit is going to have to get uncomfortable so change can happen. Change is abusers not feeling safe to continually abuse women. The Matts of Homewrecker felt safe for years. Be open to receiving feedback about how you can improve around these situations instead of engaging in the superficial activities designed to make you feel good around abuse.
12. Stop expecting women to educate you about sexism.
There is plenty of information available. Follow more strong women around the issues of sexism. Much like we recently learned with Amplify Black Voices, you have to do the same with women. Be open to learning and committed to growth.
We encourage survivors and victims to use the tools available via Rainn