Letter to Men by MaryBeth Bonfiglio

Editor Carrie Ivy, Letters, September 4th, 2016

"Tell them women are punished for just being women."

Marybeth Bonfiglio letter to men, addressing rape culture NAILED Magazine


Dear Men,

Please. Do not touch me. Or hug me. Or look at me like you have any idea what I am really feeling. I do not want anything to eat or drink. Please just let me cry for a minute here. Let me sob. Let me feel this scared. This hopeless. Just for this minute. Every part of me is bruised and aching. Every part of me fears for my daughters. And your daughters. And all the daughters. So don’t try to make me feel better. Just listen. Then I want you to do something.

I know that it will be you that teaches other men. I honor that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take a little bit of advice from a woman. Like me. Here it is.

Take a stand. Now.

Show up for the boys. Show up for the boys. Show up for the boys.

Teach them. Guide them. Give them what you never got. Give them rites of passage. Give them the space to be wild little shits and dirty primal animals. Teach them how to touch their dicks and let our their steam and love their bodies fiercely. Teach them that crying is good and holy. Teach them how to stretch a drum or hunt a deer or how to survive in the forest for 3 days. Teach them to know their urges. Teach them to master and transform them. Teach them how to tell a girl that he likes her and how to listen to her when she doesn’t feel the same. Teach them how to touch a girl, how to make a girl feel safe and seen.

Remind them that they never have to be what they have been told they are. Give them space to tell you their fantasies. All of them. Let them unwind what has been forced down their throats, all the stories that they have been fed. Tell them the world view they are shown reinforces this: they have more rights, they can make more money, they have more privileges, they have more dominion over my body than me, than my daughters. Tell them they are part of a system that doesn’t hold them responsible for violent behaviors, so they need to hold themselves responsible.

Tell them that if they are not poor that they will probably be able to get away with things. Bad things. Just by lying.

Especially if they are white. Especially if they rape someone.

Tell them that even if they would never rape a women, because they are good and their fathers are good and their grandfathers might have been mostly good – it’s still their job to do something more than just not rape women. Because that is basically doing nothing at all. Tell them about how women are blamed for what they wear, what they drink and where they decide to walk. Tell them women are punished for just being women. Tell them that women are punished for not being men.

Teach them about rape culture. That they are responsible for changing it. That they are supporting rape if they choose not to do something to dismantle it. That unless they do more, they will hold too many centuries of rape in their blood. That their cells will hold rape stories passed on from generations. And they will continue to pass it on. I do not want that for them or for who will be born next. I want so much more for them. But it’s up to you. To teach them to let those stories go.

While you are doing that, I will teach the girls to own themselves. And their sexuality. I will teach them to throw their sexual energy into their art and their activism. I will teach them to go to nature. I will teach them to masturbate. I will teach them that they are allowed to say no and walk away. I will teach them to see their bodies are sacred vessels. Because without their bodies, there would be no world.

I promise I that I will teach the girls to see the boys as beautiful, caring souls, because I believe that when we see each other at our truest essence, we can transform. This doesn’t mean they won’t be learning aikido, or how to throw a deadly punch. This doesn’t mean I won’t warn them that their skirt, even though it’s super cute and totally perfect, may be used as an excuse for them to be treated badly. That even though they are just playing a drinking game right along with the dudes, that they may be held responsible when one of them gropes her breasts and drunkenly tells her “wear a baggy shirt if you dont want me to touch your tit.”

I will teach them that their choices could be used as a reason in a court of law to blame them for violence that was committed against them.

Men, you might not know what you are doing as you stand in this role as a teacher, but neither do I. We still have to do it anyway. I’m 42 and spent half my life hiding and covering myself up and being scared to say no. I spent half my life scared to open my heart because of what I might endure if I trusted anyone again. Because when women say no, we are bitches.

Tell them this story. My young daughter told a boy she didn’t like him anymore. And the bullying began. He convinced everyone in her class to bully her. Girls and boys. Everyone was mad at her for hurting his feelings. Because she said no. Everyone thought she was a bitch. Because she said no. This is how it begins. For our girls. And for our boys. There are egos. And old stories at play. And roles that we attach to. This is when girls begin to deny their needs and doubt themselves and ignore their feelings in order to be liked, to fit in. This is how it begins. How we are taught we can’t say no and even if we do, we will be shamed and cast aside. When women say no, we get hurt.

Tell them the story how about how I had to prove that he didn’t let me get off that bed that night, that his elbow was against my throat so I could barely cry out for help. Tell them how I could not come up with any proof {except the blood on my underwear} and that somehow he even convinced my girlfriends not to believe me.

Tell them this story. The other day I went on a walk and I found a wallet outside on the street, in front of a house. I picked up the wallet and saw the photo of a beautiful 20-year-old woman on the I.D. I immediately did not think “Oh she dropped her wallet.” I immediately thought someone attacked her, raped her, and her wallet was laying there, and she was laying somewhere else, violated and ripped apart. I looked at the house it was in front of, and considered going to the door to see if it was someone’s that lived there. I immediately got scared. That I didn’t dare knock on the door. Because this is where our minds go. Because this is what it feels like to be a woman. To walk alone on the street. Early in the morning. Just to get some fresh air.

One in every three women are physically or sexually assaulted. By a man. We don’t have a lot of breathing room with those numbers.

I know you don’t have it easy in many ways. I don’t envy you. You have been robbed of so many things. I cannot speak of these things because I am not you. But I want you to know–I see you. I do.

I know it is important for men to remind each other how you do not rape women and how you know rape is wrong. This is good work. This is decent work. But this is just the baseline. This is just human decency. This is just how it should be. So please, I am not asking you to stop telling the stories about when you were drunk with a girl and you didn’t rape her.

Those stories are important. But the bar needs to be raised. Like a lot. Like Huge.

I am asking you. Raise the bar. I am telling you. Raise the bar. I am begging you. Raise the bar.

This is what I want.

I want you to share the stories of how vulnerable it is to be a man who expresses his woundedness, who admits it. Who admits being conditioned on how to view women. Because it’s in there. Underneath it all, you know you have been taught to see me as an object. You know you have wanted to take things that were not yours. You might not act on it, but you hold that teaching. That I am less than you. And that my body is not worth protection or freedom. And that women are stuck somewhere in between being owned and being disregarded.

I want you to share how fucked up it is to walk around every single day and not even have to think about how you walk in privilege and safety. That you don’t walk into a parking lot thinking you might be raped by someone hiding in the car next to yours. Share stories about how you don’t have to pretend you are talking on your cell phone when you walk by a man on the street at night. I want you to talk about how unjust and unfair this is. And how there is a need to recognize this. Because owning your privilege is powerful. Your privilege is power.

Empower the boys to embrace their inimitable divine masculine, an energy that is outstanding and protective and true. Teach them that no human is an object. Teach them to tattoo the meaning of consent into their cells. Teach them to look themselves right in the eye and see the parts of themselves that are broken, the parts of themselves that have been formed by a culture of rape. Teach them to stand up and ask women how to be a feminist. Tell them they are such an important part of healing this world. Please tell them that.

And even if they would never, ever rape a women, this is still their work, from here on in, to move into the world rejecting the system that has created them. Teach them that we have all been made to be victims and perpetrators alike.

Hold them and help them find what it is they need so they stop taking what was never theirs. Ever. Ever.

Show them that in order to to change this world, they need to change how they let the world see us, by changing how they see us.

This is so the earth can heal. So our wombs can be at ease. Can I please say to you that we women need our wombs to be at ease. We want to create something new with you all. With you all. Not separate. Together. There is so much more to birth.

But first. Please. Listen. Own your shit. Then tell me what your promise is. Each and every one of you. Tell a women in your life what your promise is. Tell her what you have done to be part of this system. And then tell her what you are doing to make it better.

I am grateful. And ready to be relieved. I believe in you. You got this. You totally do.

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Header image courtesy of Alan Martinakis. To view a gallery of his art, go here.

Marybeth Bonfiglio letter to men, addressing rape culture NAILED MagazineMaryBeth is a writer, mother, artist and creative coach living in Portland, OR. She throws a mean tarot card, finds her sanity in the forest, and she occasionally enjoys whiskey to soften her aversion to damp climates. She is writing her first book about blood and belonging and is currently unlearning everything she’s learned in her MFA program for creative writing. She reads her work out loud any chance she can get. You can write with her, here.



Carrie Ivy

Carrie Ivy (formerly Carrie Seitzinger) is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Ivy is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.