I have been sexually harassed twice in my life. Once it occurred in a work environment and once in a bar. Both times the harasser was a woman. As a human being who was hurt by these experiences I can recognize the suffering I felt and the impact those incidents had on me. I know they were unpleasant and hard to deal with. They left me feeling confused and uncomfortable for a short time.
What they didn't do to me was create a sense of fear. I didn't feel nervous going to bars and I didn't worry about working in environments with women in the future. I felt safe walking around my neighbourhood when women were out and I didn't limit my participation in public life. And I didn't start to think that there is a dominant culture of hatred towards men.
I think it's really critical to think about why this is. It's not because I am resistant to generalizing or judging groups of people. It's not because women never harm men. Its not because I'm hyper-sensitive or emasculated or embarrassed about what happened to me.
It is because of systemic oppression of women and widespread violence against women. It is because some men shame, harass, dominate, control, hurt, harm and kill women. And it is because almost all men benefit from the unearned privilege gained simply by being perceived as male.
I know that many of us feel hurt when men in general are blamed for violence against women. And many of us have or do feel the need to exclaim, "not all men!" And its true, not all men hurt women. And some of us have been hurt by women.
Yet, I believe we need to look beyond our individual hurts, the pain we have all accumulated as individuals walking this earth. I believe we will benefit greatly from trying to understand the pain of others. The pain of those we do not understand, the pain of those we find it most difficult to identify with.
As a white, straight man I see it as my duty, my birth right, to work to understand what impact my identity has on my life and on the lives of others. White folks who may have been poor should be able to understand that other people's experiences of poverty can be and are different from their own based on structural inequity. The fact that I may have experienced forms of violence doesn't keep me from knowing that the way violence affects others can be more devastating and persistent than it has been for me.
I encourage, implore, beg and hope all men will consider, just consider, what it means to walk through the world with the privilege of being seen as a man. Rather than allowing our own pain to fuel anger, resentment, and distance between women and men I believe that we can use our pain to drive compassion, empathy and connection.
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