By Jalil Mustaffa Bishop
We ain’t shit.
I feel like it is time for me to write the letter that I wished someone gave to me a long time ago. This letter is addressed to cisgender/heterosexual people who identify as men (cisgender refers to people who self-identify with the gender socially assigned to them at birth). This letter may also be disruptive to anyone else invested in masculinity, as they too need to reflect on their role in the U.S culture of rape and sexual violence. A culture that extends from our jobs to campuses to police departments to the military and to our families.
So yes, it is true—men ain’t shit. I know because I ain’t shit. To be real, just about every heterosexual and even queer man I have come across ain’t shit when it comes to rape culture. Understanding that we ain’t shit due to socialization and not by nature took a long time for me to come to terms with. In response to women who argued that “men ain’t shit,” I used common rebuttals such as “not all men, you’re just dating the wrong men” or “that is just individual men.” I have come to know ain’t shit men are not the outlier; they are the norm.
Just in case I am not clear, let me list it:
Nate Parker ain’t shit.
Jean Celestin, Parker’s friend who co-wrote The Birth of a Nation, ain’t shit.
Bill Clinton ain’t shit.
Brock Turner, Stanford rapist, ain’t shit.
The whole Baltimore police department (read the recent DOJ report) ain’t shit. Bill Cosby is an extreme version of ain’t shit men, but we are still on the spectrum with him.
Just to make it personal: men who are your friends, your fathers, uncles, cousins, pastors, teachers, organizers, social justice icons, and feminists also ain’t shit.
Nate Parker is not an outlier but a reflection of how the logic of masculinity works. Parker himself already reveals these logics to us in his recent “candid” interview. He details how manhood is defined through sexual conquest where a man does not ask if a woman is down for sex, but rather invades by going up her shirt and skirts. Invades by guessing “how many drinks” it will take before her ability to say no is gone and then he can easily trick (read: force) her into his fantasies.
Parker used the term “toxic masculinity” to label the logics of masculinity. Toxic masculinity captures all the ways men use women as sexual medals on their fragile masculine armor. For Parker, toxic masculinity caused him to reduce women to mere vaginas, define himself by how many women he had sex with, and be celebrated amongst his male peers.
The interview suggests Parker has reached a point of consciousness that few men share. He acknowledges all the ways he has been taught to hate women and the necessary journey he needs to experience in order to unlearn his fragile manhood. However, he never once admits he raped that woman. He didn’t even acknowledged the ain’t shit move in writing The Birth of a Nation with his friend who also raped the woman in college.
Basically, Parker admits for most of his life until he was married and had a daughter (which is the first time most ain’t shit men question their ain’t shit behavior) that he treated women like shit and he thought it was normal. He attributes his dehumanization of women primarily to toxic masculinity and secondarily to his young age (another ain’t shit move). For Parker, all men around him were/are also fully engaged in toxic masculinity.
But somehow Parker still cannot acknowledge he raped that woman almost two decades ago. This lack of acknowledgment still makes him an ain’t shit man and makes it unlikely that his next steps will be anything more than his current PR talking points and calculated moves.
If we believe Parker’s own words when he admits he was socialized into toxic masculinity, which led him to dehumanize women, especially the woman in this case, then it should not be hard to accept that he raped this woman along with his friend as they both found no value in her.
I wholeheartedly believe most men are not even where Parker is in this last interview; a place he only arrived at because he was nationally shamed and dragged across the Internet. I believe most men try to separate themselves from Parker and rape culture, but so many of us also ain’t shit. If we, ain’t shit men, accept we are socialized in toxic and violent masculinity then we also have to accept this form of masculinity is defined in its power over the feminine other—women. (It is important to note here that ain’t shit men often feminize individuals or groups of people, beyond just women, to dehumanize and normalize violence towards them).
Some of us go to parties, clubs, and bars where we try to increase our “body count” by any means necessary. Others of us help to normalize the “body count” behavior by celebrating or remaining silent when men brag about their conquests. When men do something that clearly crosses the line, other men chalk it up as “they were just drunk.” Together, ain’t shit men rationalize sexual violence towards women through degrading them.
Ain’t shit men never question their male friends’ sexual stories; instead they focus more on marking the women as hoes, sluts, or being easy. This results in survivors of sexual violence being doubly violated: first by the physical violence of the perpetrator and second by the dehumanization from his supporters. Even when the violation is clear as day, ain’t shit men reason it away to “being young,” their protectors say “boys will be boys,” and society promises “they will mature and be ready to settle down one day.”
I say all this to show rape culture is not just the men who violently engage in sexual acts without consent. Rape culture is normalizing environments where a man finds more satisfaction in the invasion of a woman’s body than seeking the invite of an affirmative, enthusiastic yes.
Rape culture is shaming and silencing survivors so that they never come forward or receive justice. Rape culture occurs when men encourage, celebrate and protect their friends who commit sexual violence. Rape culture is in our music, our T.V shows, news outlets, and college experiences. Therefore, if we understand toxic masculinity as the primary lesson men learn and accept, then we also must understand men are deeply learned in and accepting of rape culture.
Conversations around sexual violence must continue to move beyond a sole focus on individuals. Parker and the league of extraordinary ain’t shit men listed above exist because other men, male power structures, and institutionalized masculinity protects and rewards them.
So we must start out assuming, as men, we are already complicit in rape culture so then we can engage in a conversation on how to destroy the monster in the mirror. And if somehow you are still wondering if you are in the ain’t shit category, ask yourself, what have you done to address sexual violence in your neighborhood, in your job, in your college, in your family?
If the answer is nothing, then you ain’t shit. If the answer is something, then you still ain’t shit because engaging in the work is just the first step. As men, we have to show up, do the work, unlearn our weak manhood, and learn to value women beyond just when they are our lovers, sisters, daughters, or mothers. Further, us ain’t shit men have to struggle against any structure, practice or institution that promotes rape culture. This is our work; the duty of ain’t shit men.
I sympathize with people who try to teach consent in really basic ways, like the makers of the famous tea video. I get it. Ain’t shit men claim to be ignorant and basic, so we take the important issue of consent and make it basic. However, men are not basic in that we do not understand consent. We just basically do not think we need to ask for consent; we have learned that we only can brag to our friends if we have sex through spitting “good game,” which can include the use of drugs, alcohol, false promises, and fake friendships.
Again, manhood places value on invasion more than an affirmative, enthusiastic yes. As men, we have to unlearn the physical and emotional violence used in the pursuit of sex. Simply put, we have to first learn to view women as humans who need to be asked for consent.
I, and other ain’t shit men, no longer can simply criticize the Parkers of the world just because we think we can say, “I am not a rapist.” For me, this means I am always suspect as a man. I am suspect every time I fail to challenge or speak against the men who come to me to validate their sexual conquests. I am suspect every time I look the other way at whatever social event in order to avoid the woman who is clearly too drunk but surrounded by men on the prowl.
I am suspect every time my heart hurts for my partner, who cannot walk the street due to men harassing her, but I hesitate to denounce men in my life who are on another sidewalk, block, outside the club, or in my social media feed harassing women. When it comes to rape culture, men are suspect until they have committed to be proven otherwise.
The links below are for ain’t shit men who want to learn more about our work:
- It Matters Why You Think Rape Is Wrong
- The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love
- The Difference Between Toxic Masculinity and Being A Man
- Why Black Men Still Need to Watch ‘The Birth of A Nation’
Jalil Mustaffa Bishop is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Education whose work focuses on education violence in systems of schooling. He dedicates endless hours to glorifying Blackness and cussing out white supremacy on Facebook.