As I have been reading Facebook the last few days, I’ve been seeing the flurry of “MeToo” posts from far far too many of my friends. As a hetero cis man, I’ve been trying to figure out what is the proper response. At one point, I wanted to write a post about how I never understood how men could behave that way. I don’t get why men are punitive in divorces towards their partners. I don’t get why men would force themselves on someone who is unwilling. I certainly would never behave that way (or at least I thought). Then I saw a friend who had a different take on the situation, acknowledging our role in the process. Then I saw a third friend with an interesting take on how to fix the problem. Then last night, I began to wonder how this fit into my earlier discussions on Culture Wars, and how the universe of entitled “traditional” males would receive all of this. The result: This essay prompt, asking the question #NowWhat?
The impact of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse revelations, Mayim Bialik’s opinion piece in the NY Times, and the #MeToo response thereto has demonstrated that sexual abuse and harassment is far too prevalent in society today. As men, the question is: How do we respond? Saying “I hear you” is insufficient, as is believing that it is all those “other” men that have caused the problem. The way to move forward is to start by acknowledging our culpability as men in society, and establishing a new path forward. We also need to figure out how to address the inevitable push back that will come from the Culture Wars.
In examining the part we play as men in creating the problem, we need to realize that what most of us have been taught is flawed, and it resulted in some level of flawed behavior. One friend on Facebook posted the following:
I have acted as if I was entitled to my partner(s)’s attention and body.
I have pushed boundaries to get what I wanted.
I have put my wants in front of my partner(s).
I have guilted partner(s) into feeling obligated to intimacy.
I am sorry.
Reading this, as Noel Paul Stookey said in one of his Peter, Paul, & Mary comedy routines, brought me up by the short hairs. It is highly likely that most older men have behaved in this way towards their partners or potential partners at some point in their lives. After all, we’re products of the time and society we grew up, much as we hate to admit it. Much as we might have consciously tried to avoid the behavior above, we have slipped into it a few times. As we teach our children, apologizing cannot make something right. Changing the behavior can.
But behavior towards partners is not the only place we’ve likely fucked up. Some of us may have done similar behaviors towards co-workers, friends, and colleagues. From a sexist comment, a gesture, an oogle — all can come across as a form of harassment. There are those, I’m sure, that have done even worse. After all, all those #MeToos came from somewhere.
No one can promise that they won’t slip into that behavior at times. We’re human, and we all slip up. But the first step in not doing a behavior is realizing that you do it. Then you can be increasingly aware of when you are starting to do it again … and stop before you do.
Whether you are in your 50s like me, or a young teen or twentysomething, society has learned and changed from when you were little. What might once have been acceptable is no longer. What you see in older movies, TVs, and in popular song is not the way adults should behave today, no matter how you rationalize it. We are not entitled to anything with respect to sex or intimacy; it must be given by our partners freely, with cognizance, and without coercion.
Another Facebook friend shared something from one of his friends that was a succinct summary of how to move forward. It begins by recognizing that almost all your female friends have been sexually harassed or assaulted. The harassment started when they were children. The catcalling, the groping in a crowded place, the sudden rage when a man realizes that a woman won’t sleep with them. All of them. So what do we do?
- Stop harassing women. That includes asking strangers to smile. That includes raging at your female friends who “friend zone” you. That includes not taking no for an answer. At this point you know what’s right and what’s wrong and what’s unwanted. Stop.
- Stop interrupting conversations about harassment and assault. Stop pointing out that not all men are harassers. No shit. But clearly enough do that this is a problem. You aren’t contributing
- Stop victim blaming. Entirely. We need to move the conversation away from what the victim could have done to prevent it. Don’t ask what they were wearing, why they were traveling alone, if they fought back, why they didn’t come forward sooner. This isn’t a problem that victims need to solve.
- Stop injecting yourself into the discussion. Can men be harassed and assaulted? Of course, and it’s terrible and we wish it didn’t happen. And we can have that conversation, but not while we’re talking about this. Two separate problems, two different solutions. Don’t derail this conversation so that we’re addressing that this is two problems that affects some people instead one problem that affects all women. Especially if you don’t want to talk about your experience, you’re just diluting the discussion.
- Shut it down when you see it. Call out harassment when you see your friends do it. Maybe they’ll change, maybe they’ll stop being your friends. Either way, call that shit out. Dudes, this is where you are most powerful. Stop letting this sort of thing be ok. Public stuff like catcalling. Private stuff like ranking women. Shut it down.
- Fathers, uncles, older brothers: if you have young men in your lives, teach them early about respect and consent. Don’t let them joke about a cartoon “raping their childhood” or laugh about grabbing a girl’s butt. Make sure they grow up knowing this isn’t normal and it isn’t ok. Make this behavior extinct.
- Shut up
- Stop other dudes from harassing
- Make sure the young men who learn from you never start harassing.
My wife also pointed me to another list of how to treat women better from The Guardian. Here are some items from that list (adapted just a bit); I recommend you read the full list:
- Talk to your friend who is “kind of a creep” at work. Don’t need to literally witness a man being horrible in order to believe that he’s horrible. Trust and believe women.
- Don’t talk over women. When you see another guy talk over a woman, say: “Hey, she was saying something.”
- If you are asked to be on a panel/team and see that it’s all men, say something. Maybe even refuse the spot! [Read this great post by Spaf on the subject]
- Don’t call women “crazy” in a professional setting. Don’t imply that their success due to their looks. Don’t imply their success is due to anything other than their talent and hard work. [Read this great sermon on sexism and implied sexism]
- Don’t use your “feminism” as a way to get women to trust you. Show us in your day-to-day life, not in your self-congratulatory social media.
- Do you feel that any woman on earth owes you something? She doesn’t. Even if you’re like, “Hm, but what about basic respect?” ask yourself if you’ve shown her the same. If you do the right thing, don’t expect praise or payment or a pat on the back or even a “thank you from that woman”. Congratulations, you were baseline decent.
- Don’t send pictures of … anything … unless she just asked for them.
- Consent: Obtain it, and believe “no” when it is said. If a woman says no to a date, don’t ask her again. If a woman has not given an enthusiastic “yes” to sex, back the hell off. If a woman is really drunk, she cannot consent to you and she also cannot consent to your buddy who seems to be trying something. Your buddy is your responsibility, so say something and intervene. Don’t touch women you don’t know, and honestly, ask yourself why you feel the need to touch women in general.
- Involve women in your creative projects, then let them have equal part in them.
- Don’t make misogynistic jokes.
- Don’t expect women to be “nice” or “cute” and don’t get upset when they aren’t those things.
- Don’t make assumptions about a woman’s intelligence, capabilities or desires based on how she dresses.
- Pay women as much as you pay men.
- If a woman tells you that you fucked up, and you feel like shit, don’t put it on that woman to make you feel better. Apologize without qualification and then go away.
- Don’t punish women for witnessing your vulnerability.
- Don’t get defensive when you get called out.
- Don’t use your power to get women’s attention/company/sex/etc. Be aware of your inherent power in situations and use it to protect women, especially via talking to other men.
- Stop thinking that because you’re also marginalized or a survivor that you cannot inflict pain or oppress women.
- If women’s pain makes you feel pain, don’t prize your pain above hers, or make that pain her problem.
- Don’t read a list like this and think that most of these don’t apply to you.
If you want yet another list, here’s something from Groknation on combatting toxic masculinity.
In my essay prompt on culture wars, I discussed how the “war” has come about because society is changing in a way that many don’t want. Entitlements and privileges that some segments had in the past are disappearing; the segments are also being “forced” to accept as equal segments of the population they previously viewed as inferior. A primary segment feeling this way are the cis het males in society, particularly White cis het males. This is what led to the election of Donald Trump; this is why Donald Trump’s boorish and insulting behavior towards women was ignored by this segment. Bluntly: The way they were raised, they saw nothing wrong in the behavior. Men have power and authority over women; they should use it.
Those men among us who are enlightened see the fallacy in this attitude, but then again, we see the fallacy in many attitudes of this group.
So now ask yourself: How will this group react to the #MeToo flood. I’m sure some will be in the “They asked for it crowd.” Others will be in the “Well, I treat my wife with respect, it was some other guy.”. Even more will be: “So what?” There will also be the minority that begin to see the problem, and then ask themselves, “Who have we elected?”
But for many, this will just be another salvo in the Culture Wars. It will be yet another attack on male privilege and power, and they will likely double-down on the behavior.
We must, in response, emphasize that society has changed. As the friend from whom I snarfed #IHave said:
The good news is that our culture’s perception of sex, consent and negotiation is changing. When I was learning about this stuff, and/or trying to figure it out for myself, the assumption was that the person interested (usually a guy) would attempt to “up the game”, by kissing, touching a bit further etc. The other person (usually a woman) was expected to decline the advance at first, and then until the initiator had sufficiently turned them on to be interested in going further.
Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of cases where one person unknowingly violates another’s consent. Even worse, there are still a lot of people, on both sides, that think that it is still the way things are, or should be, done.
I can’t do anything about things that have already been done, but we can all work to prevent things from happening in the future.
We must make clear that, just like discrimination against Blacks or Jews or other racial minorities is no longer acceptable, this abuse of power and privilege is no longer acceptable. There must be freedom from real or perceived harassment, and it is our responsibility as men to set the example to simply not do it.
P.S.: To explain the user icon: This comes from a campaign in 2006 against men who believed they needed endangered sea turtle eggs as an aphrodisiac. In reality, there is only one aphrodisiac: a freely willing partner.
P.P.S. H/T (Hat tip) to those who have posted or brought to my attention things incorporated herein: David Bell (and his friend’s friend Mitch Kocen), Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik, Larry Colon, Karen Davis, and Gene Spafford.