Let’s start with some of the good conversations taking place right now. Recently, CNN held a Town Hall on Sexual Harassment and what comes after #MeToo. Mike Kasdan, Director of Special Projects for The Good Men Project team was invited to participate in the Q&A and asked this question:
“This is a problem that isn’t going to go away without the active involvement of men in the solution,” Mike said. “For men who are seeking to be involved or to participate in ending sexual abuse and harassment, how would you like to see them act as allies?”
Here were a couple of the answers.
Matt McGorry, an actor and social justice advocate, said men are responsible for “re-educating” themselves on the issue.”The question is not ‘Are we sexist?’ It’s ‘Do we know that we are sexist?'” he said. “Unless we’re doing something to be a part of the solution, we’re also part of the problem.”
Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, encouraged men to reach out to women who are sharing their stories.”A lot of survivors need to be heard and to be believed,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘Listen, I saw that and I want you to know I care.'”
It was a well produced show that advanced this important cultural conversation. Mike mentioned that other than Matt McGorry, the panelists were all women. In the audience, there were about 60 people, approximately 5 of whom were men. And two of those five men were from The Good Men Project. Not surprising.
Let’s jump for a moment to mass shootings. On our weekly Social Interest Group calls, we have discussed the ways in which the “canary in the coalmine” for a mass shooter is that they have often perpetrated domestic violence before, and/or sexual harassment. Those are clearly connected. You can read more about those links in places like The Washington Post, NPR, and PBS. They are important connections to understand.
Next, let’s look at what Good Men Project contributor Dale Vaughn has found in his work on gender and sexual violence. Dale would go into fraternities, to try to overturn rape culture and sexual assaults on college campuses.
Dale would ask the group of men gathered in the fraternity: “Who here thinks of themselves as the problem when it comes to the way women are treated on campus.”
Zero hands would raise.
Then he would ask “Who here knows which of the guys in this room are the problem?”
EVERY hand would raise.
Men know who the problem men are.
The last connecting dot? The Hollywood access tapes where President Trump was was able to explain away his “pussy grabbing comment” by the phrase “it was just locker room talk”.
Guess where men find out where the problem men are?
In locker rooms. And in fraternities. And in strip clubs. And in board rooms. And on golf courses. In places where women have been historically denied access.
As a woman who had spent years in the corporate environment, trying to fight sexism any way I could—that is why men didn’t want me in any of those places. I often tried to “Lean In” and join business meetings in those places despite being told I shouldn’t go. I tried to get into those places because I thought the men I worked with would be discussing “business strategy.” Which was true to a certain extent. But those are also the places where all kind of secrets are kept.
And they are often places where the culture of violence *against men* is often baked right in. Especially men who will tell.
The men who talk like that in locker rooms (or elsewhere) ARE the problem. But it is the Man-Box code of silence which says to everyone else “Don’t tell.” And whatever you do, don’t allow women to know what is going on. And that is also a problem.
So let’s look at this for moment: Men know who the problem men are.
But there are some things men DON’T know—or at least up til now. This is why it is such a watershed moment in history. This is why it is a tipping point for change:
1) Men DON’T know how many women this affects. (i.e., all of us).
2) Men also DON’T know — and this is new information coming out — that those guys, those often jovial guys who joke about grabbing women’s pussy’s in the locker room — those guys can become serial sexual assaulters, rapists, domestic violence perpetrators and potentially mass shooters. The small percentage of the men who are those things depend on the silence of all other men to get away . with it. And there is a conscious strategy for making sure men (and women) remain silent.
Men know there is a problem and they know the small group of men who ARE the problem.
But men often don’t know what to do about it because they have been conditioned not to say anything. It’s “guy talk”.
Let’s be honest — how many times have all of us — women included — said “That guy’s behavior is blatantly sexist!” — and then done nothing nor said anything about it. I know I am guilty of that.
But would you do something about it if you knew that guy could be the next mass shooter? The next serial rapist? The next authoritarian political candidate?
My final question is—-it’s the women victims who keep coming forward—both in campaigns like #MeToo—-and also as the accusers of this sexual violence. But why is it that you almost never hear a man come forward and say “I knew Harvey Weinstein was treating women like this.”
Are you REALLY going to tell me men didn’t know about his behavior? Because I’m not buying it. Men knew. But men had real reason why it might be difficult to speak of. There is often an undercurrent of implied violence against then. Men might lose their job, their ability to be a financial provider, some hard-earned power or social standing or suffer real consequences for speaking up. But this is by design. The abusers want to keep abusing. And I believe the consequences for men speaking up about what they see are real and are huge.
But not as big as the consequences of NOT speaking up.
And this is part of what we have to change.
Let’s go back to Mike Kasdan’s original question on CNN:
“For men who are seeking to be involved or to participate in ending sexual abuse and harassment, how would you like to see them act as allies?”
–If you know a man who is acting in a sexist way — even if they are just joking, even if it is uncomfortable — you have to tell *someone*. Maybe it is your boss and you can’t tell your boss. But say something. Tell *anyone*. Practice saying something. Practice every time you see something.
–Understand that by NOT saying something, you run the risk of a) having every women you know continue to be at risk for sexual harassment, violence, DV and more and b) the guys who go on to turn their words into actions are also the potential mass shooters of the future.
–Speak up about the culture of violence, aggression and masculinity that prevents you from speaking up.
We must talk about this.
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