At the Golden Globe Awards last month, the #MeToo movement and TIME’S UP initiative took center stage. In a visually stunning show of solidarity, attendees—both women and men—wore black eveningwear and “Time’s Up” pins. But while nearly every woman who accepted an award spoke out in support of survivors in all industries, expressed their gratitude for the silence breakers, and called for change, not one man mentioned the #MeToo or TIME’S UP movements in their acceptance speeches. Not one.
This silence, particularly when juxtaposed with the powerful words of Hollywood’s leading women, was impossible to ignore. Countless media outlets, from the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times to NBC to USA Today to HuffPost, wondered “why?” and called for men to do better, to do more.
As many writers pointed out, the dearth of visible and vocal male allies was disappointing, because the movement to end violence will not succeed as a women’s movement alone. We cannot put an end to—or even move the needle on —discrimination, sexual harassment, and all forms of violence against women and girls, without men playing a big part in the solution. Only men can end men’s violence against women.
As leaders at The Good Men Project and the Joyful Heart Foundation, we are working together, and in collaboration with other organizations, to encourage men to use their influence and platforms to speak out about violence against women and girls. And yet, we are still learning how to engage men in this movement. It is painfully obvious that not enough men are voicing their support.
Men’s silence need not be framed as a lack of awareness, or a lack of empathy. We’ve heard men say that they don’t know what to say or how to act. We’ve heard men express concerns they might get attacked, or this is a “no-win situation.” We’ve heard that men who are silent may feel there is a high risk of misspeaking. We’ve also heard some men may fear feeling like hypocrites, given that all our histories hold our personal failures.
With the Oscars less than a week away, we’ve joined forces to explore the ideas holding men back from speaking up, address these fears, and provide some practical tips to help men find their voice in both the private and public sphere.
TIP: LISTEN TO WOMEN.
The first step: listen to women. Really listen. Without minimizing, challenging, making excuses, or getting defensive. Without inserting your own narrative. Listen without judgment and practice active listening. Active listening is listening to hear and understand, not to formulate a response. Active listening requires you to put aside your own thoughts and show you are fully present and dedicated to hearing someone share their experience.
Listening begins with empathy, which involves understanding how different most women’s experiences are from most men’s. For many men, it may be difficult to truly understand women’s fears about men, harassment, and violence. But until men truly see how careful, wary, worried, and watchful women have been socialized to be—and have to be every day—men will never understand the urgency with which #MeToo is growing. Walking on the street is a risk for women. (And if you as a man just rolled your eyes, you’re part of the problem.)
TIP: DON’T SHRINK FROM THE MOMENT. NOT DOING SOMETHING IS NOT AN OPTION.
Speak up when you witness harassment in the moment. Speak up when you hear offensive comments about women, even when women are not around. Your friends need to hear from you and other men that their behavior is intolerable and inappropriate. If you aren’t comfortable with direct confrontation, then tell another man who can confront the speaker’s behavior.
In other words, when you’re around your female friends, listen. Sit with it even if you don’t “get” it. When you’re around your male friends, speak up. Men need to hold other men accountable.
For example, too many men laugh off sexist or misogynistic behavior thinking it’s “just a joke.” It may be to them, but the predators in the group see it as permission. It also normalizes abuse. If other men are making misogynistic jokes or comments, practice calling them out in different ways. It can start with something as simple as saying, “That’s not cool.” A response that goes a step further is to talk about women who have experienced abuse and why you don’t think that’s funny. You don’t have to be on the attack—simply point out how their behavior harms women and why.
TIP: TRUST WOMEN.
Although sexual assault, abuse, and harassment are prevalent, most men are not perpetrators. Trust women to know—and believe—most men aren’t harassers or rapists, and that many men are survivors of sexual and domestic violence themselves.
Addressing the #NotAllMen response to #MeToo one commentator said: “Some men rush in immediately to remind us all that not all men are rapists and harassers. And of course they aren’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that toxic masculinity exists, that rape culture exists, that we live in a world where sexual harassment and abuse of women at the hands of men has been normalized. It doesn’t matter that not all of them do—it matters that too many of them do.”
It also matters that too many others who are not abusive remain silent. That silence perpetuates abuse.
Women want and need men to be their allies in changing the culture. Women also know we can’t end this violence by ourselves; we need men working with us to change the entrenched attitudes that have enabled sexual violence and harassment.
TIP RECOGNIZE THAT ABUSERS CAN SEEM LIKE “GOOD GUYS” TO MEN, YET STILL BE ABUSIVE TO WOMEN.
If someone tells you that a “good guy” is abusive, believe them. Charming men, men who are publicly seen as “good guys,” may be very different behind closed doors.
“Raise your hand if you laugh . . . or roll your eyes till they sprain whenever you see the male friends of these abusive men saying some version of Senator Hatch’s remark: ‘I am heartbroken by today’s allegations,’ Hatch said in a statement. “‘n every interaction I’ve had with Rob, he has been courteous, professional and respectful.’”
What many men do not understand but need to is that this isn’t about the way men treat other men. As we see in story after story after story, often men don’t treat women the same way they treat other men. And people often don’t act the same way in private as they do in public. We know this. It’s time to integrate that knowledge into our responses.
Adding yet another layer, men are socialized to believe that women have less value than men. This leads to the common cultural responses of not believing women, blaming victims, making excuses for perpetrators, and giving men—particularly men with celebrity, power, or wealth—the benefit of the doubt. We need to confront these biases, which perpetuate widespread abuse. It’s long past time to flip the script.
TIP: SYMPATHIZE WITH SURVIVORS, NOT ABUSERS.
President Trump recently illustrated exactly what not to do in his recent comments about the resignation of White House aide Rob Porter, who faces several allegations of domestic violence. He did not mention the victims once, and he bemoaned what a terrible impact the dismissal would have on Porter and his career.
First and foremost, men need to be crystal clear that violence is never acceptable and that any man who physically or sexually abuses a woman must be held accountable for his actions. The consequences may include losing a job or being rejected by friends. Expressing sympathy for a perpetrator’s losses, instead of acknowledging the harm he caused, is misplaced.
“Well, he seemed like a good guy at work” is the wrong message. Sympathy for and solidarity with the survivor—the person who endured the abuse, through no fault or choice of her own, and must live with its effects—is the right one.
TIP: SKIP THE “WIVES, MOTHERS, DAUGHTERS, SISTERS” LINE.
Often, the need to treat women with respect is framed in the context of women being men’s “mothers, daughters, wives, or sisters.” The talking point often goes: “Would you want any man to treat your daughter that way? Or your mother?” Though we understand the intent is to make victims of sexual violence “real” by relating them to the people in our life, this message fails to point out that we should treat women well simply because they are people.
When writers—men or women—rely on this phrasing, they are referring to and defining women by their relationships to men and others, like property. This is exactly the kind of thinking we need to get rid of if we are going to change the culture. The women in your life—your friends, your colleagues, and even your wives, sisters, and daughters—want to know you are interested in their experiences because you value them as people.
TIP: STICK TO THE REALITY, NOT THE EXCEPTIONS.
Yes, false allegations happen. They are also rare. When men’s response to violence is to say “But what about [famous false allegation headline]?” they are suggesting that women lie about abuse more frequently than men (and others) perpetrate it. The reality is the opposite. This violence is prevalent and underreported. One in three women are survivors of sexual violence and one in four have experienced violence from an intimate partner. On the other hand, it’s estimated that between two and eight percent of sexual assault allegations are false. This is not a reason to receive survivors with doubt.
Trotting out “innocent until proven guilty” is a variation on this theme. Although there is a place in this conversation to address the role of due process, falling back on these reactions to violence boils down to the same idea: that men are blameless until proven guilty but that women are liars until proven truthful. We need to toss this idea. The facts simply don’t support it.
Sexual and domestic violence are hard topics to talk about. And it’s not going to get any easier if we continue to avoid it. These conversations take work.
Whether you are on the red carpet, at a cocktail party, or dining with friends, the subject is now inescapable. That is a good thing.
Engage in the conversation. Talking about this violence directly and authentically will elevate the dialogue.
It’s not “us against them.” It’s all of us—people of all genders—together against abuse. We are in this together, and it is only together that we can make real, lasting, and meaningful change.
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When Mariska Hargitay started playing Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims’ Unit, the content of the scripts, as well as the work she did to prepare for the role, opened her eyes to the staggering statistics about sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse in the United States. She received hundreds, then thousands of letters and emails from survivors disclosing their stories of abuse, many for the first time. She wanted to answer those letters, to address the suffering and isolation they described, and honor the acts of courage they represented.
Her response was Joyful Heart. Inspired by her deep connection and love for ‘Hawai‘i, Mariska founded Joyful Heart in Kona in 2004 to help sexual assault survivors heal and reclaim a sense of joy in their lives. Today, Joyful Heart is a leading national organization with a mission to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever.
Joyful Heart carries out its mission through an integrated program portfolio of healing, education, and advocacy. Our work is paving the way for innovative approaches to treating trauma, igniting shifts in the way the public views and responds to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, and reforming legislation to ensure justice for survivors.