In light of the sexual harassment scandals that have emerged in recent months, along with the corresponding #MeToo movement, I’ve been especially curious about the reaction from men.
I’ve wondered: Were they surprised? Were they concerned? Did they do the things we’ve seen or heard? Do they know someone who has? Have they reconsidered their own behavior towards women over the years, wherever it may fall on the spectrum? What did men know and when did they know it?
A poll shared by Meet the Press on December 3rd (NBC News/Wall Street Journal) offered some clues:
“Among men between the ages of 18 and 49, 54% say that recent stories have caused them to think about their own behavior and how they interact with others. For men 50 and over, the result was 42%.”
At first glance, this result might seem positive. But if we flip it around, these statistics tell us a different story: 46% of men ages 18 and 49, and 58% of men 50 and over, are not rethinking their behavior in the workplace. This means that millions of men are willingly avoiding the chance to revisit their own past to see what, knowing what we know now, they could learn.
Perhaps these men aren’t engaging in self-reflection because they know without a doubt that they have never engaged in, perpetuated, nor allowed in their presence any kind of demeaning, belittling, or dehumanizing behavior toward women. They’ve never let a tasteless comment go by unanswered, and they’ve never subscribed to or benefited from the boy’s club mentality. These men would have to be saints. I don’t believe that’s the right answer.
Maybe they’re not reflecting because they know they’ve done these things we’re hearing about and worse, they don’t care, and plan to continue doing whatever they want, to whomever they want. These men would have to be demons. I don’t believe that, either.
I think it’s safe to assume that most men are neither saints nor demons.
Concerning unwanted sexual behavior, most men would probably fall somewhere on a gray scale that ranges—from a woman’s point of view—to barely registering to a sustained, long-term impact.
Most men could probably find situations in their past they could’ve handled better. Most men could see this as an opportunity to move forward both wiser and kinder. Most men could convert this collective movement into a personal opportunity to undertake self-analysis, where the goal is not about berating and punishing, but about growing and evolving. Our culture, and future generations, would benefit enormously from more men undertaking this inner exploration right alongside women.
There is a saying in the yoga and healing community of which I’ve been a part for many years: You have to feel it to heal it. The process of transformation is illuminating, yes, but when the lights first go on, it can be extraordinarily uncomfortable, largely depending on how long we’ve kept ourselves in the dark.
Growing and evolving require that we step back from our normal, habitual modes of operation. They require us to feel repressed emotions, like guilt, shame, inferiority, or regret. They demand that we leave no stone unturned in search of truth. They demand we get uncomfortable.
Here’s where I think we might have a possible reason why the number of men revisiting their own actions is not higher: Men are conditioned from childhood to avoid discomfort. Not only this, but women are conditioned from childhood to prevent men from feeling discomfort. This truth was shown to me by my female role models from the time I was a little girl.
We women cooked the meals and did the dishes, so the men could enjoy the football games on holidays. We women sat in the folding chairs, or on the floor, while men took the rockers and recliners. Boys, by nature of their larger bodies, needed more room in school, at work, at the club, and we yielded it.
We didn’t want to inconvenience them with a “chick flick,” so we turned the channel. We didn’t want to gross them out with proof of our period, so we hid our tampons. We didn’t want to burden them with “female issues,” so we leaned on our friends and doctors instead.
As women, we were taught to assume that terms like “guys” and “men,” included us, too, and to not be offended. Yet, women would never think to use a term like “ladies” or “women,” when even a single man might be in attendance. It might make him uncomfortable. In my experience as a yoga teacher, I can report that everything changed when a man joined an all-female class—from my language, to the women’s body language, to what we shared.
- When a man doesn’t eat well, we cook for him.
- When he doesn’t schedule his own medical appointments, we call for him.
- When he is supposed to apologize, but can’t get the words out, we say, “That’s okay, I know he’s sorry.”
- When he isn’t there for us when we need emotional support, we say, “He’s been stressed. I can’t pile on my stuff.”
- When he can’t say, “I love you,” we let it go, and point to actions as proof of his love.
So, when men get called out on inappropriate sexual behavior, too many women do what we’ve been trained to do: make excuses for them, defend them, and shield them from feeling uncomfortable at a time that asks them—needs them—to get uncomfortable.
Comfort is not everything it’s cracked up to be.
It allows bad habits to continue unchecked. It can slide us into complacency. Worst of all, despite what our culture tells us, comfort ages us faster than time itself. For these reasons at a minimum, both men and women should seek out discomfort now and then. There are many safe and supportive means to do so, such as counseling, meditation, self-inquiry, yoga, or journaling.
As long as women deny men the opportunity to grow by protecting them from any kind of discomfort, and men deny themselves the same opportunity due to their own resistance to feeling uncomfortable, we won’t get through this moment in time with anything positive to show for it. Instead, we’ll slip back into the status quo.
For those who choose to undergo the hard work off self-reflection and reassessment, increased freedom, self-love, joy, and contentment await. Then, these men will be able to contribute their personal growth to society to create more equality, camaraderie, friendship, trust, and safety between men and women. When more men start speaking out, this whole power pyramid and the abuse that sometimes accompanies it comes crumbling down.
The time is now, the opportunity is here.
Our society deserves this. Our children deserve this. Our legacy as human beings deserves this. Neither men nor women should let a little male discomfort keep us from these rewards.
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