Like many men today, I watched with a mix of sorrow, disbelief, rage and even a vague sense of complicity as each new #metoo post filled up my Facebook feed.
“Dear God,” I thought. “Not her, too.”
By day’s end it seemed pretty clear — there might not be a single woman in my life who hasn’t dealt with sexual assault at one point or another — given the sheer numbers I saw, and the likelihood that many more are still in the shadows and not quite ready to declare it publicly.
If you’re a woman, and you’ve been around long enough, you’ve probably been groped, touched, kissed, or far worse by a man without your consent. By your boss, “friend,” colleague, a stranger in a bar or even a cab driver.
We men, have heard the stats before — (1 in 5 women has been raped) — and found it already too devastating to believe, but after today, with the sheer unanimity of women who have experienced something traumatizing at the hands of men, the terrifying scope of it is far too visible for us to ignore.
The lesson for us men is simple:
This is a problem that men have caused.
We can’t expect women to fix it all on their own, even as brave and helpful as these posts are.
And it’s not enough for us men to just not assault women.
We have to do more. Not just not be part of the problem, but actively be part of the solution.
Because if this is a daily reality for all women, it hurts us, too. As their boyfriends, husbands, brothers, sons, friends, and hell, even just by virtue of standing here on the same planet with them. If their days are filled with dread/ fear/ anxiety/ depression, then their lives are forever worsened. And we share those lives with them — If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. As a result, women are understandably less open with us, less trusting of us, and less able to be fully alive and present in our lives as well. And this simply cannot be.
So what are we actively doing to help prevent it? Or at least help women who’ve been victimized achieve justice? Because as Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
So to all “good” men out there: We must do more. Much more.
We can start by simply being the kind of supportive friend/ boyfriend/ husband/ colleague that a woman feels comfortable sharing her assault with. By being someone who genuinely cares about others, who asks about how others are doing, who can genuinely sense when someone shows up at work the next day and clearly isn’t quite themselves, and by saying, “Hey, you seem a little down today. Something going on? If you want to talk, let me know, we’ll go somewhere quiet and I’ll be all ears.” Because after today, I felt time and time again, “I wish she’d known she could have trusted me with that. Maybe I could have helped.” But I only found out today. Long after the damage was done.
Maybe that conversation entails us just being a pair of ears and a source of support. Maybe it involves us getting involved, and being willing to help her confront the person, approach HR, or even go to the police with them. And that might be really hard. But it’s necessary.
But this is just the beginning.
The real challenge is in going to work on our fellow men. Every. Single. Day.
Being an agent of change in the daily conversations we’re a part of. When an entire conversation with “the boys” at a restaurant is about the waitress’ ass, what are we doing to change that?
When your buddy is “swiping right” on 200 Tinder profiles in a row and copying & pasting “DTF?”–are you willing to get into it with him? Say, “Dude, is this the kind of guy you want to be in the world?”
Helping warn our female friends when they’re interested in a particularly charming guy and we’ve heard that their charm is only used to disarm women before taking advantage of them?
Watching when the guys we are out on the town with are crossing a line with a woman. Maybe being nearby in case things get out of control, a guy is making unwanted advances and a woman needs another man there to intercede. And yes, being willing to have that guy hate us for it.
Playing brother’s keeper: “Look dude, Laura told me about what happened when you walked her home last night. Maybe you were drunk, maybe you think it was consensual, but dude, it wasn’t. You have to apologize to her and try to make things right, and never do it again. And if you don’t take action, I’ll take action for you. If you don’t, well, sorry, but I can’t be friends with you anymore. And I’ll let my female friends know that this is how you roll.”
And then the ultimate challenge: when some guy you work with — or even work for — has crossed a line with someone, are you willing to take her side instead of his? Even if it hurts your career? YES, going to HR with her and saying you saw him inappropriately groping her at the company party and be willing to face the backlash? YES, even if HR dismisses it and decides to take the boss’ side and fires you for insubordination? If you are, then you/me/we/ are finally, truly being part of the solution.
We might have to get another job, we might have to have some uncomfortable conversations with our fellow men, we might have to unfriend them, tell them we can’t hang out anymore, we might even have to be willing to come to blows with some prick in a bar who won’t take a woman’s “no” for an answer.
But we have to make these men face more consequences than they currently are.
Because if their moral compass won’t compel them to act differently, then we must make the consequences of their actions force them to change — both in their behavior and attitudes.
And if we do that, we will no longer be fully complicit in a world that results in umpteen million women having to post “#metoo” in their Facebook feed today.
So gentlemen, let’s pledge to have a lot more uncomfortable conversations between ourselves so that there are fewer uncomfortable “#metoo” posts from the women in our lives.
Photo: Getty Images
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