Alan Smith is asking you to #bethatguy.
In many ways, I’m the definition of just a regular guy. I get up, don’t have time for breakfast, hop on the subway, weave through the crowds on the sidewalk, work my job, meet friends for a beer, maybe watch a little basketball, hand out high fives, and slap the cute waitress’s butt when my team scores. Wait, what?
Back up. I am NOT the guy who slaps the cute waitress’s butt. I try to avoid standing back and watching when other guys do that, too. And I definitely don’t laugh.
As the aforementioned extremely regular guy, I used to be worried about what would happen if I interrupted everyday — even micro — acts of violence when I saw them. But starting this month I’m participating in the new campaign “Be That Guy” by the global human rights organization Breakthrough.
Who is That Guy? That Guy knows that — whether or not you think of them as “violence” — street harassment, nasty comments, and yes, grabbing waitresses, are part of a dangerous culture that helps make violence against women, in whatever form, acceptable. He knows that if he steps in to stop other guys from doing those things, he helps change that culture.
I’ve been That Guy before, and you know what? It was pretty scary at first. But then it was kind of easy. And it made a big difference.
Like many other regular guys in New York, I’ve had my share of roommates. And when you have a roommate in New York, that means you’re pretty much in their personal space all the time. So when my female roommate started getting in some loud shouting matches with her boyfriend, it wasn’t hard to figure out what was happening.
I don’t know exactly when it escalated to physical, but I do remember simply knocking on her door and asking if everyone was okay. (As if the crash could have been an accidental thing.) And for me, in that case, my presence alone was enough to remind the boyfriend that whatever was going on behind closed doors was actually pretty public, and that it was not okay. I was that guy just by knocking. I was that guy because — without bursting in and causing a scene — I made it my business. Everyone’s business.
It’s not about whether my action changed him forever or inspired her to dump him. It’s about stepping up, making a statement, setting the standards that say violence, in any form, is not okay.
None of that makes me a superhero. Even a regular hero. I’m just a guy who, in that instance, didn’t stay silent.
Of course, that situation seemed more dire and dramatic than everyday catcalling, grabbing, or harassing. But that moment of clarity for me — that act of being That Guy — made me think about how these everyday actions, especially those in public, help normalize and enable more severe violence and discrimination against women. Little moments lead to big moments.
But likewise, little actions — especially when they add up — can make big change. So if I can be That Guy, then so can you. Seriously. I’m a huge dweeb. But you can be That Guy by interrupting all kinds of violence — even the most seemingly innocuous, like when your buddy calls you “bitch” or the guy passing you on the sidewalk directs your eye to a woman passing by as if to say “niiiiice meat.”
I’m guessing you’ll quickly find out, like I did, That Guy represents most of us. When he speaks or steps in, he does what everyone around him probably wanted to do anyway.
Like that guy (see below) who interrupted a domestic dispute escalating into violence on the subway simply by standing between the man and woman and eating his potato chips. Soon, others jumped in to interrupt the dispute. Every day action. Big change. It was awesome.
Being That Guy doesn’t mean breaking Guy Code. It just means that part of the Guy Code is being a decent human being. (OK, we all know a Guy for whom those two things are mutually exclusive… but even that guy can come around to being That Guy). It means we stop focusing the entire conversation around “rescuing” women — and start putting more focus on holding other men accountable for their behavior. It means we make it normal for guys to call out other men, not to join them.
I’m pretty sure that if we all became That Guy, we’ll tip the scales. We’ll make a big dent. We’ll start to change the culture.
That’d be cool. Let’s do that. Join me and #bethatguy.
*Ok, superheros would be cool too. I really like superheros. I’d got dibs on Superman.