The Women’s Marches of January 21, 2017 included a fair number of male allies. In our family, while my wife and our daughter joined the New York City march, our son and I rallied at the Connecticut state capitol.
Marching With, and For, Women and America
On Saturday, January 21, my family participated in the New York City and Hartford versions of the global marches for women and America.
Similar scenes emerged nationwide (even globally), as men of all ages walked among women. Still, a far broader, deeper, and sustained level of commitment by men and boys will be needed to change American culture and law for the better.
As the revelations about numerous instances of misconduct by prominent men —from Hollywood and the media to Congress and, allegedly, the current occupant of the White House —suggest, widespread problems demand far-reaching solutions. Abuses occur in workplaces, schools, homes. Power differentials are a factor, whether in corporate suites or tech-sector start-ups, on Congressional staffs, or between supervisors and farm workers or janitors.
Decades ago, my mom — a proud feminist who raised me to be one, too —directed women’s studies at UConn, a capacity in which she once hosted the civil and women’s rights pioneer Pauli Murray. For me, college included a course in American women’s history taught by the late Cynthia Russett, and “take back the night” protests against sexual assault. An early boss was a female member of Congress who continues to be a vigorous example in the fight for equal rights.
If none of this excused occasional caddish behavior in my bachelor days, I developed an appreciation for the goal of women’s equality, in the face of barriers erected (so to speak) by men. Moreover, family experiences and friendships with women —along with professional interactions —made certain boundaries very clear.
In a previous piece, I reflected: “As a young adult in New York, I once faced a test between my values and ostensible temptation. After an evening during which my date consumed excessive alcohol, she invited me back to her apartment —and into her bed. But from my perspective, she was too drunk to consent, and her stupor was a turnoff. We slept chastely through the night and never dated again…. Predatory behavior has no place on campus or off it. Men and women alike should stand with survivors of assault. In the language of a nationwide campaign, “It’s on Us” — men — to respect women and their wishes about how far to go, or not.”
Sexual harassment, let alone assault, is never acceptable. Men must recognize our responsibility in preventing violations and in policing the transgressors among us. From fraternity hazing to “locker room talk,” cultural changes are needed.
Tony Porter, a leader of A Call to Men (who once participated in a video discussion and public service announcement to counter domestic violence in the New Haven region and beyond), speaks of “breaking out of the man box” toward “healthy and respectful manhood.”
Of course, advances in systems, institutions, and law are also essential. While we must ensure due process and the presumption of innocence, affirmative consent —only “yes means yes” (among all gender combinations)—should become the standard not just on campus but everywhere. The glacial evolution of sexual harassment law must be accelerated. Many more women must ascend to power, whether elected office, corporate boardrooms, or courtrooms at the federal and state levels.
There is a prospect of electing as a U.S. senator a longtime judge and self-professed champion of moral “values” who has been credibly accused of harassing and assaulting teenage girls. That’s chilling. That he may be elected despite the controversy is a measure of the hypocrisy of our politics, where “religion” and “values” can be squared with lies and abuses by those who have taken an oath to serve.
The downfalls of Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly and Matt Lauer et al. do suggest how Americans’ tolerance for abusive behavior is being challenged. Nevertheless, that such figures stayed in power, lavishly compensated, for so long is a reflection of how much has been overlooked and of how justice eludes us.
Sexual misconduct isn’t a partisan issue —or shouldn’t be. For every John Conyers, Al Franken, Mel Reynolds or Gerry Studds, there is a Dan Crane, Blake Farenthold, Mark Foley, Dennis Hastert or Bob Packwood. Political persuasion aside, most perpetrators are men, while women and children comprise most of the victims.
Predators and prevaricators may be at the pinnacles of power, but they don’t represent all men —far from it. Continuing a tradition that includes male advocates for women’s equality like Frederick Douglass (“Right is of no sex, truth is of no color”), more of us must add our voices to those of the women bravely speaking up. This effort will take years, as movements do. But it has begun. Future generations — even more than our own —will benefit.
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