Women are coming forward in droves to accuse men of sexual harassment and assault. This is a good thing. Men need to do their part too.
Michael Oreskes. Mark Halperin. Charlie Rose. At least another dozen editors, writers, and media executives. So far.
The Oregon state Senate. The California state Senate. Kentucky state House Speaker Jeff Hoover. Florida state Senator and Republican governor candidate Jack Latvala. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Senator Al Franken. Representative John Conyers. Multiple unnamed current and former Congressmen and Senators. So far.
Men are being rightfully exposed for their sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. Recently it has seemed to me like something, or rather someone, was the final straw that compelled so many women (and men, in the case of Kevin Spacey) to come forward and publicly accuse their abusers.
Was it Bill Cosby? After decades of getting away with assaulting, drugging, and raping women, Cosby has been ruined. Was he the final straw?
Was it Roger Ailes, formerly of Fox News? The Republican kingmaker was driven from the network he built up from almost nothing by women he’d harassed for years. Was he the final straw?
Or was it Donald Trump? He famously bragged about sexual assault and convinced enough men and women both that his brag was “locker room talk” that he’s now President. Was having a serial adulterer, accused rapist, and sexual assaulter rise to the highest office in the United States the final straw?
I don’t know, and I’d guess that the last straw varies from woman to woman. What matters is that more men, regardless of their fame, fortune, power (or lack thereof) are being called to account for their rude, inappropriate, and/or criminal behavior. And that is a very good thing.
I would also like to call on my fellow men to take action of their own.
Pay attention. Notice the inappropriate behavior among your friends and co-workers. Call it out when you see it. Say “that’s not OK with me,” even when it’s difficult. Explain why you have a problem with sexist jokes, not giving women credit for their ideas, demeaning women, and the like. And the more powerful the man, the more important it is to call him on their behavior. If you’re in a mixed-gender group, take your cues from the women around you – they may not want you to step in to defend them.
Apologize when you are the one who’s rude or inappropriate. It takes time and effort to change ingrained behaviors and overcome decades of cultural baggage. Listen to the women in your lives when they talk about sexism, harassment, and worse. Many of you won’t even realize that what you’re doing or saying is “casually” sexist.
I didn’t used to. I’m sure there are still some things that I’m clueless about, and that I’ll continue to make mistakes. I’m personally guilty of stepping in to “chivalrously” defend women when they didn’t need, or want, me to. Breaking decades of my own ingrained behaviors is a struggle every day. That, too, is as it should be.
To the women whom I’ve hurt over the years without even realizing that what I was doing was rude – I’m sorry. Thank you for choosing to teach me rather than throwing up your hands and walking away. You have made me a better person, and I am grateful to you for that.