The number of tweets, Facebook statuses and Tumblr blogs posts using the #MeToo hashtag to give accounts of sexual harassment, violence and abuse is depressing and shocking. But it’s not surprising. Anybody who has been paying attention to the sexual abuse scandals in a terrifying mix of apparently respected institutions, from the Catholic Church to the Weinstein Company, will know that abuse isn’t confined to scuzzy alleys in the backstreets of New York and Chicago, or anywhere else – it’s ubiquitous and pervasive.
When you sit down and try and digest the sheer volume of the testimonies of abuse, it begins to dawn on you that there is a conspicuous omission from the discussion: men speaking out in solidarity with women who have been victims of sexual abuse and harassment. We also need more men who challenge the societal causes of harassment and the normalization of sexual violence that underpins that harassment.
Here’s something that a lot of men don’t realize: if a serious challenge to the societal norms that encourage sexual abuse and harassment is to be made, it requires the voices of men who aren’t victims as well as the voices of the women who are. What kind of things need to be said? Well, writing and talking about the things people you know have said that normalize sexual violence is one. Expressing a willingness to engage with the political and social causes of sexual violence is another.
But it’s not just about being vocal, it’s also about the way that men treat the women in their lives. One useful article in the Guardian made a list of the things that all men should stop doing immediately. This useful list includes:
– Talking over women
– Ignoring when friends, family members or colleagues have creepy behaviors towards women
– Touching women you don’t know
– Insisting when a woman don’t want to engage in a flirtatious conversation with you
– Taking advantage of a drunk girl at a bar
– Making misogynistic jokes
– If you’re an employer, paying women less than what you would pay men
– Excluding women from creative projects and ventures
Many of these things ought to be considered common courtesy, but men still do them because of aforementioned societal norms that encourage and approve of men being condescending, abusive, and manipulative towards women. And there’s also an addition to the list that could be made – don’t make the mistake of thinking that your obligation to be a decent person to women arises out of the fact that you wouldn’t want someone to behave odiously toward the women you care about. The reason you ought to refrain from being terrible to women isn’t that you’re a father, or a brother – it’s that she’s a person.
The #MeToo campaign is important. It’s important because it brings to our attention just how pervasive sexual violence and harassment is, and how the tropes about violence always taking certain forms (e.g. a complete stranger being violent in an empty parking lot late at night) often bear little resemblance to reality. But, while it is so important, it mustn’t be the only campaign that comes out of recent sexual abuse scandals. There’s something that’s just as important that needs to happen: men engaging with the problem, speaking out about it, and taking action.