Opinion: How men can make themselves agents of change in the #MeToo movement
Men must listen to the concerns of women if they want to help end rape culture
In light of the not so recent events surrounding the Kavanaugh-Ford hearings, it’s time to talk about what men can do in this post #MeToo era. Politically and socially, the country is still split. Some people, like President Trump and Republican senators, are relieved that what they called a “witch hunt” with the Kavanaugh hearings is finally over. Democrats and other liberals are confused, while some are upset and many others are outright angry.
The #MeToo movement has been a social transformation that has touched almost every pillar of society from Hollywood to the White House and Capitol Hill. This movement is raising questions about victimhood and survivorship, responsibility and punishment, as well as power and privilege. It is challenging the patriarchal definitions of sex and consent and leading companies to review and better enforce their sexual harassment policies. It is proving that sexual misconduct is not a stand-alone issue, and must be seen in its relationship to racial and gender inequity.
As it stands today, much has been written on the subject of #MeToo. What I would like to propose here is not another opinion piece that argues for how the #MeToo movement has affected men. Instead, I will highlight my own experience and how I think men can catalyze and bring about change in this #MeToo Era.
#MeToo as a movement has opened up avenues for me to begin to explore my understanding of masculinity and how that relates to my relationship with women in my life. The Psychotherapy Networker explains that “most men may publicly support the movement, but privately—very privately, often too privately even to share with their intimate partners—they’re disoriented and wrestling with questions about how the norms that shape their relationships with the various women in their lives have changed.”
Even Superman was scared at one point. Actor Henry Cavill said in an interview with GQ Australia that “there’s something wonderful about a man chasing a woman. There’s a traditional approach to that, which is nice. I think a woman should be wooed and chased, but maybe I’m old-fashioned for thinking that. It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place. Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her, because I’m going to be called a rapist or something.’”
I do not agree with those words. But while Cavill has since apologized for the statement, there is no doubt that other men still feel this way. Why?
While we have campaigns like #IWILLSPEAKUP, a platform where men are voicing their support for survivors of sexual abuse, most of what we have seen from men in the #MeToo movement is that men are feeling blamed for the actions of other males.
Many men feel as though the good men are getting lumped in with the bad men. This has led to alternative campaigns like the #NotAllMen campaign. However, at this juncture in history, men cannot be spectators or ignorant of conflicts and issues surrounding the #MeToo movement, but rather have a key role to play in preventing sexual harassment and shifting the cultural norms that make this behavior acceptable. We as men can catalyze change if we:
Asking the right questions and listening deeply to the answers is key to understanding the issues around the #MeToo movement. Yes, this can be uncomfortable, but this will help us understand the issues. In listening, men must make it a habit to believe survivors. Asking questions like “Is this all right? May I kiss you? Tell me what you want,” are not only meant to polite or to avoid an awkward moment when the other person is not into you or turned on.
It is a sign of respect and honoring that person’s existence as a human being. No means no. If you are having any form of encounter with someone who cannot consent or tell you an affirmative verbal “Yes,” do not proceed. That is rape. If Aziz Ansari had actually listened when the woman he was on a date with said “let’s stop,” maybe that would have never turned into the worst night of her life.
2. Recognize your male privilege and power
Male privilege, at its core, is the advantages that men benefit from based solely on their sex. It’s a status that is conferred on them by society which is why it can sometimes be difficult to recognize. Given the power dynamics between men and women, men must become more aware of their own behaviors and how the exhibition of their privilege affects and impacts those around them while extending their own power, privilege and influences wherever appropriate.
Many men view power as a zero-sum game and feel that they will lose something if they support gender equality. However, power is not finite.
Research shows that when a woman's income increases, her entire family (including her husband) will benefit. Achieving gender equality is a win-win for all. Men should support their daughters and sensitize their sons. As Abhijit Das explains,“such intimacy lays the groundwork for deeper and more engaged relationships. The result will mean more empowered girls and women, and more emotionally intelligent boys and men.”
3. Speak up
Men are and can become champions and agents of change like through the #IWILLSPEAKUP campaign. Men should not and must not normalize nor accept the rape culture and shed the bystander mentality. It is imperative that men cannot and should not look the other way when they see harassment. Surprisingly, a high percentage of harassments that occur happen out in the open with people turning a blind eye.
As men, we need to teach the younger generation that sexual harassment (and harassment in general) is not “cool,” and not to use their power and privilege to degrade or discriminate against women. For men in leadership positions, ‘speaking up’ looks like increasing your commitment to gender equity in the workplace. This means mentoring women, championing women for promotions and fostering greater leadership opportunities for women.
Research shows that when more women are in leadership positions and in the boardroom, sexual harassment is less likely to happen. Men should advocate for policy and institutional changes that promote gender equality and equity. This can be done by voting for leaders that will uphold women’s rights. Finally, men can speak up and act with their money and invest in women’s education, businesses and ventures. Refuse to be a silent bystander.
Men, you are part of the solution. Your voices matter. Speak up.
Adam Odomore is an MA candidate in the School of International Service. They are an outside contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.