After multiple women came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault in early October, a barrage of accusations followed. More continue to emerge, almost every day. In the wake of non-apologies, resignations, and firings, many men have awakened to the pervasiveness of the issue. Just as many wonder how they can support their female partners, friends, and co-workers. We gathered some guidelines to help out. But first, let’s look at the actual prevalence of sexual misconduct.
Sexual harassment happens to nearly all women and many men
A 2014 study by Stop Street Harassment found that 65% of women and 25% of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment or misconduct in a public space. At least one in five women have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, a number that goes vastly underreported. Among women of color, 60% are sexually abused before they turn 18. According to RAINN, only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults get reported to police. That means about two out of three remain silent and perpetrators therefore see no consequences.
Next: At least one expert offers an inkling as to why this is.
Our society implicitly approves sexual assault
As allegations against famous men continue to come out, many bemoan the existence of “bad men” who do these things. The truth is, it’s not that simple. “As long as we continue to make it between bad guys and good guys … we’re never going to get anywhere,” New York University psychology professor Niobe Way told Quartz. “The way to keep the patriarchal structure intact is to basically make it about an individual problem, and to isolate the problem.”
The psychologist explained that placing blame solely on the individual for his actions discounts the culture of toxic masculinity. Societal norms have long taught men it’s OK to leer, grab, expose private parts to, and in other ways sexually demean women for power. Systemic backlash against women who speak out against it proves her point. “We hate truth-tellers actually,” Way explained. “That’s why we make things, as a culture, only about the individual — because that saves the power structure. Everybody gets to stay comfortable.”
Next: So how do everyday men fight against this?
It’s time to get uncomfortable
When you see or hear a man behaving inappropriately to a woman, do you speak up? Even if the perpetrator calls it “just a joke?” Even if your friend makes the comment or engages in problematic behavior? If not, it’s time to start.
Stephen Hicks and Daniel Dixon of ReThink Masculinity wrote a guide in The Huffington Post that asks men to consider why we don’t believe assault survivors. “We need to ask ourselves why … we don’t take sexual harassment seriously, and why we shy away from intervening when we see others engaging in sexist behavior. [Men] must examine our own allegiances to people and institutions that are more invested in protecting their reputations than protecting their students, employees and parishioners.”
Next: Once we acknowledge these behaviors aren’t OK, we can take the next step.
Men: Start listening to women
Almost as soon as the #MeToo movement took off, a new hashtag began trending: #NotAllMen. Many men felt shocked and defensive after seeing the barrage of sexual assault stories, and it does not take an expert to see why. Rather than rushing to defend yourself, try listening first.
Intimacy coach Valeria Chuba told Business Insider, “One way men can deal with their surprise and disbelief is to just keep listening, without judgment or interruptions, as they themselves would like to be listened to. Open-minded listening is an enormously powerful skill that can help bridge the current trust gap between men and women.”
Next: The clinical sexologist had more advice for men.
A little empathy goes a long way
Men feeling defensive and powerless in the wake of #Metoo need not despair, Chuba explained. Acknowledging that emotion marks a powerful first step on the road to change. Even men who have never experienced harassment or assault themselves can still work toward empathy. Using those same powerless feelings creates one such pathway.
“While many men never become victims of sexual violence, they may know what it’s like to feel powerless, frozen, ashamed, and afraid to speak up,” she said. “These feelings are part of our shared humanity, and connecting to them can be a powerful way to engender compassion.”
Next: Men can help spread that compassion, too.
Let women have the floor
Amber Tamblyn wrote a story for The New York Times on what men can do to help. “I’ve heard several male friends talk about text chains they are on with other men only; they describe it as a safe space to talk about how they feel in this moment,” she wrote. “They feel afraid, disoriented and discounted. And I understand their need for such comfort and security. I am a woman. I know nothing other than needing such comfort and security, for my entire life.”
Men: Acknowledging that feeling, sit with it, and let women tell their stories. “I’m talking about ceding the floor,” Tamblyn added. “The power of celebrity and cultural approval must disappear for the time being so that all women see and believe that consequences do exist.”
Next: Be an ally, but don’t co-opt the conversation.
It is possible to go too far
Leah Fessler of Quartz acknowledged that “a Facebook post certainly won’t topple the patriarchy.” It also does not substitute for calling out friends or reporting inappropriate behavior when necessary. But it’s a step. Publicly stating that you stand with women can help make them feel heard. That said, you can go too far. Don’t go into detail about harassments you’ve committed, or risk “outing” your victims.
“Whether it’s intentional or not, detailing bad behavior looks like an appeal for applause or reassurance, and invades the privacy of the victim,” Fessler explained. “If you, like at least one man I have seen on Facebook, decide to detail your assault as a means to redeem yourself online, without the survivor’s consent, you are (again) exerting unjust control over that person and re-subjugating them, and those who love them, to assault and abuse.” Men: This is not your moment in the spotlight.
Next: It starts with each man, but it can’t end there.
We need cultural change
In order for the Weinstein effect to have, well, an effect, we must create a culture that listens to women. It’s no secret that women often don’t feel like they have an equal voice in the workplace. One strategy to combat that is called amplification. As The Washington Post explains, amplifying female voices, both in person and online, gives credence to their opinions. But Hicks and Dixon noted that strategy does not go far enough.
“We have to build work cultures where women have the power to speak, to be listened to, to have their concerns met with attentiveness and not defensiveness,” they wrote in The Huffington Post. “Businesses need to create environments where employees feel comfortable reporting sexual harassment.”
Next: Those environments start at the individual level and go all the way up.
Both individuals and businesses need to step it up
Many businesses — especially large ones — actually have policies that ultimately protect harassers. Vox reports that non-disclosure agreements can lead to settling claims, which lets abusers off the hook. In one study from Lilia Cortina, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, two-thirds of public employees who complained of sexual harassment said they suffered retaliation. Most never reported it, for fear of the same. We have to change that culture.
“Individuals in positions of power must believe survivors, rather than questioning or downplaying their experiences or responding with defensiveness,” Hicks and Dixon asserted. “And businesses need to hold perpetrators accountable by teaching men to be good bystanders when other men create unsafe or uncomfortable environments.”
Next: The art we consume must also support women.
We can no longer implicitly approve sexual misconduct
It’s time we stop supporting sexual misconduct by turning a blind eye, neglecting to speak up, and especially, supporting art by its perpetrators. As The New York Times’ Amanda Hess put it, “invoking the philosophical exercise not only makes us feel more at ease with our own problematic faves — it also encourages a system of complicity.” In other words, “the critical acclaim and economic clout of the art facilitates the abuse.”
Tyler Coates writes in Esquire that we must stop separating the art from the artist. Is it easy? Of course not. Enjoying Louis CK’s comedy, watching House of Cards, or growing up with fond memories of The Cosby Show doesn’t make you a bad person. “But it’s different when you prioritize whatever that person has created — a movie, a TV show, a song — over the real people they have allegedly victimized,” Coates explained. Doing that implies you’re “more attached to what they have created than open to believing the (in some cases) numerous allegations against the creator.”
Responding appropriately to sexual harassment in the news poses a challenge for all of us. For both men and women feeling a little lost lately, take these tips to heart.
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