In the aftermath of recent revelations regarding men in Hollywood’s decades long abhorrent actions towards women, the hashtag #MeToo was trending on social media. #MeToo was a movement that had begun years earlier by Tarana Burke when Burke founded Just Be Inc., an organization whose purpose is to support victims of sexual abuse (Garcia, 2017).
Scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, it was impossible for me to miss the posts of my friends who had experienced some form of unwanted sexual advance, sexual harassment and worse from men in their lives.
“My God, you too?” “No, not you too?” were the initial thoughts that kept running through my head followed quickly by “Who? Who did this?”
I have worked in the social work field for over ten years now. It does not surprise me anymore the horrific depths of cruelty in which we humans treat each other. But, what does surprise me, is the breadth to which we humans bring destruction and harm upon others. It’s easy to rationalize away that child abuse is not the norm. It’s easy to rationalize away that some people are evil but that those people are outliers not the norm.
“Me Too” destroys the argument that it is only an outlier group of men who are behaving in an detestable way towards women. On Facebook, in one 24 hour period alone, there were over 12 million posts and reactions using the hashtag “Me Too” (Garcia, 2017). It is reasonable to conclude there are millions more women who did not speak out but have suffered similar experiences.
As a man, the MeToo movement forces me to ask an uncomfortable but absolutely necessary question.
Was it me?
No, I have not sexually assaulted anyone or anything along those lines. But, have I ever made a woman uncomfortable because I clearly only viewed them through the lens of physical attraction? Yes. Have I ever perpetuated a culture of objectifying and demeaning women? Yes.
To be fair, I have spent a significant amount of time in my own social circles pushing back against these destructive and demeaning viewpoints men hold towards women. As a teenager, I often pointed out the idiocy of my friends’ belief in “Bros before Hos”. As an adult, I often challenge patriarchal thinking that is so rampant in our faith communities. But, again, when being honest, I cannot say my own actions have been always great or enough.
I have always considered myself a normal guy. I’m not perfect but I’m not awful. But, therein lies the mistaken thinking. To paraphrase an oft-used quote; all it takes for evil to continue is for us normal people to not do anything about it.
The purpose of introspection is not for self-flagellation. It’s to accept responsibility and move towards positive change. Men need to take responsibility for the culture of acceptance they have created and make it better. Women are not “asking for it,” “just playing the victim-card,” or whatever other excuse we as men like to make to defend and justify our behaviors and patterns of thinking.
To the women who may be reading this – I’m sorry. I wish you hadn’t had to experience what you did. Words probably do little to heal but I hope they can convey the anger and frustration I feel with myself to have been a part of continuing the culture of manhood that only seeks to oppress and destroy rather than lift up and value you.
To the men who may be reading this – We have to be better. Our failure is obvious and widespread. I am just as complicit as you are. We all know for every #MeToo there should be a corresponding #Imsorryitwasme.
What are we going to do about it?
Stop the locker room talk. I have often heard the argument made that men have some sort of inherent right to make crude and demeaning comments about the women in their lives and that any push back on locker room talk is merely a result of our overly PC culture. Yet, if I were to make those crude and demeaning comments about someone’s mother I’d probably have a fight on my hands.
Be the example. It’s not easy to be the one to push back and challenge commonly held beliefs. But, what I have noticed in times when I have challenged cultural injustices is often I am not the only one who feels that way. It just took saying something for others to say something too. By giving voice to injustice, you empower those who don’t have the means or ability to speak out.
Don’t be dumb. I’m not arguing here for a sexless culture in which we should all feel guilty and repress natural, biological attraction. I actually think there are a number of ways in which a group of guys can talk about who they are attracted to without it devolving into a demeaning and objectifying conversation. Figure out those ways. Or, if you can’t, just talk about sports or video games I guess.
These are all very simple ways in which a normal guy can begin pushing back on how our culture is okay with the harmful ways in which men view and treat women. Though widespread, overnight success may be desired, I recognize it’s not likely to occur. It may take generations of healthier attitudes for any real change to take hold. And even then, constant vigilance is necessary to ensure oppressive and demeaning attitudes do not agan become the norm.
My challenge to you today is to focus on what step you can take today to end the need for the hashtag #MeToo. It won’t always be easy but I imagine it will be infinitely easier than having to go through what your mom, sisters, wife, daughters have been through due to the passivity of normal guys like you and me.
Garcia, S. 2017. The woman who created #metoo long before hashtags.