An Open Letter To Men:
So you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed and see that your coworker has posted with #MeToo about having faced sexual assault. A little down the feed, oh, it’s your friend from college with her story. Further down the feed, it’s your cousin you haven’t spoken to in a while. You keep scrolling down and see that so many women, some of whom you’ve lost touch with, some you interact with on a daily basis, have posted their story with #MeToo. In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein allegations of sexual assault, the hashtag #MeToo became a powerful tool for women to come forward about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. But now some men, including myself, have responded with the hashtags #ItWasMe and #IAmSorry, and if you’re a man I suggest you do the same.
A recent study conducted by ABC News showed that thirty-three million women in the United States have been sexually harassed in work-related incidences. This means that it is highly unlikely that you don’t know of a woman who hasn’t been sexually harassed or assaulted. It also means that it is very likely that you do know a man who has harassed a woman. You must ask yourself; what are you doing to make sure women around you are safe? Are you using your privileges as a male member of society to contribute any way you can? It’s easy to show a little concern, express a few words of sorrow, lend your ears for some time, and then move on with your life unaffected. But you must do better. If you’re a man and you’re not actively trying to better this situation for women; you ARE complicit in their suffering.
There’s a lot to gauge from your first reaction to this. Are you thinking about the times you witnessed a woman being harassed or catcalled, but never intervened? Are you thinking about the times you engaged in such behavior yourself? Or are you patting yourself on the back for never having assaulted a woman? Stop for a second and reconsider. Here’s what you should be thinking about; How can I help end this culture of women being assaulted and abused.
So how can you contribute? You can start by showing support for victims and their stories, so they will find it comfortable to come forward about them. Start making sure to not just be a witness if you see a woman get harassed on the street. Start by calling other men out. Yes, that involves calling out your buddy who has a penchant for passing remarks anytime a woman passes by him. It involves making sure to stop your friends from catcalling and making women feel unsafe in their presence. It involves sticking through your female coworker when she alleges your friend of having groped or harassed her. This might entail cutting off friendships with people, putting your job at a risk, being treated questioningly by your friends. All of that will be hard and require compromise. But remember that nothing you face in support of a victim will be as bad as what the victim might be facing herself.
With #ItWasMe, we men, must take responsibility and admit guilt at all the times we have been bystanders or perpetrators of assault against women. I’ve countless times witness a woman being catcalled on the street and said nothing. Let’s keep in mind that men admitting responsibility is just the first step towards a positive change. With #IamSorry, men are accepting accountability and apologizing for their behavior towards women. #IAmSorry must encompass all men who have made any kind of advances towards women that made them feel uncomfortable or unsafe in their presence. Men must take responsibility not just for themselves, but also for the men around them who they have supported or taken sides within their abusive attitude towards women. #IAmSorry and #ItWasMe has led to many men rethinking their own behavior and attitude.
For every woman using #metoo to come forward about harassment, there must be an #itwasme that holds a man accountable for his actions. These hashtags and the conversation around them must not just become self-congratulatory ego boosters for men who don’t intend to actually change their behavior. These movements look toward the future and involve men who promise to better themselves; to never catcall a woman again, commit to never touch a woman’s body without her consent, and insist they will speak up next time they hear their fellow men pass sexist remarks.
Woman of all ages continue to have their bodies violated; on the streets, in the workplace, on college campuses, even inside their own homes. This is why the discourse around #MeToo and the awareness it brings is more important than ever. As a man, and as a member of this society, it is our responsibility to make sure we are neither perpetrating nor complicit in abuse against women. So as you scroll down your feed, appalled and furious at how many women you know have been sexually assaulted; channel your rage into something useful. Make sure to educate yourself on sexual harassment in your society. And most importantly, make sure to be ready to provide actual physical and moral support for victims of sexual abuse. There has been a lot of discourse around sexual assault and harassment over the past week, but if we truly want to bring a cultural shift and radical change, men must step forward and come to terms with their flaws and shortcomings; and actually, seek to bring a positive change in themselves.