If I were a man, I'd be embarrassed and insulted right now.
Over the past few months, thousands of women have spoken publicly about what's been done to them - sexual assault, physical and verbal harassment, derogatory comments -because they are women.
There is a Me Too movement, with millions of on-line posts, that tell of the widespread culture of sexual assault and harassment that women deal with daily. Time Magazine makes The Silence Breakers its Person of the Year. The Time’s Up Fund, created by Hollywood women to help women report and fight harassment and assault, has raised almost $20 million. Well-known women are dressing and speaking in protest against this culture. The whole world is finally paying attention to this ugliness that women in all walks of life have always experienced. The culture of degrading women can no longer be ignored.
Since most of this has been activated by women, I decided to look at men’s response. This is why I’d be embarrassed and insulted if I were a man.
Let’s start with organizational responses:
“Let’s pass a policy against sexual harassment.”
Legislatures, 75% men in this country, pass new laws to establish policy prohibiting any form of sexual harassment. By statute and case law, sexual harassment has been illegal since the 1980’s, nearly every unit of government already has such a policy and yet sexual harassment still exists.
“Let’s do more training.”
Do men really still need to be taught what not to do? Do men still need a PowerPoint presentation to learn they shouldn’t offer a woman a promotion in exchange for sexual favors?
“Keep male and female employees away from each other – don’t let men and women have mixed business dinners, or mentoring or travel.”
Let’s just make it even harder for all women who work instead of making men who abuse their power responsible for their actions.
Now look at individuals’ responses.
“That’s just locker room talk.”
Why is it acceptable to degrade women in a locker room? And if it’s false bragging, why is lying acceptable in a locker room?
“Boys will be boys.”
By saying this, we accept the premise that men cannot control themselves and cannot learn how to behave decently to others.
“Why didn’t she speak up sooner?”
She didn’t speak up because she didn’t want to lose her job. Because he had power and she did not. Because of knowing that she would be the one who would be attacked and vilified and defamed and not believed.
“Men and women can’t have a conversation or flirt anymore.”
The all or nothing approach. Here’s an easy rule: if you wouldn’t say or do it to a man, don’t say or do it to a woman.
“I don’t believe he would do such a thing. He’s so good at his job, he went to Harvard, and I’ve never seen him harass anyone!”
This is like saying “I just had a meal so there can’t be hungry people in the world” or “I have money in my pocket so poverty has been eliminated.”
“Don’t make this a witch hunt.”
It only feels like a witch hunt to people who haven’t paid attention or experienced it. In reality, this is a long overdue, public acknowledgement of women’s lives.
Sexual assault, harassment and derogatory comments are about abuse of power; whether gained through fame, money, or elected office. These are acts of the worst kind of bullying.
It’s not enough that a few big guys lose their jobs, that one doctor is sentenced to 140 years in prison, that well-known actors are shunned. All of us must act to change the culture that allows or ignores these actions. Men need to get involved in the discussion now and not wait until women come up with solutions that men will reject because they made no effort to be part of the process.
Each of us needs to look at where we have power and how we use it. Then we need to demand that our friends and the organizations we are a part of do the same. To call out those people who continue to take part in or ignore this abuse of power and to put the responsibility for bullying and harassment where it belongs – on the bullying, powerful abuser.
Gayle Carper is a member of the Macomb City council and she’s a retired attorney and retired Professor of Law at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.
Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.