Earlier this week, a male facebook friend commented that the “Me Too” phenomenon seems so powerful, so liberating. And I understand why he would think that, and don’t think less of him for saying it, but NO. If you are lucky enough to be only a bystander to the “Me Too” phenomenon, please listen:
Yes, it is a powerful thing to see so many women (and men, and non-binary people) sharing those two simple words. But for those of us who are saying “me too” that power is not a cause for celebration. For every “me too” you’ve seen, there is a human being typing those words while pain and anger and helplessness and self-loathing and shame and vivid memories of awful moments flood through them. Some of us are further along in our recovery than others, but none of us relish thinking about being raped, assaulted, or harassed. This is not empowering. It is draining. It is a Dementor attack. The power I see is that so so many people, mostly women, are willing to risk feeling sick, feeling hollow, shaking, panicking, because we know it is important to be heard. Because we are hoping against hope that we can generate enough outrage to change things. We are going through this ordeal in the hope that YOU WILL LISTEN, and fight alongside us.
For some victims of harassment and assault and rape, this is the first time they are admitting what happened to them. But most of us talk about this with friends, with family, with each other, and with our partners so that they can navigate the minefield we’ve installed. This isn’t new. You’ve heard our stories. Hell, just a year ago it was called “Yes, All Women.” For a moment in 2016 you saw this problem and realized how epidemic it was (it was right there in the hashtag – ALL OF US experience this). Please stop making us do this. Please understand that this is everywhere, it affects at least half of the people you know, and it isn’t just gross, it’s DAMAGING. It has to stop. Recognizing the reality isn’t enough – the power structures that have allowed this to happen for so long have to be changed. By us. By you.
So here are four things you, cis/het man, need to do to change this:
1. Please acknowledge that all your lady friends, some of your man friends, and probably all of you “neither of the above” friends FEEL LIKE CRAP THIS WEEK. We don’t feel empowered, we don’t feel strong and unified and like a force to be reckoned with. We feel stupid. We feel helpless. We feel naked and used and coerced and scared and powerless. We feel sick, and profoundly sad that so many people we love have endured these evils.
2. Sadly, it DOES have to be said: DON’T BE THE REASON YOUR FRIENDS FEEL LIKE THIS. Don’t use your position, your power, your privilege to ask for sexual favors. Figure out the power structure between yourself and the person you want to seduce, and if it is tilted in your favor, step back. Like, all the way back. There are 3.5 billion women in the world. Find one whose career you can’t affect. And of course, don’t yell at women, don’t grab, paw, or leer at us. Don’t harass, assault, or rape us. Treat us as if we are independent human beings worthy of dignity and respect.
3. If you are reading this, you are probably someone I know and like, and therefore not a creep. But your friend or coworker might be. Might be the guy nicknamed “All Hands” by the women in your friend group. Might be the guy who gets angry and loud if a woman rebuffs his advances in a bar. So talk to your boi. Tell him that’s not alright – and then drive HIM home, so everyone else can keep having a good time. And if he won’t learn? Stop being his damn friend.
4. Okay, this is where it gets tricky, but this is where change will come, if it comes at all: Don’t just be a Good Guy. Don’t just hold your male friends accountable. Sexual violence, assault, and harassment are all power plays, and thus are most often made by powerful men. If we’re going to change this, it isn’t going to be laterally. We have to challenge POWER. So. Hypothetical:
Your superior’s superior is known to ogle and leer at the women you work with in a way that makes them very uncomfortable. Your boss hits on the secretaries at any event involving alcohol. The Dean of your College – the same one with the power to okay your sabbatical or deny your tenure – has a different undergrad “girlfriend” every year in the worst-kept secret on campus. So NOW what do you do?
I’ll tell you what you’ve DONE – you’ve wondered why the women don’t do something about it. But often we do, and nothing happens. Or we lose our jobs. Or our careers are over. How about YOU risk your career this time? How about YOU talk to your supervisor’s supervisor and tell him the way he interacts with women is degrading? How about YOU confront your boss at the Christmas party and tell him, loudly, publically, that he is out of line? How about YOU report your dean to HR, or to the press, or to whomever you keep saying we should report him to, for abusing his power and preying on students? Scary, isn’t it? You could lose your job. He could torpedo your prospects with other institutions. If you challenge someone particularly well-known and respected, you might never work in your field again. Hell, he might bankrupt you, claiming you’re slandering him – he’s got the resources for a long legal battle, and you don’t.
Until you are willing to challenge UPSTREAM – up YOUR OWN stream – your shock and promises to do better mean nothing. Your applause for the bravery of survivors who speak out is meaningless. YOU speak out. JOIN US in speaking out. Stop acting like you’ve never seen this behavior. You have, and you laughed it off, or decided it wasn’t a battle you could win, or just decided it wasn’t any of your business. In the wealth-powered, fucked up world in which we live, we desperately need more people to risk everything for change. Otherwise, change will never come.