#metoo: another chance for men to confront their own power

#MeToo is another example of a campaign that is focused on victims and survivors – when it should instead be on enablers and assailants.

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal, the #metoo campaign, where women on social media opened up about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault at the hands of men, has created a lot of much-needed discussion around the topic. It has also received criticism, most of it predictably and spectacularly missing the point (“not all men!”).

But one critique that struck me as particularly salient is this, from Daily Kos’ Wagatwe Wanjuki:

Though I’m sure the exercise will have been eye opening to some men, and that there are many other benefits to the campaign , Wanjuki is right. Gendered violence isn’t hidden away. A recording of the current President of the United States admitting to sexual violence wasn’t enough to prevent his ascendancy. Graphic rape scenes are used as casual plot points in our favourite TV shows and films. And, most of all, it is impossible for it to be hidden from those committing it.

When I was 14, I pulled a girl onto my lap in a teacher’s office while the teacher was out the room. There was an awkward pause, like when a dog finally catches up with a car and is unsure of what to do next, until the teacher walked in, rather unhappy. I don’t know if the girl was fine with it; we weren’t together and I never asked. That’s kind of the point.

I don’t know if the girl was fine with it; we weren’t together and I never asked. That’s kind of the point.

I remember doing the same thing in my first year of university to a friend in her room. Apparently I had an M.O. She was visibly uncomfortable and eventually stood up and I left her room soon after.

When I began clubbing, marginally earlier than most as the city I grew up in didn’t care much for age limits, I took direction from my older, more experienced friends: touch first, ask later.

I have, on numerous occasions, audibly and physically reacted to walking past an attractive woman, with no regard for how she might have felt about it or the setting in which we found ourselves.

I am a feminist, and have ended friendships over our differing views on women in society. But I can’t deny that in my young life I have contributed to the problem. The fact that I can’t remember any woman having turned around and told me so means nothing. My physical advantages over nearly every woman I’ve ever encountered meant that many who said nothing probably only wished they felt safe enough to do so.

This is not about whether any of my actions were life-changingly traumatic or not. It’s about the fact that they are so common that my own will have neither been the first nor the last experienced by any of these women. And that’s a problem.

I am not looking for props, and this isn’t my atonement. Writing this piece has forced me to really consider my actions, and what effect they would have had on the people subjected to them. Did I make these women feel unsafe, degraded or worthless? What right has anyone to do that to someone?

A friend recently told me about a male employer slyly groping her bum during a meeting. In case it was unclear, you don’t need to be Harvey Weinstein to be a creep in the workplace. I asked her why she didn’t report it, and she asked how she’d have proved it. How would she have convinced her colleagues that he’d done anything, or that it was even intentional?

You don’t need to be Harvey Weinstein to be a creep in the workplace.

The men (we) who do these sorts of things are acutely aware of this dilemma. It’s why they’re (we’re) so confident they (we) can get away with it. No consideration is ever given to how the woman on the receiving end of these acts is made to feel when a man decides to take a dive into these murky grey waters.

As men, it’s our turn to reckon with elements of our past we’d rather keep hidden. Nearly every man reading this has crossed the line at one point or another. I’ve seen it happen, and said nothing. It was “normal”, or “not that bad”. Men use their privilege and physical prowess to get away with insidious behaviour, knowing it’s less than likely they will ever get called out for it. It’s the reason so many of our female friends have said #metoo, and it’s why an even greater amount have remained silent.

We don’t have to have committed violent assault for us to have harassed people, inadvertently or not. Fixing the issue means coming to terms with the fact that, as good as we probably are, there are subconscious elements to how we interact with women that will have snuck past our own internal moral radar, in need of identification and elimination. It goes beyond sexual assault, including how we speak to and of them – both when they’re present and when they aren’t.

Nothing will change until we admit we have been part of the problem, and actively work to rectify it. It’s always been the perpetrators, not the victims, who need to do something different. Now is our chance.

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