This collective call for awareness of sexual harassment and abuse of women has been met with the willingness of women to step out of the shadows and into the conversation. #MeToo is an opportunity for all women to say “enough”.
Momentum has been slowly gathering over the last couple of years. Bill Cosby was one of the first men of celebrity publicly denounced for his abhorrent behavior by several women. He vehemently denies any wrong-doing. Bill O’Reilly. Anthony Weiner. Denny Hastert.
Donald Trump was not only accused but admitted to inappropriate sexual harassment and abuse. He continues to deny wrong-doing, despite his admission caught on audiotape. More than a dozen women spoke out about their sexual assault experience with him while he ran for office. When people turned a blind eye to his history of sexual assault and abuse, we turned a deaf ear to American women’s pleas for help. And elected him to be our country’s leader.
By electing a man who admits to sexual assault to the highest office, the message to men is loud and clear:
If you are a man in a position of power, you can do whatever you’d like to whomever.
And men are listening…
A 71-year-old Republican politician from Connecticut was recently called out because he “pinched the groin” of a woman. He stated, “I love this new world. I no longer have to be politically correct.” He denied misconduct – until video surveillance proved otherwise.
Sadly, reports of sexual misconduct have been reported over decades, yet cries for help and justice were inexcusably ignored. Because they understand their voices won’t be heard, they comply. They are silenced.
- Women are paid off for their silence; they are terrified that they may be ousted from their profession.
- Their personal lives are maybe upended if they do not abide.
- They are physically and verbally threatened.
- Their reputations are at stake.
- They feel shameful or guilty about what happened.
- They know it’s their word against the man who has the power.
This is where Harvey Weinstein comes in. He is a “man” who unabashedly cornered starlets and demanded sexual favors. If refused, he verbally abused and threatened them. Hollywood has been aware of his behavior – and other “casting couches” – for decades, yet silence prevailed. Why? Fear. Women, of course, had much to fear, but so did the men who were acutely aware of what was going on. Powerful men have the upper hand, no matter the sex of their target.
Think about the women who pointed at the man running for president. Did anyone listen to their stories, their pleas, as he ran for president? What made Americans turn their hearts away from these women and their truths? I’ve heard people exclaim that men will be men! Not much we can do about it. On that, I disagree. In fact, people are listening now, but I wonder how much damage has already been done to the young – and old – men who want to emulate our leaders? How many men are seeking ‘permission’ for their abusive behavior just as the Republican official from Connecticut stated? And how many women will suffer the consequences?
These are the stories that have made the headlines, yet any woman will tell you this happens on a daily basis. It happens so frequently that it can sometimes be difficult to recall each episode of harassment.
Harassment is woven into nearly every woman’s narrative.
Certain behaviors are second nature to women because of their past experience with sexual harassment, abuse, or assault.
- It is why many women are cautious to assert themselves at work and at home.
- It is why many women often question their safety before venturing somewhere alone.
- It is why many women question our outfits and are made to feel guilty for the way they present themselves. (Too sexy? Not sexy enough?)
- It is why many women stay silent when harassed or abused.
- It is why many women often feel as if they have no voice.
- It is because our social narrative promotes toxic masculinity.
What needs to change? Toxic masculinity.
We need to change our narrative about what it is to be a man, and that conversation starts with us. Most men I meet are really great guys who have raised really awesome young men. These are the guys who we need in leadership positions.
Watch this MTV video about Toxic Masculinity. Just be aware – it’s a little difficult to watch towards the end.
What do we tell our young people?
- Discuss the #MeToo movement.
- Explain what a “position of power” looks like. A person who holds a position of power is anyone that has influence or authority over another person. This can be a boss, teacher, family member, someone bigger or stronger than you, or anyone else that has influence. This person can be male or female. It is important for individuals to understand that someone in a position of power does not have the right to abuse others.
- Be an upstander, not merely a bystander. If you see something, say something.
- Discuss the importance of respecting others, regardless of the position of power.
- Engage in honest conversation about abuse of power that is appropriate for the age and maturity of your child. Conversation starters include: What do you think about this? What is wrong with this situation? Why do you think it took so long for some victims to speak out? How would it feel if no one listened to you if you had a problem? Why do you think it took so long to make headlines? Do you think this happens in other situations?
- Discuss ways to avoid or retreat from unsafe situations.
- Talk to your boys about the concept of toxic masculinity. Explain that it is okay for boys to be sensitive and caring. It is not okay to disrespect girls. The GoodMenProject.com is a great resource.
How about you?
If you would like to share your story, I’m here to listen.