It’s Time to Man Up

One hundred years ago, American women were jailed, beaten, tortured and force-fed; all because they believed they deserved the right to vote. One hundred years later, we can factually demonstrate that American women are the most educated, liberated, empowered and powerful women in all of human history.

And yet . . . one hundred years later we wake up daily to new revelations of sexual harassment and abuse visited on women and girls by powerful, successful, admired men in all walks of American life: politicians, executives, coaches, athletes, artists, moguls and men of the cloth. In every case, women bravely stepped forward. In virtually every case as well, their stories have been corroborated and verified.

I was asked recently in an interview what I thought about the shocking revelations. Let’s get real. No one is shocked. Women are not and men are not.

Women are not shocked because we all have been living with this for a very long time. I came up in the men’s worlds of technology and communications. But regardless of industry, virtually every woman I know — myself included — has been perennially, and at best, merely harassed and propositioned, diminished and ignored; not as frequently, but too often and at worst, too many I have known have been sexually abused. Virtually all of us have been groped by someone we thought we could trust.

I started out as a secretary almost forty years ago. I have travelled the corporate ladder from the very bottom to the very top, have run for the highest office in the land and sat for innumerable interviews on radio, TV and in print. I know this stuff happens because it has happened — still happens — to me.

As women we each have chosen to deal with these humiliations differently. Some of us have confronted and challenged. Others did not feel they were able to do so. Many are now coming forward with their sometimes horrific stories. Some are still silent. But none of us are shocked by what we are learning now.

And neither are the men. Most men are not predators. Most men are good, decent and respectful. Many, many men have helped advance and support women. And yet, the men all know what is going on, just as the women know what is going on. That is of course a crucial element of all the stories we see now: people knew. Men and women knew. Everyone looked away — or worse, enabled such behavior.

Several months ago after a speech I had given, a woman asked me a question that women so frequently ask: Why haven’t we made more progress? What will it take for women, who represent over half the American people, to achieve the positions and impact for which we clearly have the potential? I spoke for a few minutes about the importance of building true meritocracies, about how diversity is actually vital to men’s self-interest and success. But then I said: Why is it that women always ask this question? Why don’t men ask it more often?

And now, I feel the same way. Women have been dealing with this for a long time. It is men’s turn to deal with it.

I am tired of politicians opining on this subject. Politics is as sexist a culture as any in America. As we continue to learn, from Washington, D.C. to Sacramento, California and everywhere in between, politicians, of both parties, are among the worst harassers and abusers. Democrats would have us believe that all women are victims and only some sweeping government programs can solve this problem. Republicans would have us believe there is no problem at all.

Both parties are wrong and neither has any room to lecture anyone else on behavior or to propose solutions.

I am tired of Hollywood expressing shock and outrage, yanking awards and literally writing offenders out of scripts. I am particularly tired of Hollywood excusing what is simply unacceptable behavior because someone is an artiste. I am tired of Boards of Directors professing ignorance and commissioning expensive studies to tell them the obvious. I am tired of offenders writing statements of remorse and contrition while their associates timidly say something like: I wish I had known. I should have done more. If only I had acted on my instincts.

I am tired of the breathless, relentless reportage by the media — the very same media who have participated in cover-ups of the very same behavior by the rich, the famous and the politically correct. And in an age where everyone seems to be offended by something, where every perceived slight is worthy of endless posts on social media, I am tired of the silence about human trafficking where mostly women and girls are sold into virtual slavery for the pleasure and profit of men.

I am tired of the posing and the posturing, the meaningless statements of outrage when necessary for self-preservation and the deafening silence the rest of the time.

A man who demeans, harasses, or abuses a woman has made a choice. It is a personal choice about how to behave. Another man, who suspects, who knows, who fears and looks away is making a choice as well.

Women have been fighting for our right to contribute to our full potential for at least the last one hundred years. We have been fighting to be treated with the respect our compassion, our capability and our brainpower deserve for one hundred years.

One hundred years later though, I think it is men’s turn. It is men’s turn to stand up and say: we actually need women to be full participants in every walk of life, every industry and every community because we all need their smarts, their heart and their potential. It is men’s turn to stand up and speak out about unspeakable behavior — and not wait, hoping that it never comes out, until some brave woman finally cannot stay silent anymore. It is men’s turn to tell their fellow men that respect from others requires respect for others.

This is now a time for men to choose. Are you going to laugh and look the other way? Are you going to josh that boys will be boys? With a wink, a nod, and a choice word here and there are you going to make it clear that while you love women, you actually don’t think they are capable of whatever you care about most? Are you going to keep quiet when you should speak up?

Don’t worry. We women will keep fighting, contributing, speaking up and speaking out. The question is will you boys finally man up?

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