A Look in the Mirror: Men Need to Help Change the Culture of Toxic Masculinity

The Harvey Weinstein scandal has sparked a national discussion about the abuse women face on a daily basis. While it’s appalling to see the extent to which sexism has infused every corner of American society, I’ve been heartened by the ongoing conversations taking place as a result of these revelations — most notably, the #MeToo hashtag, with many other private and public reckonings now and still to come. But witnessing cannot be enough for me. This is a chance to look in the mirror and ask: How have I contributed to this problem, and what can I do to help?

I had my own uneasy reckoning with the first part of this question last week. It started when I spoke out on Twitter against a sports website I believe is deeply misogynistic. In response, the website and some of its readers unearthed a handful of my own tweets from many years ago that were also inappropriate. I don’t begrudge them for doing it. They saw my criticism as hypocritical, but that was not my intent. I’m simply someone who was part of the problem in the past, who has been trying to be part of the solution for some time now.

Nevertheless, those tweets from nearly a decade ago left me genuinely horrified — not because they had surfaced, but because they reflected a worldview so starkly different from the person I’ve worked hard to become. In the subsequent years, I heard about similar experiences to some of the #MeToo stories from women I have gotten to know. Witnessing their bravery firsthand and hearing about how horribly they had been treated had a profound effect on me.

Still the words were mine. I own that. Within roughly a day, I posted a heartfelt public apology for my comments. The tweets were distasteful and inappropriate. While I wish I had never written them, I take full responsibility. I am sorry.

But as I struggled to move past the shame over what I’d said, I began to examine why such casual misogyny is so easy to find, such a default setting for so many men. I felt further public exploration would be valuable for both myself and others. For me, that brief period when I made those comments was a difficult time. I was an aspiring comedian and sportswriter, struggling to break through professionally, personally unhappy.

How I dealt with that unhappiness was through substance abuse and assuming a shock jock personality to make it seem like I didn’t care about anything. Back then, I thought I was pushing boundaries with provocative commentary and offensive jokes. Now, I realize I insulted women and hurt people with my words. It happened a long time ago; it feels like it happened to another person. I say this not to offer an excuse, but rather to point out how significantly worldviews can change, how experiences have informed and evolved my perspective.

It took me doing some soul-searching to discover how hurtful my words were. I saw that this type of rhetoric contributes to the established culture of sexism and toxic masculinity. With the help of counseling, meditation, family, friends and community I have worked through my issues. While I am far from perfect, I am a better man for it. I hope I can work in some small way to improve what is an intolerable social construct for all marginalized groups.

It is the argument of men who wish to continue deploying casual misogyny that the objectification of women is the natural state of things. It is their goal to bring down anyone who challenges this status quo, imperfect messengers or otherwise, allowing them to remain resolutely in the dark themselves.

Women just need men to treat them with respect and as equals, and many of us have failed. Speaking out when you see women, or any other marginalized demographic, treated poorly shouldn’t be something that’s above and beyond. It should be the bare minimum required from any man. Imagine the frustration, the anger of women toward men, when what is required from each man is so little, yet many of us still consistently fall short.

And so I won’t remain silent when it comes to speaking out about women’s issues or other vital topics. I won’t be defined by past mistakes. I won’t stop trying to amplify powerful messages from women. I won’t stop striving to be a better contributor to a society that consistently demeans and relegates women in equal measure.

My evolution, which began in the early part of this decade, when I found sobriety, entered a new stage earlier this year. I left a job in sports media, seeking outlets for political activism necessary to combat the hateful, crude, demeaning, sexist culture that’s poisoning our society and currently resides in seats of power, especially the White House.

My track record isn’t without flaws, but those who know me realize I have been trying to fight for progress for a long time. My hope is that others who don’t know me as well will give me the opportunity to demonstrate this change. I may be a flawed messenger, but that does not make the message that we should treat women with dignity, respect, and equality any less worthy. The way we discuss women in our culture must change.

If we remain silent amid wrongs because of our own flawed histories, few people will be able to speak up. Toxic masculinity has framed both apologizing and standing up for women as actions that are signs of weakness in men. This is by design, and embraced not only in the darker corners of our society, but indeed, in the White House itself.

A fear of speaking out is one reason why men like Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein often avoid repercussions. If nobody speaks out, women will continue to be assaulted, harassed and objectified. Men listening to women is even more important than men speaking out. The most important thing I can do, that we can do as men, to support women is to help boost women’s voices. We men need to help make sure women are being heard.

Even though it was embarrassing and uncomfortable, I am grateful I was forced to confront my past transgressions publicly, since I think it demonstrates that men can and must do better. I will work every day to prove through my actions that my evolution from an immature and insecure kid using insensitive rhetoric on social media to an advocate for women is possible. Still I know I can always do better, and will never stop listening for how to do so. I also understand that my actions, not these words, will be what matters — the actions I take in public and private to push for a lasting sea change desperately needed in American culture.

As men, we have created this problem through action and inaction. Now is the time to ask what we can do to help.

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