What One Nice Guy Learned from #MeToo

Like probably every other decent male out there, I was crushed by the scale of the #MeToo movement. Seeing the sheer volume of the posts in my feed, the courage of those who shared stories, the anguish of those who didn’t… it shook me. But as I started reading some of the post and articles about it all, I quickly fell into a trap. One that I can see, from a lot of comments and replies to the stories I read, is capturing a lot of otherwise “nice guys” as well. So this is my meager attempt to shine a light rather than curse the darkness. It is from a male perspective to a male reader, which I have seen not enough of so far.

The Nice Guy Trap

I’ve read a LOT of powerful pieces by women about the #MeToo movement. Many of them unleashed, broadside, anger at men. Being the nice guy I am, I resented being lumped in with guys who do everything from harassment to sexual assault. “That’s not me!”

The trap is that my objection to the hostility being directed to my entire gender (even though I consider myself an ally) blinded me to a lot of what they were actually saying. If you find yourself saying “This argument would reach a lot more people if you didn’t generalize the attack to all men”, then you are doing it too. You are focusing on the wrong part of the argument. We need to set aside our good guy membership cards for one second, and try to listen. There is a lot of hard truth packed in there, some of which will probably hit close to home, if you can get past a knee jerk pushback that comes with “But I don’t do X or Y”.

Earned Anger

A lot of the comments on these articles from, presumably, good guys pushed back on women who expressed anger at men for even saying they were shocked at the scale of the movement. “Surely men who knew that rape culture was extensive, but did not know just how pervasive it was, are not the enemy here.” Makes perfect sense, right?

It does, until you think about how long women have been shouting this at us. Again and again and again, from the most public declarations in the media, to degradingly brutal lawsuits, to simply speaking out within a company, community, or family, they have been screaming the story as loudly as they can. Then paying the price each time they do. Barbara Bowman accused Bill Cosby 30 YEARS before people started to believe her, and even then only because a comedian mentioned it in his act and there were dozens of other accounts out there. The story has always been there, we just have not chosen to listen.

So, yes, being furious at men, even the nice guys, who didn’t know about the full scope of this, because we simply did not to listen for so very long, makes perfect sense. This doesn’t reduce your niceness (we are fallible humans), but we are culpable. We are, even the nice guys, a part of all this — an epidemic doesn’t reach this level without a massive supporting framework. Men, regardless of intention, are the structural support for that framework.

Same Planet, Different Worlds

Much of the “Why are you directing anger at me? I am one of the good guys.” pushback is because our natural nice guy empathy is actually hurting us in this conversation. Male privilege is damn tough thing to see past. Here is one simple example of that fact. Jackson Katz, in The Macho Paradox asked men and women to list activities they did to prevent sexual assault. The men said “Nothing”. The women said:

“Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.”

That is only a partial list. How many of those things have you never had to even think twice about? Each one is just one more tangible nugget of privilege, because you are not forced to. And that is just baseline for women’s everyday consideration. You and I are not even seeing the tip of that iceberg, let alone what is beneath the water.

Men commit the crimes, but women have to alter their daily lives in response. Nice guys are (usually) good at empathy, but privilege makes for a giant blind spot. The fact that we don’t see all of those sacrifices, and the continuous drag doing all that must place on simply living a life, makes us not nearly as empathic as we think we are. So, yeah, painting all us men with that “clueless” brush certainly seems warranted. I know, “But I am a nice guy, I just didn’t know”. That is the heart of the problem.

So What

What did this nice guy learn from all this? That I need to lower the deflection shields. Growth is always awkward and painful. If I want to be changed by this movement, truly learn from it, I need to set aside my pride, admit that I don’t know a lot of what I need to, and understand that there is a reason there is so much anger being directed at all men… even the nice guys. Make a choice to hear what they are saying instead of critiquing how they say it, and seek out voices you might not normally listen to. If you want to earn that nice guy label, that seems to be the first step.