Me Too: Good Guys, We Need Your Help

Last weekend The New York Times reported that in the wake of the #MeToo campaign, initially sparked by the Harvey Weinstein accusations and fueled by many more, some men are backing off from interactions with women. Some companies are considering canceling holiday parties. Some are forming all-male text groups. Others are going so far as to apply the Mike Pence rule, which used to be the Billy Graham rule — no meetings, dinners, car rides, etc. with a woman who isn’t your wife.

This is absurd. Sexual assault and sexual harassment aren’t inadvertent. And separating the sexes won’t solve the problem. In fact, it will set women’s equality back further, and we’re already going to have to wait 100 more years for the pay gap to close. Men, primarily, possess the power to open the doors to opportunity for women. Among the Fortune 500, 80 percent of senior managers are male. In venture capital, just 3 percent of the money goes to women and 89 percent of the people making those investments are men.

So please, to the good men out there, work more closely with women. We need your collaboration, your partnership and your mentorship. We need you on our side because the playing field isn’t fair. I know from first-hand experience as a female CEO who works in the predominantly male technology sector. Without men in positions of power being willing to work closely enough with me to understand my skills and see my potential, I would not have been able to start and grow my company.

Now, to the other men wondering if you’re behaving badly, to the ones asking if your actions could be misinterpreted by the women you work with, the answer is no. The women know exactly what you mean. The difference between good and bad intentions is never murky. I’m betting you know that sending photos of your penis and masturbating in front of co-workers is incontrovertibly wrong.

But you also know that making “jokes” about wanting your co-worker to wear that red dress you like to the next meeting is wrong. The woman on the receiving end knows it’s wrong too, and she’s only keeping quiet because she’s worried about her job, her promotion, or worse, her entire career. Women have been systematically indoctrinated to remain quiet. So I’m speaking up. Me too.

I was young when I first experienced the hard truth about how power can go bad. I was 15 and a competitive flutist. On a family trip to Minneapolis, we went to a music store where I met a professional trumpet player. He pulled me into the stairwell and we talked about music and his band. I was rapt. Here he was, an accomplished musician in his thirties who was interested in helping me. I couldn’t believe my luck.

My school photo at age 15.

In one of his letters to me he wrote, “When we first met I thought you were absolutely wonderful. When you said you were 15, though, it stopped me in my tracks. That’s pretty much why I didn’t kiss you when everything told me I should.” He added, “Being a musician I’ve met and been with a lot of girls but never ever have I felt like this.”

Reading this as an adult makes me want to throw up, but my 15-year-old self was flattered. Then one night on the phone, I heard him masturbating, his breath quickening as he stopped paying attention to what I was saying. Soon after that he suggested that he fly to Connecticut so we could get a hotel room. I said no and cut off contact. But for weeks I was terrified that he’d come anyway, and even then, I said nothing.

So why, then, would I speak up about a lesser act when I was 26? It was just after the Internet bubble had ravaged the technology sector. I’d been laid off twice, and was in a new job that paid me $30,000 less than I’d been making before it all went bad. A former boss wanted to get together under the auspices of potential work opportunities. My confidence had taken a hit, so yes, I was interested.

An hour later he’d had six drinks and started telling me I was beautiful. When he started moving in closer it was the lust in his eyes that rushed me out with an abrupt excuse. I ran to the safety of Boston’s Faneuil Hall and its crowds of tourists where I tried to stop my hands from shaking. And yet, I’d agreed to the drinks, and nothing had happened, really. I kept quiet.

My career now spans more than 20 years, and in addition to becoming good at my job, I’ve had to become an expert at spotting a man with bad intentions. It’s in his body language, his energy and the look in his eyes. He’s the one who tells me he’s a swinger. He’s the one whose wedding ring disappears mid-flight. He’s the one who kicks off our meetings by asking if all women in PR are hot. He’s the one who calls himself a “big swinging dick” and ranks his female co-workers by attractiveness. We shouldn’t have to learn this kind of skill.

To those men, that kind of behavior is impossible to misinterpret. The error of judgment is not the woman’s. Inquire into your own actions and motivations. Spend some time asking yourself hard questions. Are you trying to help and support a female co-worker who you respect? Or are you seeking power and leverage by making her squirm? Now, I’m the kind of feminist who believes in redemption, but it requires real remorse, responsibility and change.

To the good men out there, and you are the majority, keep doing what you’re doing. In fact, do more. Work closely with women. Mentor women. Put women in positions of power. Call out the bad actors. Whether in sports, the arts, education, business, you name it, the scary dynamics of unrestricted power require the cloak of acceptance to continue. Help us create a more safe and equitable culture so women can have a fair shot at the workplace opportunities we deserve.

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