Bro, We Need to Talk
What’s up, Bro,
Go onto any of your social media sites right now and read the posts under the hashtag #metoo. Do it. Right now. Stop reading this and go do it. I will wait…
…Sobering, isn’t it? It only gets worse when we consider the necessary corollary to the sheer volume of (mostly) women who have experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault or both, and that is that there must be a corresponding sheer volume of (mostly) men who have engaged in that behavior; and because there is such a sheer volume of men who have done this, there is one further inescapable conclusion: we know them. They are our brothers, fathers, cousins, sons, drinking buddies, coworkers, and friends; they are on our sports teams, they are in our fraternities, and they are in our social groups.
There is a scene in the recent Academy Award-Winning film Spotlight where lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (played by Stanley Tucci) and journalist Mike Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo) are talking to each other and Garabedian says, “Mark my words, if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one”. The same essential truth holds here, it takes a village raise a rapist, and it takes a village to look the other way when it happens. Bro, we are that village. Rapists, and those who think that rape is not a big deal, are formed in our social spaces, and as a result, it is up to us to do something about it.
It starts in our masculine social spaces. In our fraternity houses, locker rooms, or even in our own living rooms when we are just drinking beers and watching football with our guy friends. We have to change the way these spaces operate. No longer can it be acceptable (not that it ever was) to make demeaning comments or use demeaning language about or towards women. No longer can rape be treated as fodder for comedy. No more “locker room talk”. No more “boys will be boys”. No more excuses. It is up to us to change the way men talk and act amongst each other. It is up to us to ensure that ours are spaces where in which women are respected and valued as human beings with agency, autonomy and the right to make decisions about their own bodies.
However, only changing the way we talk amongst each other will not cut it. We have to actually act when we see a possible instance of sexual harassment or assault in the real world. It starts with our own behavior: we know what the word “no” means, we know what social cues people employ when they are not interested in whatever it is that we are saying or doing. When a woman says no, it is up to us to respect that choice and move on. I know getting rejected is not fun, but we are not owed anything. You will survive without sex for a night, not getting laid does not make you less of a man. Furthermore, it is not enough for us merely to change our own behavior. We need to also step up when other men act inappropriately. When we see that one of our fellow men is making someone feel uncomfortable, it’s up to us to intervene. We know when this is happening. We have social skills. We know what body language and facial expressions a person employs to demonstrate that they feel uncomfortable. And we know when something just feels wrong on a gut level. When we see that someone is being made to feel uncomfortable, or when someone’s behavior towards another person makes us feel uncomfortable, we need to find the courage to act. Get some friends to go with you if you are afraid of going alone, but we must do something.
Bro, we can change this. In fact, it is our responsibility to change this. Together we can make rape and rape culture a thing of the past. It is really not that hard to not commit sexual assault or sexual harassment. I recognize that it is a lot harder to stand up to someone else, particularly if that someone else is a friend of ours. However, we need to find that courage, the evidence of that imperative is on our social media feeds. This is not a responsibility we can shirk any longer.
All the best bro.