It’s Our Fault if Men are Shocked by #metoo
Harvey Weinstein is a predator — a serial harasser and an alleged assaulter and rapist. He is also famous, and wealthy and powerful. He owned and ran a movie studio that systematically enabled and protected him. He is the personification of the harassment that women face each day by men who are not necessarily famous or wealthy or powerful, but who are systematically protected nonetheless. It’s easy to point a finger at Harvey: bad guy. But Harvey is just a symbol.
Anger is inevitable and insuppressible: every woman we know has been harassed, assaulted or raped, and Harvey is a reminder of what lurks in our past and in our future. But equally inevitable is women’s lack of surprise. Really, this story is downright mundane. Open secret in Hollywood? It’s an open secret in the world. #metoo asks women to speak up. Why start a tally? We already know the math. It’s every woman.
Why do women have to keep publicizing their most demeaning and degrading experiences for the purpose of educating men? Why do women have to share their humiliating experiences en masse to be considered credible?
The cynical side of me thinks that we shouldn’t have to hashtag our stories just so that men can feign shock and horror. Can they really not already know? But the other side of me looks at the good men in my life and wonders if perhaps they really don’t grasp the magnitude of the issue. Perhaps the #metoo campaign is genuinely illuminating for men. And maybe #metoo is also good for women: sharing can be cathartic, or a reminder that we are not alone in our experience. But if something good does come from the realization that #metoo is every woman — is that good enough?
What’s needed is to go one step further to connect the dots: if it’s every woman, who is the perpetrator? Can it really be just Harvey Weinstein? Just Bill O’Reilly? Just Cosby? I think that most men would be comfortable believing that. It’s comfortable to believe that the path of destruction left by those incredibly few, evil men is so wide that it has somehow touched ALL women. This way of thinking leaves the “good guys” safe — uninvolved — innocent.
The thing about the #metoo campaign is that it puts the responsibility on women to put their experiences out there and hope that it will cause men to ask themselves the tough questions. It’s easier for us to put our personal experiences out there (even painful, horrible, humiliating experiences) than it is to turn to the nice guy sitting next to us and ask them: what part do you play in this?
Some on Facebook are asking for “me too” campaigns by men, asking men to call themselves out for the time they catcalled, pressured, ignored signals, proceeded without consent, spoke derogatively, failed to speak up, failed to step in, shamed demeaned or degraded a woman, or, in other ways, intentionally or not, contributed to the paternalistic rape culture of today.
The men’s #metoo campaign won’t happen. We protect men. We try not to make them feel uncomfortable or defensive or accused. Even the passive language that society uses to address violence against women goes out of its way not to assign any agency to men. The Center For Domestic Violence quotes Jackson Katz: “We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated teenage girls.” We make no attempt to assign blame, and so we all men to believe that they play no role in this. We perpetuate the myth that there’s one bad guy out there — and he probably looks like a bad guy — who is causing all the harm. It’s not their friend. Not their brother. Not them.
For women it’s also complicated. We think, technically I have been harassed but others have had it worse. Or, I can handle it. Or, thank goodness I’m not too sensitive. Because God Forbid we should be sensitive. We excuse harassment, we blame ourselves, we rely on technicalities, we minimize, we forgive, we move on. We’re conditioned to these norms, which is why as hard as it is to say #metoo — it’s almost impossible for us to say #didyou?
Harvey Weinstein is getting his comeuppance after decades of abuse; after investigative journalism exposed him. It’s kind of irritating that this is what it takes for an everyday problem to get any attention. It sounds pretty awful in Hollywood, but it’s pretty awful in the rest of the country too, and one reason this problem is so pervasive is because we allow the belief that it is about them not us to persist.
Let’s not allow this to become a Hollywood issue. This is an issue for all of us. Because usually, it’s not Hollywood. It’s just you, sitting at your desk, wondering if you were too flirty or too provocatively dressed, and quickly brushing over whatever that man just said or did that made your skin crawl. “It’s fine, no — no — no, it’s fine, don’t worry about it. I’m fine. No big deal. Of course I understand. I know. No big deal.” Women are conditioned to immediately, without thought or hesitation, make men feel better about what they’ve done. We are both the victims and the fixers, and we’re really good at fixing things. We’ve done such a good job making men feel okay about their harassment that it takes a #metoo social media campaign to open their eyes to the epidemic that surrounds them. Maybe #metoo should open our eyes as well: men have the privilege of being shocked because women instinctively absorb the impact of their actions. Nothing will change while women play the fixers. #Metoo has to become #didyou.