The Least of Our Peers

I’m reposting this from Facebook at the urging of several people who saw and commented on the original post. I will not be checking the comments nor responding but I encourage and permit you to share the link as you see fit.

Reflect on your first reactions to the “me too” campaign circulating Facebook over the past few days. This is the campaign in which women are joining their voices to send a clear message on precisely how pervasive sexual harassment and sexual assaults remain. If your feed is anything like mine, that awareness should indicate for you that nearly every women in our lives have been impacted … and that this has been happening since long before the recent news of a hollywood big shot finally being held accountable.

But reflect on YOUR initial reaction … and then on the evolution of that reaction. I’m making the request primarily of my male peers.

I specifically ask that you focus on moments where you may have caught yourself saying “I hope she knows I’m not that type of guy” or “I hope they realize there are good men out there too”.

In my experience this “not all men” response is equally pervasive … showing up consistently when women begin to tell their stories. And it’s part of the problem. A significant part.

The “not all men” response does a few things.

1. It negates her story in the moment she finished telling it. It brings focus back on the men in the room. Suddenly, instead of sitting in the discomfort of the moment that could be an enlightening opportunity for empathy, we have to stop everything in order to make sure everyone hears our perspectives on how safe we are. Don’t do that.

2. It interrupts her narrative. Her timeline. Her story. Once again, we play out the role that has been socialized into us to always feel the need to add our voice. Our opinion. With the assumption that it is always needed or always matters. It isn’t and it doesn’t.

3. It ends the discussion that sexual harassment and sexual assault happens. When we stop the story from being told with our interruptions, we add to the accumulation of ways in which we discourage the collective us from believing that story is based in reality. We collectively create a “yeah, but it’s not really THAT bad” sort of narrative.

4. We attempt … with the “I’m not like that”, “I hope you understand I’m one of the good guys”, “not all men” interruptions … to distance ourselves from the very real and very pervasive peers among us who DO create a toxic, sexist, misogynistic, environment in the workplace, the classroom, the grocery store, the night club, etc. And when we distance ourselves from the peers among us who maintain that toxic environment, we excuse ourselves from confronting them. From interrupting them. From ending the behavior.

Instead, we spend our energy convincing the women among us that the story they just told doesn’t apply to us as individuals. I’m asking you to redirect that energy. Begin listening to the stories and you’ll begin to understand precisely how pervasive that toxic environment is. So pervasive that we’ve stopped seeing it when it shows up right in front of us.

The fact of the matter is that we ARE defined by the least of our peers. Because there are currently countless men who perpetuate the need for the “me too” campaign, and despite the fact that you might think you don’t belong lumped in with their company, the woman in our life MUST assume that we might be capable of the behavior ourselves. It’s a matter of safety.

I’m asking that each time you find yourself wanting to interrupt the campaign with any sort of “not all men” statement … each time you might want to start with “yeah, but …” or “I hope you don’t see me that way …” that, instead, you add a silent hashtag to a mental total. For each of those hashtags, I want you to find a moment to interrupt the toxicity. To interrupt yet another male who is casually inserting himself into equation through tasteless jokes, inappropriate comments, unwanted attention, stares, gestures, physical contact, etc.

Interrupt. We are unfortunately yet deservedly defined by the least of our peers. By our inaction. By our refusal to believe. Until we step up, distinguish ourselves as the collective majority of men who do that interruption, the voice of that group is going to continue to speak volumes louder than our own.