Save Your Apologies: Here’s What Women Need From Men Right Now

Unsplash/Suhyeon Choi
We don’t need your insipid apologies, faux shock, and awe at things you’ve known about for years.

Women are the keepers of the misdeeds.

It’s the women, not the men, who catalog and remember which men to avoid, which men to run from, which men never, ever to be alone with. If you want to know if a Hollywood actor, pro athlete, or politician has a history of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, or harassment, ask a woman. We are the archivists of the wrongs.

Since the sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein have opened the floodgates for women in multitudes of industries to tell their stories, we’ve seen a wide range of reactions from men: shock, surprise, anger, remorse, and vows to do better. We’ve seen “apologies” from Harvey Weinstein himself (sexual harassment, sexual assault), actor Ben Affleck (groping), President George H. W. Bush (groping and terrible old man jokes), comedian Louis C.K. (forcing women to watch him masturbate), politician Al Franken (groping, kissing), and many many more who have been called out for their actions. We’ve seen a series of “apologies” from men complicit in the culture that allowed their friends and colleagues to continue to hunt and harass women, from Jon Stewart (who laughed off allegations against friend Louis CK last year), to podcaster Marc Maron, to actor Colin Firth, to sportswriter Drew Magary.

It’s the women, not the men, who catalog and remember which men to avoid, which men to run from, which men never, ever to be alone with.

I’m far from the first person to bemoan internet activism. You know, the kind of “activism” where you tweet out “thoughts and prayers,” share a relevant hashtag, or express your outrage about the topic du jour, then go back to whatever you were doing and forget about “the cause” entirely.

But look, women don’t need your insipid apologies, faux shock, and awe at things you’ve known about for years, or explanations that you understand so much better now because you have a daughter. If you, man who has been a creep in the past or has stood by and laughed while his friends were creeps, really want to help change the world, here’s what we need from you:

Recognize the toll this last month has taken on the women in your life.

Every woman you know has been sexually harassed in some way. Every single one. Yes, your mom. Yes, your wife. Yes, your great-aunt Edna. ESPECIALLY your great-aunt Edna. For the most part, women learn how to deftly avoid men who lean into them too forcefully on public transport, the guy who not only catcalls us on the street, but follows us for two blocks, trying to provoke a reaction, the boss who we’ve been warned to never, ever be alone with. It’s part of how we learn to navigate the world. There’s a reason we don’t go to public bathrooms alone, and it’s not because we want to gossip.

But recognize that for many women, there are far worse incidents of sexual misconduct in our lives. The guy who held us down and forcefully groped us on the back of the school bus while his friends cheered. The boss who stood in front of the locked door while he jerked off in front of us. The rapist whom we couldn’t fight off, no matter how hard we tried. Many of us have never spoken about these events to anyone. We’ve simply determined to put them away and not to look at them again. That’s how women survive the world of men.

But for the last month, with woman after woman coming forward with tales of sexual harassment and sexual assault that are far too close to our own, those memories have been banging against the locked door of our collective memories, begging to be let out, demanding to be heard, refusing to be ignored. But we are not celebrities, nor are our tormentors. There is no protection for us in the public eye. There is no benefit to us coming forward. We still fear not being believed. We still fear being destroyed by the truth.

For us, these are dark days. Kindness goes a long way.

Call out your damn friends and help us hold them accountable.

Want to know why feminists and non-binary folks are “always angry?” It’s because we’re sick and tired of having to be the ones to point out when men are being assholes all the time. This shouldn’t fall to one gender. Mocking and shaming sexist jerks should be a pan-gender pastime, like binging Netflix.

In the words of the immortal Albus Dumbledore, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” Look, we know calling out other guys is hard for you. Far easier to just not get involved, look the other way, pretend you don’t see your “friend” harassing women on twitter, catcalling them from cars, sharing nude photos of ex-girlfriends. Got a friend who is cornering a woman so she can’t physically get away from him at a bar? Watching a friend refusing to take “no” for an answer at a club? Witness a buddy anonymously groping women in public spaces? It’s easier to take another swig of beer and look the other way.

Of course, you’re free to take the easy way out, but don’t call yourself a “feminist” or an “ally” if you do. Know that every time you let your friends’ misogynistic behavior slide, you’re betraying every single woman in your life. Your silence and cowardice makes you part of the problem. Own it.

Be on our side.

Women will never understand the compartmentalization so many guys do when it comes to misogyny. A man can not simultaneously claim to respect women and, at the same time, carry on casual relationships with men who treat women like trash. Why was Mel Gibson, caught on tape famously berating and emotionally abusing his then-girlfriend, doing a cutesy little skit on supposed-ally Stephen Colbert’s Late Show? What was ESPN thinking in partnering with the openly misogynistic Barstool Sports? Podcaster Joe Rogan infamously called my radio partner, Maggie Hendricks, “all kinds of cunty,” then “apologized” by calling her a “bitch,” yet I see otherwise “good” guys wearing his t-shirts all the time. Chris Brown still gets booked on interviews and awards shows. Do we really need to get into R. Kelly? Donald Trump?

Women will never understand the compartmentalization so many guys do when it comes to misogyny.

The message misogynists have gotten from other men is one where they can be publicly hostile to women and still succeed in the professional world. And yes, there are certainly women who are willing to look the other way when it comes to the terrible behavior of men. But it’s men, by and large, who run every industry in the world. If men decided that there would be consequences for sexual assault and harassment, if men decided that public misogyny meant professional repercussions, if men made it clear that other men who harass and assault women would lose the support of their industry, it would end tomorrow.

Teach your sons to do better.

Be around when they interact with girls. Make it clear how you expect them to treat women throughout their lives. Expose them to women in positions of power so they learn not to be threatened, so that powerful women are normal to them. Talk to them about what women go through in male-dominated industries. Monitor their social media use and ensure that they aren’t engaging in online harassment. Don’t body shame in front of them. Don’t let them body shame in front of you. Treat every woman in their life with respect, even if it’s someone you don’t like. Praise successful women for their hard work and perseverance, even if it’s someone you don’t like. Criticize sexism when you see it. Teach them about internalized misogyny. Speak positively about feminism. Criticize men who don’t treat women well. Call yourself a feminist. Show your support for women every single day in some way.

Teach them to do better for all our sakes.

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