The recent explosion of sexual harassment accusations against high-profile men and the outpouring of painful sexual harassment experiences in #MeToo messages on Twitter from women (and some men) across the globe have, as reported by Nellie Bowles, shocked many men into reflecting on their own behavior. My own partner, a devoted feminist, began to question whether any of his actions might have recently caused discomfort for a woman friend. In our discussions he agreed with a recent observation by Charles M. Blow of the New York Times that he (Blow) has male privilege because he is over six feet tall, weighs more than 200 pounds, and never has to think about being sexually assaulted or harassed. This male privilege can make him and other men blind or oblivious to the impact of their actions on women, even when they think they are just being friendly. Blow also makes the point that, as a man, being a good listener and understanding women’s experiences intellectually does not equate to having the lived experience of physical vulnerability and multiple occurrences of sexual harassment that many women have.

In another article, Blow challenges men to reexamine their cultural assumptions about toxic, privileged masculinity, starting with the obvious:

  • There is no sex without consent. Rape is not sex; it is rape.
  • Unwanted touching is not sexy; it’s assault.
  • Sexual advances in a work environment, particularly from those in a position of power, are highly inappropriate and possibly illegal.
  • In almost all environments, rubbing your penis against people, masturbating in front of them or showing your penis is wrong, humiliating, and possibly illegal.
  • If you become involved sexually with a minor, that is not a relationship or dating; it is exploitation of a minor and possibly statutory rape.

What can men do to stop sexual harassment and assault? Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe and Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times offer these suggestions:

  • Listen more to women and seek to understand their experiences.
  • Don’t be silent. Silence is the enemy. Speak out and stand up to other men.
  • Cut out “guy talk” in the workplace.
  • Think twice about hugging in the workplace. Shake hands instead.
  • Do not think that sexual harassment training is enough. Anti-harassment training is ineffective unless policies and procedures are changed to make it safe for women to report sexual harassment without fear of retaliation. Provide multiple reporting channels and follow up and act on reports.
  • Do not comment on the appearance of female coworkers when not saying the same things to male coworkers.
  • Fire the men who sexually harass as well as the men and women who are complicit.
  • Have dialogue with family and friends and stop sexist remarks, jokes, and behavior when you see or hear them.
  • Be more careful about corporate offsite meetings or social events. Some leaders are limiting the availability of alcohol and holding social events in the day instead of at night.
  • Do not avoid mentoring or sponsoring women. Behave respectfully and check in with women about whether they feel harassed or uncomfortable.

Charles Blow adds:

  • Every man must become a feminist and work hard to elevate gender equality and to eliminate gender violence.
  • Every man must do the hard work of expanding his understanding, empathy, and experience to become an ally of all women.
  • Every man must advocate for cultural and policy changes that would make women’s lives better.

Blow believes that real change will have occurred when ordinary, powerless, invisible women and men can speak up and press charges against harassers without feeling fear of negative repercussions. He goes on to note that society has nourished the dangerous idea that unbridled male aggression “is prized,” that “boys will be boys,” and that men are not responsible for their actions because “horny men cannot control themselves.” This is all “a lie,” he says. Men can control themselves. Our culture has to stop nurturing hostile masculinity—or the courts will have to do it for us.

Is your company reexamining its own thinking and practices more carefully? Let us know what efforts your organization is making to create a healthier workplace.

 

Photo by Kreg Steppe, CC BY-SA 2.0.