Like with any good viral internet sensation, there has been some pushback against the #MeToo campaign.
The “Me Too” concept was originally created 10 years ago by activist Tarana Burke as a way to reach out to, and support, sexual assault survivors. However, the recent #MeToo hashtag movement has been called out for putting the onus on women, once again, to convince the world of the reality of rape culture, while men stay conspicuously silent. The argument is that women have talked about it enough. Men know by now. All men should know by now.
While I would agree with that, I also think that men don’t often consider it in the context of their reality. Sure, they know it exists. However, their perception of harassment and assault is often in its most extreme form (rape, abuse, or murder). This leads them to overlook the more frequent and insidious types of harassment.
Episode seven in season one of the critically-acclaimed TV show Master of None addresses this precise lack of awareness of the everyday sexism and harassment women go through.
In one scene, the show demonstrates how a man walking home at night is simply walking home at night, while a woman walking home at night is clutching her phone with “9-1-1” ready to be called as she tries to out-walk a guy who follows her home from the bar.
Lead character Dev is genuinely shocked to hear about the creepy guys the women in his life encounter. But men like Dev are only unaware because, well… male privilege.
Privilege allows you to not concern yourself with systemic oppression that does not affect you. For example, someone who doesn’t like to keep up with the news because they find it “depressing”, is only able to do so because all these horrible things happening around the world do not affect their lives — so, they can choose to ignore it.
Men may be aware of the challenges faced by women, they might even feel bad about it, but it’s something they can choose not to pay attention to because they don’t have to live that reality.
Dr Jackson Katz, an activist and educator in gender violence, said in an interview with Liz Plank of Divided States of Women that, “A lot of men will say, ‘I’m a good guy/This isn’t my problem/I don’t rape women/I don’t abuse my girlfriend’, and I’ll say, ‘You know what, I think we need to raise the bar a little higher for what it means to be a good guy’… Just saying ‘I don’t rape women’ or ‘I’m not a rapist’ is not particularly impressive to me.”
Let’s be frank: If all women have been harassed at least once in their lives (while this may be hyperbole, we can at least confirm that there is not a continent on earth without sexual harassment), then it’s safe to say that a significant number of men have been doing the harassing.
It’s time for men — the good men, the ones who want to be allies — to speak up. It’s not enough for them to simply express their sympathy anymore. They need to join in the conversation, and change their attitudes and behaviours. They should reflect on the ways they may have been, or continue to be, complicit in sexist culture. It’s time for men to recognise the different forms that harassment may take. It’s time for men to own up to and apologise for times where they have partaken in harassment without realising it as as such.
A Facebook post by a man named Indigo Nai went viral for his very honest account of the number of times he’d crossed the line with women in the past:
“I have a list. It isn’t long, but it’s not good. And like most men, my list is probably longer than I’d like to think. My history ranges from kissing acquaintances without warning to treating silence as if it was consent, to being more aggressive while intoxicated than I am while I was sober. I pursued women I wanted to the point of their emotional exhaustion, to the point where it was easier to give in than keep re-stating their boundaries. I penetrated a new partner without a condom once. A long time ago, I gave a friend enough champagne that her ’no’ became a ‘yes’. It wasn’t a yes the next morning.
“Those last two, for everyone seated in the back, count as sexual assault. At least. Which means that I have sexually assaulted women. Whether we know it or not, whether we allow ourselves to admit it or not, every man has a list of times that he has violated a woman’s boundaries. Men are raised in a society that teaches boys that they are entitled to have access to women’s bodies.”
Boys have been taught to define masculinity by how successful they can be at accessing female bodies. They are taught that “locker-room talk”— the kind of boastful and crude banter that often objectifies and disrespects girls and women — is just “boys being boys”.
Last week, I ran into a male friend who told me how disturbed he was after reading my account of sexual harassment, as well as The Scoop co-founder Ain Bandial’s Facebook post on her own experience of and thoughts on sexual harassment.
As a man who doesn’t identify as a harasser, but admitted to not speaking up against sexist chatter around him, he asked me, “What can I do?”
Firstly, men need to stop seeing this as a women’s issue. Most harassment against women and other men are perpetrated by men. This is a male problem.
Secondly, men need to check themselves. You may think you’re a good guy, but you should still revisit your life so far, and be honest about the times you may have behaved in ways that made women uncomfortable. Be accountable. Make amends. Tell your friends.
Thirdly, check the men around you. How have you let women down by turning a blind eye? Learn the bystander approach. If you’re getting a bad feeling in your stomach about a situation happening right in front of you, intervene.
And lastly, if you want to be pro-active, instigate conversations with the boys and men around you. Teach them to be respectful of women. Teach them to protect women. Normalise this. If you’re a school teacher, adopt “consent classes” into your curriculum. Even if you’re not a schoolteacher, be a teacher to those around you. Find ways to make an impact. Don’t DM me and tell me you feel bad – write a Facebook post about it. Be open. Be visible. Be loud and be heard.
This is part two in a three-part essay on sexual harassment written by Tiwin Aji, a Brunei-based writer and comedienne known for her popular web series, #WinnieonWednesday. She also writes a fortnightly advice column on The Scoop called ‘Winnie Wisdom’.
For part one, click here.