Hallelujah! #MeToo is not only sticking around, but inspiring campaigns against sexual harassment like #AfterMeToo and the celebrity-driven Time’s Up campaign, which took center stage at the Golden Globes. In the past, our flea-like attention spans have shifted us from one issue to another with relative haste, so there was some doubt we would sustain our collective interest of #MeToo. Hopefully, this signals a sea change. A point where we have finally had enough.
Much of the media coverage and discussion has understandably focused on assisting people once they have disclosed abuse or harassment, or drawing lines in the sand around what one can and cannot say or do in the workplace. The support for survivors coming forward is unprecedented. They don’t have to be alone or feel ashamed anymore.
And while that is really necessary and very important, we also need to talk about the bigger issue behind it all: a culture that not only enables, but often encourages this behavior in the first place.
Bro culture; locker room talk; cultural holdovers from an earlier time—it doesn’t really matter what name you give it. The fact remains that this behavior stems from a long history of male dominance that has informed our present-day definition of manhood, which requires men to be dominant in every aspect of life—be it professional, personal, or social. This same power dynamic is also the root of domestic and sexual violence. It may manifest somewhat differently in cases of workplace harassment, but have no doubt of its origin.
From Harvey Weinstein’s, “I came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different” to Congressman Trent Franks’ (Arizona), “I clearly became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others,” perpetrators are telling us how our culture allowed them to commit these crimes and justify their behaviors.
Not all of us contribute to this culture, but we all have the choice to sit idly back and accept it, or stand up and do something about it. The focus on helping those who have suffered harassment and abuse and giving them a voice is a necessary and worthwhile first step. But it will not stop the behavior. In order to end sexual harassment and all forms of gender violence, we must change the sexist attitudes that enable and excuse abusive behaviors.
From Harvey Weinstein’s, “I came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different” to Congressman Trent Franks’ (Arizona), “I clearly became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others,” perpetrators are telling us how our culture allowed them to commit these crimes and justify their behaviors. Bill Cosby made jokes about drugging women in order to rape them. Louis CK made jokes about masturbation. They covered up their abusive behaviors as comedy, and for too long, many of us laughed, or looked the other way. It was not until scores of women came forward, did we decide to condemn the behavior of these men.
Now that we have seen what perpetrators will do when we stay silent, we cannot claim ignorance. We all have a responsibility to shift this culture that tolerates harassment and violence—the demeaning jokes, the bias towards men in the workplace, the notion that women and girls are weaker, the idea that it’s ok to touch someone (usually a woman) you don’t know well, and so on.
As we stand by the brave survivors that speak out and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, we also need to focus on changing the narrative and create a culture where harassment and violence are unacceptable.
What does that mean?
- When you hear a joke that minimizes rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment, call it out. By downplaying the significance of domestic and sexual violence, you are minimizing the experience of the victim and setting the stage for a perpetrator to justify his/her behaviors.
- Instead of saying that someone is “too sensitive” when they are upset by a comment you’ve made, say “I’m sorry. I crossed a boundary and I won’t do that again.” Often times we feel embarrassed and don’t want to admit when we have crossed a line with someone. Everyone has different boundaries and we need to respect that. Before you say someone is “too sensitive,” look at your own behavior and correct it in the moment.
- When you hear a story about domestic or sexual violence, remember to focus on the perpetrator. In the wake of #MeToo, a significant amount of the conversation has surrounded the survivor or victim’s behavior—why didn’t they leave, why didn’t they speak up earlier, they are being too sensitive. Instead, we should be questioning the perpetrator and those in a position to intervene—why did they sexually harass a coworker and how did the people in power let them get away with this behavior? Consider those questions instead.
Changing culture is more complex and time-consuming, conceptually harder to understand, and oddly more discomforting to discuss because it forces us to look at our own behaviors. But it’s time we embrace the momentary discomfort and look at what we can do everyday to shift the culture to help create a world where there’s #NOMORE domestic and sexual violence and harassment.