A few weeks ago, I was in a room with a bunch of older men when one of them made a horrific comment about sexual assault, specifically joking about Harvey Weinstein and using chloroform with the lights off to attack women.
Naturally, the rest of the men in the room lightly laughed off the comment with a few groans and the conversation moved on.
As the youngest person in the room, I was appalled – not only that it was a terribly distasteful and wrong-in-every-sense-of-the-word joke, but more so that here sits a man, probably in his 50s, that in one simple passing comment has made every other man in the room complicit with his thoughts and opinions about women.
None of us scolded him. None of us challenged him. We shrugged it off, ignored it, and kept moving forward. Maybe some of the men agreed with him, maybe some of them disagreed as strongly as I did. Whatever their opinions, none of us, including myself*, did anything to suggest that the man in his 50s’ opinion was not shared among the group.
I’m reminded of this situation when I read Oprah’s Golden Globes speech as well. In it she mentions men a few times:
“She was abducted by six armed white men, raped, and left blindfolded by the side of the road”
“She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men”
“For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.”
“…with every woman who chooses to say, “Me too." And every man—every man who chooses to listen.”
To me, Oprah’s speech hit home in a different way. We’re losing our definition of the word ‘men’. It’s becoming wrapped up in this catch-all bucket for despicable, power-hungry being that chooses to exert control over all others in society. And even when it’s used positively, the expectation for action is the lowest possible denominator – “listen”.
This, frankly, is bullshit. Not because Oprah is wrong in what she said (she is right), but because we as men are playing bystander as the world shatters and rebuilds before us, driven primarily by fearless women that are taking up the mantle on our behalf.
We laugh and shrug in the face of toxic masculinity when a man with more power in the room says something we disagree with. We are complicit, and we are perpetuating the negative stereotypes that #MeToo is trying to combat when we do nothing.
Every man should feel personally affronted and impacted when a fellow man says, does, or thinks things that demean women or those less powerful in society. Every man should feel their identity being usurped and their fathers’, uncles’, brothers’, sons’, and nephews’ futures becoming a little less bright every time another man says “a little Harvey Weinstein never hurt anyone” and we do nothing.
We shouldn’t have to make the case about why men should care when women are the explicit and implicit victims of our actions – there are plenty of strong females already making this clear. But if the ‘good’ men really think that listening is the best we can do to support and protect the women in our lives, then we’re already screwed.
It’s time we as men take control of our own identities and start actively changing our societal role and mindset for ‘being a man’. We got ourselves into this mess, and it’s going to be on us to get ourselves out.
*I subsequently took action with the appropriate people to make sure his comments get reprimanded.