How To Talk To Your Male Co-Workers About Sexual Harassment and “Me Too,” In Order To Really Create Change
Women across the country have brought the conversation about sexual assault to the forefront by uttering two simple words — “me too.” The Me Too Movement began over ten years ago when activist Tarana Burke realized young women of color needed an outlet to discuss their sexual trauma, and was recently given new life after actor Alyssa Milano popularized the phrase to raise awareness about sexual assault on Twitter, using a hashtag created by Amy Siskind, president of The New Agenda, a women's advocacy nonprofit. Both the movement and the hashtag have the same mission of encouraging open conversation and eliminating the stigma associated with sexual harassment and sexual assault. But many people have pointed out that the onus is on women to come forward with their "me too" stories, even though it's usually men who are responsible for sexual harassment in the workplace. As such, many people are wondering how they can talk to their male co-workers about the importance of the "me too" movement, so that they can shoulder some of the work of stopping sexual harassment.
Sadly, sexual harassment is commonplace for women in professional settings. According to a Cosmopolitan survey, one in three women experience sexual harassment at work. Out of the women who said they've experienced workplace sexual harassment, 29 percent reported the issue while 71 percent did not. But, as educator Jackson Katz put it, all these statistics focus on women who experience harassment, and not men who perpetrate it. Men must do their part to de-normalize a culture of sexual harassment at work. Starting a conversation with your male co-workers about the Me Too Movement can encourage them to become advocates for survivors as well.
Many men have expressed that they are “sorry” or “saddened” to learn about the women in their lives being sexually assaulted. Although empathy is important, it isn’t quite enough. Encourage your male co-workers to use their voice to uplift those who have survived a sexual assault. Retweeting and sharing articles can go a long way in educated everyone about the magnitude of this problem — and that way, this information will reach all of their male friends, family members, and colleagues as well.
There are also organizations that work directly with sexual assault victims that your male co-workers can volunteer for or donate. You and your co-workers can do a quick Google search for these organizations while you swap pleasantries at the company picnic. If your company takes part in a day of service or similar activity, suggest that the next one be used in support of one of these organizations.
Letting men know when they are perpetuating gender-based violence is also crucial. Do your co-workers make inappropriate remarks about how you look or send you sexual images on the company's Slack? Tell them if they're a part of the problem. Encourage them to step up next time they see it happen, too.
Remember, too, that while it's awesome if your co-workers are open to this convo, you might run into guys in your office who will try to derail the conversation because they feel threatened or for other reasons. You do not for any reason need to try to keep making the conversation happen with these guys; it's not worth your emotional energy to try to make a co-worker understand the nuances of gender and power over the water cooler. Similarly, you never have to disclose whether or not you posted the hashtag or have experienced harassment or assault in these conversations; your male co-workers can read stories from the many people who chose to share on social media.
Women shouldn’t be solely responsible for doing the work to end sexual assault. For female rape survivors, over 98% of the perpetrators were male, according to One in Four. Men who are truly appalled by this behavior can make a difference by just talking to the guy next to him, but you can start that chain of conversation. By speaking up, men can play an integral role in the Me Too movement — they just might need your push to get there.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.