To Men Who Call Themselves Feminists, But Don't Stand Up Against Sexual Harassment
As more people are coming forward to out predatory men in positions of power, self-described good guys are joining the conversation to condemn alleged perpetrators and denounce their peers' behavior. But, as actor and author Ambler Tamblyn wrote in her recent New York Times op-ed, women are not ready for the redemption of men. For many women, these rebukes, these apologies, feel like too little, too late. Too many men who are now speaking out have, in the past, done little when they witnessed or heard of women being sexually harassed or abused. I'm sorry to break it to you, but while it's always good to accept responsibility, speaking out after the fact does not automatically make you a good guy.
Don't get me wrong: men calling each other out, and men clapping back at their peers who have expressed — without a shred of irony — that they feel like it's difficult to be a man right now, is a step in the right direction, but it's not enough. Far from it: If men really want to be "good guys," they need to stop being paralyzed by the bystander effect, and they need to cut ties with alleged perpetrators who they may have previously considered friends. The bystander effect, when people are less likely to help someone they see being assaulted or harassed when others are present because everyone thinks someone else will do something, is a huge part of the problem.
Case in point: Producer Scott Rosenberg and director Quentin Tarantino, who both claim that they knew enough about Harvey Weinstein's alleged actions to know they could have done more to stop him. In fact, in an essay for Deadline, Rosenberg claimed that, "Everybody-f*cking-knew." Barnaby Southcombe, a director and producer, even tweeted that he would have likely stayed quiet in the same situation: "Wow. That rings scarily true. Ashamed to say that I [would] probably have done the same" — i.e., nothing.
In a statement published in the Times, Weinstein "apologized" for the way he "behaved with colleagues in the past," and blamed his behavior on coming of age during the '60s and '70s. Weinstein's lawyer at the time also issued a statement to the Bustle claiming that Weinstein "denies many of the accusations as patently false."
Since comedian Louis C.K. was accused of sexual misconduct, Vice published a story claiming that C.K.'s alleged behavior was an "open secret" in the comedy world, and stated that while other male comedians have addressed the allegations, many are treading lightly when it comes to openly condemning the comedian. "There’s still a fear among comedians that — even now — speaking out about this or having a strong opinion will damage you or backfire," Mike Drucker, a writer for The President Show on Comedy Central and formerly of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, told Vice reporter Eve Peyser. (In a statement released by his rep, C.K. said of the allegations, "There is nothing about this that I forgive myself for.")
No matter what reasons men have for staying silent, any repercussions they may suffer by coming forward in the moment is nothing compared to what survivors have to endure. Men have far less to lose by speaking up and intervening than women do. In a recent article in the Guardian, writer Zoe Williams asked, "Since men can raise their objections to sexual harassment without the risks that women face — of being branded hysterics or fantasists, or driven by envy — shouldn’t they use that freedom to better purpose?"
During a speech in Hartford, Connecticut, former First Lady Michelle Obama called out male bystanders, saying: "If we want young women to be strong and have voices and advocate for themselves, then we have to realize how much work we have to do,’’ she said. "And I’m talking to the men out there, who cannot be innocent bystanders and complacent […] watching this happen." And, mic drop.
While the spotlight is on well-known men accused of sexual harassment and assault, it's not just famous men who are accused of abusing their power. For every woman who has been sexually harassed or assaulted, there are men who stood by and did nothing — or maybe did not recognize that what was happening was harassment or assault. While most people would like to think they are the kind of person who would intervene, who would not just stand by when they witness someone being harassed or assaulted, the bystander effect proves otherwise.
Silence is compliance, and every time men stay silent when they witness women being harassed or assaulted, they are implicitly condoning the behavior. I'm sure most men would describe themselves as having integrity, But integrity is doing the right thing, even when it's difficult or uncomfortable — not after someone else has already taken that step.
If men really want to be allies, Twitter clapbacks are not enough. Speaking up after the fact is not enough, and condemning some behavior while excusing others is unacceptable. For men to be true allies, they must commit to speaking up when they witness harassment and assault happening. The Joyful Heart Foundation has posed a call to action for men to speak up when they see harassment and abuse happening with its #IWillSpeakUp campaign. The campaign also looks at some of the reasons too many men stay quiet.
"Institutions, corporations, and organizations typically approach sexual harassment, domestic violence, and sexual assault solely from a policy perspective," Malie M. Zambuto, national CEO of the Joyful Heart Foundation wrote. "But this approach keeps the problem contained within one area, like the human resources department. It also allows men who are not actively harassing, abusing, or assaulting to say, 'This is not my problem.' Those men can separate themselves from the 'incident' when in reality, they are the solution."
Joyful Heart is calling on men to break the culture of silence, and offers six actions for men who want to speak up, including reflecting on their own behavior and encouraging other men to do the same, modeling appropriate behavior, actively listening to women and validating their experiences, supporting survivors, speaking up when they witness harassment and abuse happening, and giving to causes that support women. If men really want to be good guys, being a true ally means saying "stop" to other men, and actively working to dismantle the culture of silence. Anything else is just noise, and lord knows we've already got enough of that.