My sons don’t know what to do about you. I mean, I have told them what to do about violence and harassment toward women, a lot, actually. They have listened to many female friends and cousins, and of course, me, too.
But when it comes to discussions, whether they are in a classroom, casual conversation, or among their friends, they have become silent.
Do you realize that the consequence of this movement, which has become part support group, has also become an arena in which people like my sons feel they cannot honestly take part without losing?
That is truly unfortunate and also dangerous. If we are to have a meaningful conversation about sexual subjugation, suppression and violence, the men have to be involved. Except as scapegoats and the occasional accessory, increasingly, they have not been. They have been silent.
These men are everywhere. Take the recent Golden Globes. While there were plenty of #Time’sUp pins on the lapels of the men in attendance, the men were largely silent. Seth Rogan, the moderator, made a few light comments about the situation in Hollywood, and then the show went on, punctuated by groups of women either celebrating that there were all female groups of award winners or doing little more than ranting, often, against men.
Is this the new version of gender equality?
I hope not.
Yes, it is true that women have been long marginalized from equal access, pay, recognition, and safety. In light of the exposure of the Weinstein violations, it is time for significant social and legal justice, and it needs to be publicized, not only because the stories need to be told, but also so that, to borrow the words of another human rights cause, “never again” should this sort of thing happen.
Those are worthy and necessary aspects to this. But it leaves the good guys out in the cold. Similar to many of the male attendees of the Golden Globes, my sons don’t know what to say or do right now.
They’ve seen the YouTube exposes of manspreading and mansplaining and Amazon selling the coffee mugs of Man Tears. They have had to listen to well intentioned (but still gender biased) diatribes about why girls are better during many school and team based events. They have girls on their high school sports teams, girls who are not merely tokens, but who get play time and respect in the locker room. This last part is all good, and it’s about time. But when it comes to discussion and the opportunity for making a contribution to the dialogue about gender equality, they have learned to be silent.
That’s because, depending upon who feels either perpetually watchful, irreparably victimized or generally justified in her “anger”, they feel that they can’t say or do much that might not be misconstrued. A month ago, there was a shortage of one chair in a classroom where Bigs attends high school. He pulled a chair into the classroom for his teacher in order to be a “gentleman”. I should say that Bigs is 6’1” and much physically stronger than his female teacher. He knew she could have done it herself, but he was raised to help others. She was having none of it and made a case of his comment that he was trying to be a gentleman, while, in reality, he was trying to be a “gentle man”. He came home confused and a bit frustrated. I tried to moderate this, after the fact. Should he have asked her what she wanted first? That’s always good form: asking a woman what she wants. But it left me understanding a bit more of what people like my sons are encountering these days, and I fear something important is being lost.
It would have been nice if there was a Bigs around when I was in 4th grade and a boy who had lots of problems at home ran by me in gym class and at the last minute, flailed his arms out to hit me, deliberately, in the chest. I wish there was a Bigs around when I was 16 and lured by a 19 year old to the back room of a deli where we were all hanging out after hours and who took some liberties with me that I won’t discuss here. I could have used having someone like Bigs with me during one of my first business trips when my boss suggested a walk on the dunes after a “business” dinner, and I wondered if the reason why I wasn’t promoted for a year afterwards was because I had declined. I could go on. I could make a list to add to the #MeToo hashtag queue. It all would have been much easier for me to have a strong male ally, but I handled all of that myself, and it hurt. Yes, it was hard and unfair. It made me a stronger person.
But those incidents didn’t make men my enemies, and they didn’t cloak me in a victimhood that I couldn’t remove.
French actress Catherine Deneuve recently wrote a response to the #MeToo movement in which she asserted that a clumsy romantic overture or being annoying doesn’t equal sexual assault. She’s right, and as a seventy year old former sex symbol, she should know. She also cautioned that women who cling too hard to their victim status are keeping women defined as the weaker sex. While the #MeToo movement has interpreted her letter as an attack or diminishment of legitimate complaints by victimized women, they believe they are exposing their attackers and proclaiming a new world order for women’s rights, but in reality, they are forgetting the world that we actually live in.
The sheer number of women who are objectified and hurt because of their gender is legion. That is not going to change based on a social media hashtag or the foregone conclusion by some so-called feminists that most men are pigs. The only thing that will change this dynamic is dialogue. Shaming and confusing men into silence and submission, or threatening them with an instant conviction in the court of public opinion, will only detach them from a conversation in which they need to be a party. Getting them to see women as human beings they can relate to, instead of mysterious creatures who will report or humiliate them, will only waste the opportunity that we have for us to connect and drive us farther apart.
If we truly want gender equality, as women, we have to let go of anger and vitriol and reach out with the parts of our bodies — our brains, our voices and our hearts — that appeal most to the countless men — our fathers, our friends, and our sons — who want to be our allies. A finger poised on a virtual hair trigger to scapegoat and alienate men won’t accomplish that. True, some men need to be told what they need to stop doing and what they need to start doing to help. Some women need the same direction, #ThemToo.