There is no doubt that great strides have been made since Tarana Burke started the original “me too” campaign over 10 years ago — a movement that gained momentum after Alyssa Milano’s 2017 tweet using the hashtag went viral. As a result, the number of rapes and sexual assaults reported to the police in the US almost doubled, from 23% in 2016 to 40% the following year. A growing number of states are lifting the statute of limitations for sex crimes, and some are banning non-disclosure agreements for sexual misconduct cases. The Time’s Up Defense Fund has helped several thousand women get legal assistance to pursue sexual harassment complaints.
Overall, while there is much more to be done, the #MeToo challenge is making a difference. There is now a much greater awareness of where power resides, how women are affected by it and how, as Anna North sums up for Vox, “its impact — in statehouses, in court, and in the conversations Americans are having with one another — is undeniable.”
Are There Still Safe Passages Left for Men?
In my psychotherapy practice alone, women are talking much more openly about being sexually harassed or abused. As stories unfold, if they have not been personally affected by inappropriate actions of some type performed by men, with very few exceptions they have all known a friend or have had a family member who has suffered from sexual coercion, molestation, assault or other acts perpetrated against them by sexual predators.
Many of these women have been depressed for years regardless whether they have previously shared their stories or not. They often say they felt there was no way to return to a healthy mental state of mind because their complaints about inappropriate, and sometimes illegal, sexual behavior were scoffed at, minimized or totally dismissed by coaches, managers and others in charge. Hopelessness often has turned to despair as attempts to seek appropriate disciplinary action and justice have failed.
When all is said and done, women have really suffered from misogyny, which encompasses sexual harassment and abuse. Mothers, girlfriends, wives and friends have been at the mercy of men since time immemorial. Misogyny has reigned supreme, particularly since the meaning of the word has broadened. It no longer simply means “hatred” of women but now encompasses dislike of women, lack of trust in them, belittling and demeaning them, sexually harassing and abusing them, as well as any other ways women are put down or made to feel as lesser human beings than by some men in positions of power.
Then there is the unfathomable sex-trafficking industry that demeans women in unthinkable ways that rob victims of their dignity.
Yet, in spite of all that women have been forced to endure, can our wish for well-deserved retribution and justice vis-à-vis men who have mistreated or abused us cloud our views of all men? Could some people take things too far? Are there decent men who are now afraid to be polite, open doors for women, engage in conversations at work with women they don’t know, or pay the bill on a first date because they are anxious about saying or doing something offensive?
This thought recently occurred to me when I was having a discussion with a male journalist who said he was afraid to offer help women carry heavy objects, something he said he had always done as a result of his upbringing. This shift in attitude came about when he tried to open a door for a female friend who was carrying several bags. As he attempted to open the door for her, she said: “What, you don’t think I can manage to carry bags and open the door? Do you think men are the only ones who are able to manage two simple tasks?”
The polite reporter was taken aback by his friend’s response. He said to me that he was “gun-shy” now and added that he was leery of helping a woman in distress because of this experience. In order to help this man gain insight into his dilemma, I told him the key to solving his problem could be found in dialogue.
When in doubt, I suggested that he ask women if he could help, adding that it was probably most optimal not to assume they want assistance. As a gender, women, with few exceptions, are capable of doing most things men can do; some may like help with certain things, other women prefer to do things themselves. The answer lies in communication.
Nuances of Communication
In the example above, the reporter assumed the woman needed his help. If he had said, “Can I help you with those bags?” she may have said, “No, I’ve got it.” Or she could have said, “Thanks, that would be helpful.” It may be the presumption that she needed his help that led to her response. Going forward, when a man has the thought about helping a woman, it may be best to simply ask if she wants it without assuming that she needs it.
The same idea applies to paying for a woman’s drinks or dinner when on a date. If a man is generous and would like to pick up the tab, he might be used to saying, “I’ve got it” when the bill comes. If the woman he is with says, “No, I’d rather split the bill,” he probably shouldn’t insist on paying for her. Some women are leery of men paying their share of the tab, especially when they initially meet. They think there may be an expectation of providing a sexual favor of some sort if the man pays on a date.
Since that could be the case, it’s probably most optimal to let a woman pay for her share of the bill. If the relationship develops further, there will be plenty of time to talk about issues related to who pays for what.
If asking a woman if she needs assistance, what else might help change attitudes in the current patriarchal world in which we live? If we are to stop or slow down the pace of abuse of power, I believe we need a two-prong approach — something I’ve begun to think of as the need for double exposure.
First of all, acts of blatant misogyny, such as those associated with the #MeToo movement, need to be exposed; silence perpetuates problems and makes bad situations worse. The second part of this process involves the need to expose men to the real problems of discrimination and abuse that women face. We need to enlist men to help stop harassment, abuse as well as misogyny. By educating both men and women about all forms of this problem, we can hopefully get them to buy in and help.
We need men’s assistance in stopping the inequality that hampers further progress in our society. It can go a long way for a man to tell one of his male friends to stop saying denigrating things to and about women. Men have more to gain from furthering a cause that promotes respect and decency versus bigotry and inequity. It’s much more rewarding to help fight for a good cause than to support a system that lacks dignity and integrity.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.