First, I want to say that I am genuinely curious. I am asking this question from only the most loving and open-minded place. I am not accusing anyone of anything, and I honestly don’t want anyone to feel defensive.
I am simply fascinated by the complete and utter radio silence from the vast majority of men when it comes to the ongoing sexual harassment stories we are hearing about in the media.
And I want to understand.
I started thinking about this question last fall, not too long after the story about Harvey Weinstein first broke. The sheer number of years and appalling nature of all of the claims of sexual harassment against him were hard to digest. But then more stories started coming out about other men.
One after another, women were feeling empowered to come forward and report their own experiences of being sexually harassed by men in a position of power. The last time I checked, the count was up to more than 50 men whose names we would all recognize. That was before the holidays, and I can think of a handful who have been added to that list just within the last week alone.
I started thinking about this question back when our president had his infamous conversation with Billy Bush on board a bus. A conversation which saw Bush getting immediately fired from his position at NBC, while Trump went on to win the presidential election. Most people agreed that Trump’s comments were reprehensible, and there was a lot of rolling of the eyes and denouncing of his words from most people I know—men included.
But I wondered about the “locker room talk” aspect of the story. I absolutely do not believe that any conversation like that one is acceptable. But do men have a different experience? Are they brought up to believe that if there are only men around, then it’s perfectly okay to talk like this (even if not to this extreme)? There has to be an origin for that phrase, locker room talk, so I’d really like to know—what is, and is absolutely not, considered okay to talk about when it’s just the guys?
I wondered about it at the time, but like anything else, that question faded into the background as time passed.
Then the long-overdue topic came back full-force this fall, starting with Harvey Weinstein. Again, with his scandal, I saw a collective shaking of our heads and rolling of our eyes, but I definitely felt somewhat removed from the conversation. I wasn’t familiar with Weinstein, outside of recognizing his name from the film industry.
So it seemed like the people I knew—men and women—were happy about a lech like him getting his comeuppance, but assumed that this story would eventually fade into the background, too. Even though it had shined a much-needed spotlight on an issue that most women have dealt with at some point in their lives.
But then—thank goodness—women felt empowered. And they came forward. In droves.
Every day, it was another conversation, and sometimes more than once a day:
“Did you hear about so-and-so today?”
“Oh my gosh, you’re kidding!”
“Did you hear about so-and-so today?”
“Not him! I love his show! Ugh!”
“Did you hear about so-and-so today?”
Somewhere in the middle of all of these stories emerging about what women have had to endure for years, the silence began.
While at first, it seemed like the reactions consisted of disgust, eye-rolling, and conversation, it didn’t take long for those reactions to evolve into less outrage and more shaking of the head—and then quickly moving onto the next conversation.
Women created the #MeToo movement, and some men seemingly moved on. There were some men who shared their own MeToo stories, and some others wrote about their support for women in coming forward and speaking out. But it seemed like they were the exception.
Is it because they were afraid of saying the wrong thing? Are you? I can think of a few male celebrities who spoke out about it and received some backlash for their opinions. Is that why there is silence?
That much, I absolutely understand. For a long time, I was silent about my own white privilege and the rampant racism in America. Because I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I wasn’t sure I had the right to say anything. Who am I to talk about racism when I’ve lived the privileged life I have?
But Charlottesville and Brené Brown finally made me break my own deafening silence. I was outraged over what I witnessed happening at the hate rally on television last August, and I wanted to speak out, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what words to use or what to say, and I especially didn’t want to say anything that would hurt anybody out of my naivete.
And then Brené Brown went on Facebook Live to help us process and navigate our feelings about what we were witnessing in Charlottesville. And while she was speaking about racism and white privilege specifically, this part of the conversation was what really stuck with me:
“If you talk about it, you are inviting a sh*tstorm. Because you will not do it perfectly. And some people will use your imperfection and trying to have real conversations as a weapon. That’s okay. Because to opt out of the conversation, because you can’t do it perfectly, is the definition of privilege…because you can walk away from the conversation. Because you’re not affected by it the minute you wake up…”
As soon as I heard her say those words, I knew it was true. And I applaud the men who are speaking out about MeToo and TimesUp—even if they are doing it imperfectly and inviting a sh*tstorm.
Last week at The Golden Globes, the ongoing silence became deafening. Everyone wore black. And wore their “TimesUp” pins. And almost every woman on the red carpet and on stage spoke out about the TimesUp campaign.
But the men—most of them, anyway—were noticeably silent.
I watched The Golden Globes with my best friend, and we were so moved by the women’s speeches, tearing up almost every time another woman spoke her truth.
And spoke our truth for us.
And when Oprah got us on stage and gave her speech to end all speeches? It was full-on Ugly Cry time. It was a pivotal moment for all women. I am so happy that my teenage daughter came into the living room as soon as the speech started, and saw how it affected my best friend and me.
I am not the only one to notice how silent men have been about it, as there have been numerous articles written about it this past week. Knowing that the majority of men I know don’t watch The Golden Globes, I wondered if they watched Oprah’s speech the next day, or sometime this past week? Were they at all compelled to understand why their wives and sisters and daughters were crying? Why it meant so much to them? Why it made the headlines the next morning on the news? Were you curious? Would you watch her speech now?
So, men, this is where I want to create an actual conversation—an open and honest dialogue about what your personal experience has been. Without defensiveness or judgment or accusations.
I want to know if you’ve been silent, or if you’ve been one of the few speaking out? If so, what is influencing you in making that decision?
Please share your respectful comments below—or better yet, write your own article and tell us in your own beautiful, imperfect words why you’ve been silent or outspoken.
I am inviting the sh*tstorm so that we can have a real conversation about a subject that moves the women in our country to tears.
Because we don’t have the privilege of opting out of the conversation.
Photo credit: Getty Images