By Rob Carpenter
I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with men’s silence toward the #MeToo movement. At first, I thought the silence was because men wanted to actually listen to women’s stories of being sexually assaulted, harassed, demeaned, ignored, and taken for granted.
But this thought was wrong.
Over the last several months, I have had various conversations with men about their perspective on #MeToo. And what I’ve found has been disheartening to say the least.
Now please don’t get me wrong: it’s not that most of the men I’ve spoken with disagree with the movement. But they don’t necessarily strongly agree with it either.
Most men are caught somewhere in the ‘indifferent’ middle, unaware of what they should say or do and generally unwilling to put much thought into how they can help the women in their lives navigate a society rigged with sexual traps.
Most of these “middle men” have one of two perspectives: 1) that they are personally ‘good guys’ who would never harm a woman or 2) that as men they have to be extremely careful about any comment or action they make toward a woman because it could backfire and land them in hot water. A small minority of these middle men have even blamed women, suggesting that some women knowingly put themselves in precarious situations with powerful men to advance their careers.
But even if there is some ‘logic’ to this thinking, this perspective nevertheless is totally selfish because it still focuses on how men feel instead of the often systemic and invisible oppression many women are put through on a regular basis. It takes attention away from women who have been actual victims and re-focuses it on the men who are ‘good guys’ or the potentially tiny group of hyper-ambitious women looking to get ahead by putting themselves out there. This perspective makes middle men out to be “victims” or at the very least innocent bystanders, and personally let's us off the hook for having to help right this wrong. And once again, women’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and everyday experiences are being dismissed and diminished by middle men who simply cannot stop thinking that life is all about us.
While most middle men generally do not wish for a woman to be assaulted by the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, they seem not to understand that the way they think about, talk about, talk to, and treat women is very patriarchal. Middle men have simply been programmed this way, and confuse their patriarchy with masculinity. It subconsciously starts by calling females “girls” instead of “women” and progresses to behavior bordering on unwanted sexual innuendo, uncomfortable physical touch, and sometimes much more in and out of the workplace.
Middle men, we need to wake up. Despite thousands of years of male supremacist culture in most societies, we need to re-write the rules of masculinity. And we need to re-write the rules for how we think about and interact with the women in our lives.
Masculinity is not watching sports or lifting weights or driving cool cars or fixing things. Masculinity is not addiction to porn or hyper aggressive “alpha” behavior in our work or personal lives. Masculinity is not listening to hip hop or hard rock. And masculinity is not trying to consciously or subconsciously manipulate women into behaving like little toys or robots to serve our pleasures, insecurities, emotional needs, or personal ambitions.
Masculinity is something else entirely.
Over the last few months, I have heard various middle men say that they “no longer feel comfortable making a pass at a woman.” That they are “terrified” about their past interactions with females being “exposed.” I even heard some blatantly say that they want the new “sex robots” to come out more quickly because they obey and do not talk back.
This is not masculinity. This is weakness.
Middle men, we have grown so accustomed to male supremacist culture that we would rather make the statements above than acknowledge the fact that we should change our behavior and genuinely treat women as real human beings, equal to (and most of the time surpassing) ourselves in talent, education, work ethic, interpersonal skills, and personal ambition.
Middle men, we have grown so accustomed to male supremacist culture that we would still rather pay women much less (in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and generally every corner of society) than change our behavior and stop discriminating against women.
And middle men, we have grown so accustomed to male supremacist culture that we would rather assume that #MeToo is just another fad and that we can put our heads in the sand until it fades away.
Middle men it is time for us to stand up and be real men. It is time for us to stop thinking of ourselves as conquerors or as victims. It is time for us make empathy and love for others our highest priority, especially for women. It is time for us to fight alongside of the women in our lives. It is time for us to acknowledge that life is about more than just us. It is time for us to get out of the indifferent middle and take sides. And it is time for us to realize that the most masculine thing we can do is to finally be supportive of all the women in the world who for thousands of years have always been so supportive of us.