Disclaimer: In the court of law, a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Most of the men mentioned below have not been found guilty. The court of public opinion, however, is driven by emotion, is often quick to judgement, and not always correct. That said, I’m like 90% sure these men are guilty of what they have been accused.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have heard that powerful men have had a bit of a bad month. Of course, if you’ve been living under a rock, there’s still a good chance Harvey Weinstein has ejaculated on it. Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, and even George Takei, as well as quite a few others, have been been accused of some combination of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and/or flat out rape. It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you are on, or if you’re gay or straight, or if you’re behind or in front of the camera. Artists, musicians, actors, directors, politicians, etc. Chances are, someone you respect or admire is actually a monster.
Men have been blindsided by these accusations. Reactions have ranged from surprise to shock. Women, on the other hand, have only been surprised and shocked at how blind to reality, men have been. Women have been dominated, humiliated, and subjugated by men in some way for… since the beginning of our species. Just because victims are speaking out now, doesn’t mean that this is a recent problem.
Also, it’s important to understand that only the famous people get on the news. For every one Louis CK, there are 100s of Joe Nextdoors. Statistically, most men don’t rape. Statistically, more, but still not most, men sexually assault people. But what about sexual harassment?
That’s the tricky one for men. Most men would agree, that it’s obvious you shouldn’t rape someone. Most men would agree that you shouldn’t grab a woman’s tits without her permission. But sexual harassment is a lot more vague, and can mean different things to different people. It is basically anything of a sexual nature that makes the victim uncomfortable. So a boss creepily offering to give his secretary a massage, or offering a promotion if she does something for him, or if he says something about how hot she looks, could all count as sexual harassment, to varying degrees. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who has not experienced this at least… 43523564356234523 times.
Which leads me to my point. Men tend to look at things like this very differently than women do. Think about the jokes that dudes make every time a female teacher is caught having sex with a male student. Want to say it with me? “Where were these teachers when I was in school?” To men, the idea of a women making herself sexually available is a positive, not a negative. A woman letting a man know that she wants to have a physical encounter, is flattering to us. Hell, I think most straight men want to at least be hit on by gay dudes. They don’t want to do anything about it, but would feel pride that even other dudes wanted to hook up. Women are not at all like that. There could very well be women reading this, who are horrified reading that last paragraph. It is absolutely foreign to them.
Most men will tell you that they are good guys, and would never do this type of stuff. Here’s the thing that a lot of people (not just men, but I’m mainly talking to men this time) don’t understand. Your concept of yourself may not match other people’s concept of you. You may see yourself one way, and those around you see you a completely different way. When that happens, they are correct. Who you “are” is who other people see. It doesn’t matter how confident you think you are, or how smart you think you are, or how smooth a talker you think you are. What matters is how confident, smart, or smooth talking other people see you to be.
Ironically, I’m going to paraphrase a Louis CK bit. He was talking about how it’s good to have friends to tell you when you’re being an asshole.
Friend: You’re being an asshole.
You: No I’m not.
Friend: Oh. My mistake.
It doesn’t work that way. The correct response to when being called an asshole is, “Oh no. What did I do now.” How others perceive you is more important and lasting than how you perceive yourself.
With that said, I’m going to tell a story. I don’t like telling this story because it puts me in a bad light. I’m embarrassed to talk about it. I’m also worried that my friends will see me differently. But all of us men (even the good guys) need to have a self reckoning.
We tend to think of things in extremes. A joke is one thing, sodomizing a waitress with a pepper grinder is another. But how do others interpret the joke? Or the pepper grinder, for that matter? That’s what we need to work on, as “good guys”. How are our words and actions seen by other people?
Back in the long long ago, I was in my early twenties and was recently promoted to manager. I was young and single. There were two women who worked there, in another department. They were both friends, and they were friendly to me. They were roughly my age. They taught me some Spanish phrases, and smiled at me.
I had a crush on one of them. They were both pretty, but one was super sweet and just adorable. One day, I told the friend that I was thinking of asking the other girl out, and asked for help with the Spanish. She wrote down “Quieres tomar un café conmigo?” which translated to “Would you like to have a coffee with me?”
I practiced and practiced my line. Finally, I got up the courage to ask the girl, and she said yes. We set a time the next week. I told a friend of mine, thinking she would be excited for me. Instead, she got a very strict face, and told me that I had made a horrible decision. In the end, the weather went bad, and I never had that date.
From my perspective, I was a single 20 something year old asking a single 20 something year old out for coffee. I hadn’t threatened her job. I hadn’t promised special treatment. I simply wanted to see if a relationship would blossom. My rank compared to hers never entered my mind. What I had failed to do, was take into consideration her point of view.
Everyone makes decisions based on their experiences. Humans are great at pattern recognition, that way. To women, they are so used to being sexually harassed, that they almost expect it. So when I asked this girl out, even though I wasn’t threatening or anything, she might have felt pressured to go. Now, I do want to point out, that I have no idea what was going through her mind. It’s completely possible that she was actually into me. But what if she wasn’t? That’s the question. Maybe she said yes just to get out of the awkward situation. Maybe she said yes, because she was worried I’d get her fired if she didn’t.
As men, we need to step up on this one. It’s time for us to evaluate what we say and do, not by our standards, but by the standards of those around us. One of the really smart things I’ve read lately, is that you shouldn’t say something to a woman that you wouldn’t say to the Rock. For instance you wouldn’t go up to the Rock and say “nice ass”. It’s a great starting point. The problem is when we DO treat women like “one of the guys”. Have you ever seen a beautiful young lady walk by and say so to your bro? Should you say the same thing in front of a woman? Probably not. I can think of a handful of times just off the top of my head, when I’ve made that mistake.
In the end, women have finally gotten the opportunity to tell us what they want, what they don’t want, and do so without repercussion AND be believed, for once. We should encourage that to continue. Don’t act like they are attacking masculinity. Use it as an opportunity to consider if you might be wrong. I know it’s a hard lesson to learn, but it’s an important one. The sooner all men get on board with this, the sooner we can have actors and not worry how many people they’ve sexually bothered.