Is it just us or has it been really difficult to talk to some men these days about all of the sexual assault and harassment allegations that have been pinging around every single industry these days? It’s crazy, because while it can be triggering for some women and frustrating, it’s sort of interesting to watch most people actually *listen* to women and victims finally. But still, some of our male peers just can’t cross that cognitive divide and, instead of feeling empathy or quietly considering their past actions, suggest that there’s a “witch hunt” for men now. Luckily, there are some things you can say to men who are “scared” of being accused of harassment now that women are feeling empowered to speak out.
On some level, you have to feel for these dudes who seem to just really not get it. Not that they need or deserve our sympathy.
Like, it must be *really weird* to wake up one day and realize that women are whole humans who make up half of the world’s population and that you are not entitled to just do whatever you want with or to them. While we should probably demonstrate some compassion for the well-meaning and earnest men among us, good intentions mean exactly sh*t. It is total cowardly, lazy nonsense to be “scared,” for instance, of inviting a female colleague to the big business dinner with a client because men will be there, and they’ve decided the takeaway lately is that genders can’t mix without some sexual misconduct going down.
But telling them that they’re abso-freaking-lutely wrong (even though they clearly are) might not the best way to approach this kind of man, if you feel up to approaching them at all.
Funny enough, we’ve found that the men who are scared of being accused of harassment are sometimes seemingly “good guys” whom we sort of respected, maybe even cared about as friends. If men are shocked at the number of women who have been harassed and abused with this onslaught of allegations, we gotta say, we’re pretty disappointed in how many men in our lives are really missing the point. For every couple of actual good dudes, there are 10 more who are totally clueless.
According to the New York Times, there are men in Silicon Valley (one of the most sexist places in the country, TBH) who are cutting down on one-on-one meetings with potential investors or women in their business simply because they’re afraid of “female gossip.” Not only is this just missing the point, but career mentorship and colleague relationships are essential to getting ahead at work. So when men start to go all Mike Pence and ban women from lunch mentorships or teams, we’re all right back where we started. It’s like they’re implying that a woman’s main purpose really is to just be a sexual object and deep down, they don’t know if they have the energy to consider our humanity or safety — or they assume that it’s a woman’s fault for being assaulted by men they trusted, which is even scarier.
The men who are scared of being accused of harassment might not be serial harassers or abusers, but they definitely aren’t feminists or allies. If fear is their primary response to all the sexual assault news of late, that’s a clear sign they really don’t get that women are equal beings deep down in their hearts, even if they know that that’s what they’re “supposed” to believe. These are the sleeper misogynists. Sadly, with these kinds of men, women might not be the best messengers to relay the message (it’s up to men to call each other out, too) but if you want to give it a shot, here are some guidelines you can use.
1“So…women are people.”
When men say that they’re scared of being alone with a woman because they don’t want be to be accused of harassment, what they’re really saying is that they don’t fully #BelieveWomen. Although false reporting does happen — 2 to 3 percent of the time in the case of rape, for example, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center — maybe it’s better to focus on the many and not the few for now. For sure, as a culture we need to figure out a way to address false reports and how to handle them and the proper punishment for men who do harass, abuse, or assault women. But for now, it’s probably best for women to be given the benefit of the doubt.
If 75 percent of women are saying that they feel uncomfortable, harassed or abused by male coworkers, let’s listen to them. Another 49 percent report being harassed by a male customer or client. Men can’t tell women about what it’s like to be a woman in the world — they’re going to have to trust us. Much like we should trust any marginalized group when they tell us about their experience in the world. When a man says that he’s “scared” of being accused, what he’s really saying is that he’s scared women might have some power and that he’s not sure of our motives, like we’re some other mysterious species. Reminding them that we’re just people, too, is a decent start.
2“Women have been dealing with this forever.”
A lot of the guys who are scared of being accused of harassment are probably “cool” with disavowing rapists and serial abusers. Like, they know that pulling their genitals out at a work party is not a good idea and could define “consent” if they had to. They’re possibly struggling more with the microaggressions, such as touching a woman’s back as they head into a doorway or complimenting a female coworker on her dress. All these seemingly little things add up to major HR complaints. And they’re right: If they do these things, they need to stop and assess the situation, just like women do every single forsaken day.
Whenever women leave their homes, they think about how they act around men. We adjust the way we talk, consider our wardrobe, or the tone of an email every waking minute. This is because we don’t want men to “get the wrong idea.” It’s unfair, painful, and straight-up annoying, but that’s the deal until we get equal treatment. It’s not insane to ask men to do the same.
So before a male coworker or boss tells a female employee that a sweater “looks good on her,” which is objectifying language, they can stop and think about how that sounds. Women think about how their words sound all the time so that they don’t make a man assume they want to bone in the bathroom during lunch (although sometimes men aren’t great at inference and our efforts are moot).
But on the whole, men aren’t stupid. They can stop and think about how it would make them feel if someone called out how their body looked in clothing all the time. Would they tell their male coworkers that a particular hairstyle highlights their baby blues? Yeah, probably not. If you’re in a position of power over another person of any gender, thinking about what you say and do is essential, because there is no way to consent to a compliment or a hug if you have reason to believe that your job is on the line.
Being a human being means being compassionate and mindful about one’s actions and how they might affect others. Women don’t have to feel bad for asking men to stop and think before they speak and act. We do it all the time.
3They can phone a friend and ask.
Men who are well-meaning, actually considering their actions and are wondering if they’ve ever been sexist or made a woman uncomfortable can just ask someone. They should talk to their male friends but also, again, listen to women who are saying, “We don’t like this.” Really, a great gauge of whether a man should say something or not to a woman should be, for now at least, is something like, “Would I say or do that to my male coworker/friend/employee/bartender/salesperson/etc.?” If the answer if no, then don’t do it.
No one’s “coming” for men or oppressing them by taking away their “right” to view women as sex objects or inferior to them. They weren’t supposed to be doing that in the first place. It’s all going to be OK for men in the long run, just like it has been since the literal dawn of time. But yes, they need to have a little reckoning with themselves and their dude-bros in the immediate future. No one likes being told they’re wrong. We get it. But if you really want to be on the side of women, instead of focusing on your completely misplaced fear, maybe work on being strong enough for a little constructive criticism about how you speak and act around us.