What Men Need to Learn from the Sexual Harassment Epidemic

Years ago, I worked at a major sports network in the Northeast. It was filled largely with young, virile men who talked sports, talked trash and got drunk a lot. We were young and the environment outside of work often had a frat house quality to it. Even the work environment felt that way sometimes. I can recall an instance where a young women was starting work there and I was asked to show her around the complex. As I took her into the newsroom I remember seeing many pairs of eyes shift over to her, look her over and silently judge her based on her looks. That moment always disgusted me.

I remember another more overt instance where a well-known anchorperson took a liking to a pretty, young woman who had also just been hired. This popular anchor repeatedly came over to her and told her how he liked her shoes, her hair, her smell. It clearly made her uncomfortable, as it would anyone. It wasn’t right that she had to suffer those types of comments simply because he was in a position of authority and she was not. It sickened me and I asked her if she wanted me to say something to that man. She didn’t, so I stood down. But for all good guys everywhere, it’s now time for us to stand up.

Every time you turn on the news these days you’re likely to see a story about another once powerful man brought down by allegations of sexual assault or harassment. It is disturbing, disgusting and demoralizing.

And someone — I can’t remember who — recently remarked that this is more than a turning point for women. Truly, it’s a turning point for men.

That got me thinking about how we, men, can take this issue and make something good come out of it. How can we focus down on this issue in our own lives to make a difference in our communities, our workplaces and our homes? These types of moments come along every once in a while, when a seismic shift in thinking occurs, allowing people to make a specific demarcation in the way we live. Before this time, women were routinely sexually assaulted in the workplace or elsewhere and after this date, people woke up and realized that type of locker room behavior was simply not ok.

This is one of those moments and we have a chance to be on the leading edge of change by advocating for better treatment of women, behaving better in our own lives and passing those lessons on to our impressionable children.

I can wax philosophical about how this type of male-dominated attitude from men was tolerated for so long but instead I’d like to focus on a few things that we can do starting today to make sure we’re learning from this tawdry behavior and doing what we can to prevent it in the future.

First, we need to speak up. Those of us who are good guys, who don’t treat women like objects and don’t grope and grab them or leer and make obscene or suggestive comments, need to call out those men who do. We all have those guy friends or acquaintances who see nothing wrong with verbally letting women know they like what they see or get grabby with women. It’s not ok to sit idly by and allow that kind of stuff to go on in our presence. We have to find the stones to stand up and tell our “buddies” to knock it off. It’s not about trying to be a woman’s knight in shining armor. It’s about standing up for a fellow human being who is being mistreated. It can be challenging. These instances might occur in the workplace by a boss or superior and calling him out might be detrimental to your career but, if at all possible, it needs to be done. And if it can’t be done out in the open, there might be other ways to address it behind the scenes with Human Resources or another manager.

Second, we need to take a profound look at how we behave in our lives. If this moment has taught us anything it’s that what one person might consider harmless wordplay or appropriate touching is anything but. For many men, especially those in powerful positions, their power came with unspoken benefits. That time is long past and should have never occurred in the first place. It’s abhorrent to think that someone will respond to your advances simply because of who you are or what you say you can do for them. It’s revolting. If we each think back across the arc of our lives I’d bet that we can find a moment or seven when we might have said something that was untoward or unacceptable to a person that caught our eye or maybe we lingered too long during a brief touch that made the other person feel uncomfortable. Let’s choose to investigate those moments, learn from them and promise to never let them happen again.

Third, we need to question the impact of porn on our young men. I was brought up like many young men, with a deep desire and respect for women. I love the female form and I grew up in an era before the internet but where pornogrpahy was still an insidious part of life. From my early teenage years, I had access to porn and, looking back, I can see where my desire to seek out these oftentimes lurid pictures might have had an effect on the way I viewed and objectified women in my life. Look, all young people go through phases of exploration and seeking in their formative years. It is who we are as a species. However, there are ways to discuss those things with your kids so that they keep things in perspective and understand that what they see online or hear about from their friends is not necessarily real life and it certainly is not indicative of appropriate behavior involving women.

Fourth, we must set a good example for our children. I have two sons and I want them to grow up knowing that women are not to be objectified or mistreated in any way. Women are not playthings that they can pursue for prurient interests. Women are people, like everyone else, deserving of respect and should be seen as equals. Period. This truly begins with how we treat our wives and other women in our lives. If we speak to our wives in a demeaning or hurtful or aggressive way, our children will reflect that behavior. We need to set the example in the four walls of our homes. If you have daughters, you need to teach them that they are worthy of respect and proper treatment. Anything less is unacceptable.

This is a turning point and it can be a moment when we give ourselves and succeeding generations the power to be better and learn from the mistakes of the past.

 

(Photo by Thomas Hawk on Foter.com / CC BY-NC)

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