When Men Say #MeToo

Over the past several months, I developed a new morning ritual. I make my coffee, open my NYT app and then read with rapt attention about the latest man to be accused of sexual misconduct.

Given the rest of what’s going on in the news – the threats of nuclear war, lopsided tax reform, the repeal of net neutrality and mass shooting after mass shooting – our society’s growing intolerance for sexual misconduct and assault is a rare bright spot. I take simple pleasure in seeing men, particularly those in positions of unchecked power, face the consequences of bad behavior; I’m even happier to see that women are finally being heard and believed.

I understand why a lot of women don’t think this is progress enough. We, as a society, might be doing better – but better isn’t good. I agree with the women who want to create real, lasting change. But I also think it’s important to build momentum by celebrating every small victory along the way. So that’s what I do every morning: I tally up the all the wins that just a few months ago would have seemed unfathomable and then start my day knowing that at least one thing is trending in the right direction.

 

But there’s a downside to all this honest discussion. No sooner than people realize how horribly women have been treated and admit how widespread the problem is do they want to change the subject to something more positive. They want to gloss over this week’s high profile example and remind everyone that “not all men” think a bathrobe is an appropriate thing to wear around their colleagues. They want to talk about opportunities for redemption so that these men can rejoin the professional ranks of media and journalism and entertainment and begin contributing to our society once again.

I’m not willing to even entertain the possibility of such a thing right now – and I don’t know why anyone else is either. As Amber Tamblyn wrote in her op-ed for The New York Times:

Why do we need to talk about the redemption of men when we are right in the middle of the salvation of women? Not even the middle, but the very beginning? Why are we obligated to care about salvaging male careers when we have just begun to tell the stories that have plagued us for lifetimes? It seems some men like a revolution only when it’s their kind of war.

This is my kind of war. Some men don’t seem too happy with the way it’s going and they’re not quite sure what to do about it. Listening would be the obvious choice, but that’s not going to work for everyone. Some men seem to want to fight fire with fire.

“Us too,” they say. “Anyone – even a woman – can be a bully. Let’s talk about that too! Because isn’t that the real problem? Bullying?!”

No. Not really. Not at all, actually.

For men, #MeToo seems to be an opportunity to air grievances about emails they didn’t appreciate and opinions they didn’t agree with. When men say #MeToo, it’s to relive some perceived slight, like the time they were reminded that they needed to include receipts with their expense reports or were asked to order bagels for a staff meeting. They want to complain about how some boss lady came along and pointed out examples of laziness and incompetence when they had been allowed to be lazy and incompetent for, like, years beforehand.

That’s not what #MeToo is about for women. When women say #MeToo, we’re saying that we have been sexually harassed or assaulted by men we work for or with. We’re saying that we have been consistently discriminated against in the workplace. We’re saying that our work is devalued, our ideas are “stolen” and our results are diminished. We’re talking about getting passed over for promotions, getting paid less for the same work and getting saddled with administrative tasks and menial assignments long after we proved we’re capable of more.

Can men #MeToo to any of that? Not usually. Women can though. So if our male counterparts could just do us a solid and order the bagels just this once while we continue to beat the drum, that would be great.

If it sounds like I’m taking this personally, that’s because I am. Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen men in my network post comments on LinkedIn and Twitter laying claim to #MeToo or asking “When women?” Even if these men aren’t referring to me, specifically, I know that they’re talking about women like me. Women who have no problem saying, “I disagree,” or “That’s incorrect.” Women who explain their point of view politely four times to no avail and then finally shout, “You’re wrong!” on the fifth. Women who are sidelined and stymied, so they’re all but forced to bulldoze their way through, all the while screaming, “OUT OF MY WAY!” Women who, despite all that, still manage to get the job done and don’t seem at all concerned about the feathers they ruffled along the way.

That’s me to a T, and I don’t apologize for it – not even when I’m on the receiving end of a formal complaint. I’m not losing any sleep over a man who felt threatened by the use of capital letters in an email. I don’t care if someone got upset because I insisted on leading a meeting that was mine to lead. I don’t care that men think I’m “too direct” or that my tone is “blunt.” I consider it a public service to all women when I reply, “Good. I intended that.” What do they want me to be instead – uncertain and unclear?

But if the #MeToo movement is going to inspire lasting change, then I have to consider the possibility – however remote – that when men raise their hands, they aren’t just surfacing petty complaints about email etiquette, but actually alluding to serious accusations about women who create a hostile work environment. No one denies that those women exist; everyone who has worked for one will agree that they should be dealt with just as swiftly and harshly as the men we’re reading about in the news. If men are flagging the behavior of a tyrant, then they have my full support in playing the #UsToo card.

But here’s the thing, gentlemen: If you want to get in on this action, then you need to speak up. Not on Twitter. Not in LinkedIn comments. Not at the bar after work amongst yourselves. That sort of passive approach is what perpetuates the culture that women like me have long been railing against for years. You need to say something… on the record… to someone keeping track.

And if you can’t handle that – well then you can at least order me a bagel.

2 Comments
  1. yep, got that.

    My only concern is certain women who have this undying (and twisted) revenge on all men, and will dredge up incidents 20 years old to spring on someone, incidents (oh my god he tried to hold my hand when I was drowning) that really do not merit the term sexual anything.

    They throw a huge blanket of doubt over an entire process they have no involvement in. But they are on the bandwagon, and waving, which is what they wanted.

    I do think all of this coming out now will make men rethink their behaviors, and women reconsider just how important that job REALLY is at this point… folks are listening, at last, and paying attention.

    • Hi – so I agree with you. I don’t like a liar any more than a bully. Women who manufacture instances of harassment or assault only make it harder for women with real issues to be heard. Shame on them.

      But, at the same time, I hate when men use that argument as a crutch: “One time, an accusation like this was made and it turned out to be false! What do you think of THAT?” They, by the way, think they have me in checkmate. And I won’t deny they have a point, but it’s like… “Sounds like you got to the bottom of it. I’m glad the system worked.” I feel sorry for men (or women) who are wrongly accused… but that takes a backseat to my concern for women who have legitimate cases and have been ignored for decades. Also, if we’re going to talk about the damage done by false accusations and wrongful convictions, I got a list a mile long that I want to get through. The men who had the finger pointed at them and paid the steep price of having to talk to HR are way, way, WAY at the bottom of my sympathy well.

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