A Role for Men in the #MeToo Movement

Men MeToo August 20, 2018 By: Richard Stimac

A rising tide of women’s voices has brought to light widespread sexual harassment in workplaces and the continued power imbalance between men and women across institutions. Men have responsibilities in bringing change. Here are four things men can do today to take part in the #MeToo movement.

The #MeToo movement supposedly has created a confusing time for men: What are men to do in a world where women speak up? Part of the problem is that men are not significant participants in the conversation, particularly when talk turns to solutions. The voices have rightly been women’s, but there are two parties here: women and men.

Of course, men are almost always the harassers and women their targets. But when we hear about remedies, they usually focus on what women or organizations need to do to protect themselves, prevent sexual misconduct, or hold harassers accountable. We’re less likely to hear about what men need to do.

Specifically: Men need to stop harassing women.

That’s the real solution, because that’s the real cause. Notice where such a statement puts the responsibility: on men—not boards, not executives, not lawmakers (all of whom are predominately men, it should be noted).

A man might justifiably feel excluded from the #MeToo movement—which, after all, is primarily made up of women commenting on men’s behavior. But there are ways for men to join the movement, using their voices and their power to bring about change. These are four things that men in any position can do:

Accept the power imbalance. Accept the fact that, generally speaking, men have more power than most individual women. Yes, there are powerful women. Yes, some women abuse power. But in general, in the world we live in, men are at the controls. Men control more legislatures, more companies, more institutions of all kinds. And in general, men are physically stronger. Such a stance might be criticized as making women into victims, but the power imbalance between men and women is the foundational fact of the world that the #MeToo movement addresses.

When a male colleague makes a sexual comment about a female colleague, don’t be proud that you didn’t laugh. Challenge the behavior of other men.

Acknowledge women’s experiences. Keeping in mind the imbalance of power between men and women, accept that when a woman says a man treated her poorly, it’s probably true. Believe her. Realize that most women have at some point worried about being sexually assaulted when walking to their car alone at night. Or wondered if a new boyfriend will be respectful or abusive. Consider that, as a man, you would never in your wildest imagination worry that your boss would invite you to his hotel room and then make a crude sexual advance. Your female colleagues face this possibility and sometimes the reality. Simply acknowledge that.

Act in a positive way. Some men have suggested that the #MeToo movement has created confusion about how they should behave toward women, as if commenting on a colleague’s body or suggesting that a subordinate sleep with you are gray areas that HR departments have failed to address. Men know what good behavior is. It’s the “what you learned in kindergarten” type of behavior. Don’t hit. Don’t call people names. Don’t make others cry. Leave people alone when they want to be left alone. And there’s a higher standard as well, one that calls for more courageous acts: When a male colleague makes a sexual comment about a female colleague, don’t be proud that you didn’t laugh. Challenge the behavior of other men.

Advocate for basic human rights. The #MeToo movement is about basic human rights. The right not to be touched without consent. The right not to be coerced. The right to be left alone. Our laws limit the power of the government and other private citizens to touch us or follow us around or force us to do something we don’t want to do, but a different standard often applies when women complain about men’s unwanted behavior. That conduct is often accepted as “the way of the world” or “how men and women interact.” A woman reporting harassment is told she is being too sensitive.

If we accept that men have more power than women and that women have a legitimate claim to better treatment, and if we believe in basic human rights and dignity, then men are compelled to speak up and join the #MeToo movement—not as men advocating for women, but as human beings advocating for better treatment of our fellow human beings.

Author’s Note: I dedicate this article to my daughter. I don’t want her to live in a world where she receives special treatment but a world where she receives equal treatment.

Richard Stimac

Richard Stimac is CEO of Mira Smart Conferencing in Clayton, Missouri.