It’s been five months since #MeToo was trending.
At the time, I saw a lot of men expressing support and asking what they could do.
I don’t see those questions being asked now.
Women haven’t forgotten. We don’t have the luxury of forgetting.
I hope our male friends and supporters haven’t forgotten either.
Five months ago, you wanted to know what you could do to help. I wasn’t in a place to give advice on that at the time. Waking up to a new story almost every day took a toll on a lot of us. It was worth the temporary ding to my mental health, but it was hard.
Now I’m ready to give you that advice you wanted. (And, remember, you asked the question.)
What can men do?
1) Listen without judgment.
When someone tells you about their experiences, it puts them in a vulnerable position. You have the ability to inflict real damage on that person.
Don’t play the, “If it’d been me . . .” game. It wasn’t you, and you don’t know what you would have done.
Don’t ask accusatory questions. Don’t start in on how you think she may have misinterpreted something.
Don’t dismiss experiences that don’t meet the legal definition of rape as if those experiences somehow aren’t as traumatic.
Don’t talk about how we’re all sinners or that everyone deserves forgiveness. This isn’t the time.
Just be quiet and listen.
2) Remember, it’s not about you.
One reason (of many) that some survivors don’t speak up is because of the reaction they get when they do.
I’m not talking about victim blaming here. I’m talking about that horrified look people get on their face when you tell them what you’ve been through. Then you feel terrible because you’ve gone and upset your friend or your spouse or your father.
And this man’s shouting threats at a predator who isn’t even there, and the victim now has to assure him they’re really OK to get them to calm down. It puts the victim in the role of emotional support system for the person who should be that support system for them.
Women are conditioned not to rock the boat. Society tells us we’re supposed to be the protectors of everyone’s emotional state who happens to be within a 20-foot radius of us. We’re told our emotional needs come last. Often, this means staying silent about deeply painful experiences when we desperately need support, just so the people around us don’t get upset.
Your feelings are secondary to the person who actually lived it. Their emotional needs come first.
3) Actively seek out survivor’s stories.
I know this is hard. I know it’s messy. I know it seriously bums you out. It’s also vital.
You can’t understand something you haven’t been exposed to. If you’ve never been harassed or assaulted, you’re coming at this from a place of ignorance. Ignorance can do real damage, especially when the people who wield the most power in our country are so ignorant about something that affects so many.
Before you speak up, make a real effort to understand. If you haven’t lived it yourself, the next best thing is listening to people who have. Listen to their interviews. Read their stories.
I didn’t write about my own assault for women. They already know what it’s like. I don’t need to tell them. I wrote that for you guys.
When you listen, you’ll start to understand why so many women react to harassment and assault in ways you wouldn’t have expected. You’ll start to understand a little bit of what it’s like to live through it.
You’ll gain a little perspective and empathy that could prevent the revictimization of the many, many survivors you’ll cross paths with. (If #metoo taught you anything, it’s that you know a lot of survivors already.)
4) Don’t get defensive.
While listening to survivor stories, you might recognize some of your own behaviors. It’s hard to hear you might not be the “good guy” you thought you were.
Instead of going on the defensive and justifying those behaviors, own them. Take responsibility.
You can’t do better until you understand what you did wrong. And something doesn’t have to meet the standard of rape to be wrong or exploitative.
If the “good guys” can’t look at their actions objectively, and make adjustments to their attitudes and behaviors, there’s no hope. You have to do this work.
5) Don’t ignore survivors who don’t fit your idea of what a survivor is.
Anyone can be assaulted. Just because a person’s story doesn’t fit the narrative you’ve had stuck in your head about what a “proper victim” looks like doesn’t make their experience less valid.
6) Don’t forget.
Just because it’s not happening to you, or it’s not happening right in front of you, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
A hashtag didn’t clean house. We’re still at the beginning of that process, and it’s going to be a long process.
Don’t bail on us.
Image credit: Sheng-Fa Lin (Creative Commons)