It Is Time For Men To Own Their #MeToo Complicity

If you were on social media in the last few days and are connected to any women, the #metoo and related campaign was likely a ubiquitous presence in your feed.  For those of you who missed it, “me too” responded to the following prompt:

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Some wearily, some skeptically, some angrily, some bravely, some tentatively – some with elaboration and some with just those two words – hundreds of thousands of responses flooded in (and continue to do so).

At the same time, many women posting in response noted the frustration they felt in the burden, once again, falling to the victims to call out the problem, to name their own abuse, to be the ones who made themselves vulnerable.  Much of this frustration came from the fact that with virtually every woman having experienced harassment and/or abuse, there is no way that men haven’t either participated in the bad acts or stood by silently while it happened.  In other words, it takes a whole lot of complicity to make all these “me too’s” possible, and it seems a little out of whack to not call that out.

After all, it was only a year ago that #NotOk took over the social media feeds to document much the same thing.  If we’re being honest, #MeToo is just #NotOk The Sequel.  And as I wrote in October of last year about the “Not Ok” campaign,

These aren’t isolated occurrences and they don’t only happen in dark alleyways or locked rooms.   They happen all over, all the time.  So I also find myself angry and surprised and, frankly, incredulous of the responses of so many men who I believe are trying to be allies but who are “Shocked! Shocked!” by what they are reading and hearing.  If these men were honest with themselves, they’ve witnessed some of these assaults.  The numbers don’t add up otherwise.  Again, these assaults are happening at all ages, in all sorts of locations and settings.  No place or time is immune. . . Men have to do more than (1) not assault women and (2) express support for women who have.  They have to intervene.  They have to reject the conduct.  They have to reject those who assault.  They have to be willing to act on the outrage and disgust they so proficiently express online in #reallife.  Because we sure as shit are experiencing these assaults in real life.

Back on #MeToo in my own feeds, I saw two men (who weren’t posting their own narratives of harassment or assault) respond. One noted that there were too many “me too’s” crossing his feed.  I’m glad he’s paying attention, but again, please do more.  The other engaged more critically, taking some steps toward the self-reflection and ownership that all men need to be having.  Basically, he acknowledged that there had to be some complicity there on his part, committed to doing some hard thinking, and set a mandate for himself to actively intervene moving forward.  The rest of men in my social justice world?  Silence.

And here’s where the truth gets particularly ugly.  I have had the benefit and privilege of moving through a majority of spaces and crowds that would likely be described as leaning toward the progressive/feminist/ally end of the spectrum.  My two most egregious personal experiences of harassment and abuse (as opposed to the casual street harassment, workplace jab, frat house bullshit, etc) came from men who were supposed to be dedicated civil rights and women’s rights advocates.  Our own house is not clean.

Our own house is not clean because no house is.

I’ve already addressed one of those experiences in a previous post.  But looking back, it was the other that feels most dangerous, and it came at the hands of someone who was supposed to be a friend and deeply “woke” ally.  Someone who has worked for domestic violence organizations and who, to this day, organizes events around sexual harassment and sexual assault.  This didn’t stop him from, one drunken night, degrading me (screaming slurs and epithets and generally giving a master class in slut-shaming meets sexual harassment 101) and then abandoning me in a dangerous situation we previously had agreed to navigate together.  I’m grateful to this day that that’s all that happened; that I got out safe and “unscathed,” save for what this ally hurled my way when he showed his true colors.  And his actions didn’t lead any of our mutual friends to intervene.  No one ever talked to him about what went down that night.  There were no consequences for him, even when I shared with people what had happened.  I repeat, our own house is not clean because no house is.

The time for men to sit comfortable in their compassion or ally-ness has passed.  So So So passed.  I cosign all of this in Women Shouldn’t Trust The Men Who Call Themselves Allies, including this takeaway: “The question is not whether men can be allies to women. The question is whether society can get anywhere without them stepping up and doing their part.”

So the real #MeToo moment I’m looking for is when men step up and do their part.  And yes, not just in real life but on social media too.  Publicly own your shit.  Hold yourselves accountable.  Men should be posting times they’ve looked away, stayed silent, laughed it off, or – harder still, been the ones doing the harassing and abusing themselves.  This happens not just in bars and clubs but also in classrooms, hallways, churches, conventions, offices, grocery stores, and sidewalks.  You, men, have seen it.  And you’ve chosen to stay out of it.  And I want to see these stories flooding our feeds.

Staying out of it is a fiction.  Either you’re stopping it, or you’re facilitating it.  And if you all don’t start calling out yourselves, do you really believe you’re going to do better next time?


Katherine Kimpel

Kate Kimpel is the Senior Editor of Shattering the Ceiling and is also an accomplished civil rights lawyer. She represents women and people of color in discrimination cases (and other kinds of employment and civil rights matters).  When not lawyering, she likely is bragging about her hound dog Ulysses, inventing cocktails to serve at her next dinner party, or convincing her husband to watch reruns of a Joss Whedon television show (any of them will do). 

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