On Being Part of the Problem

I’ve been in listening mode these last couple of weeks as Harvey Weinstein’s egregious abuse of what turns out to be dozens (hundreds?) of women has sparked a conflagration of righteous anger among many guys, and self-centered defensiveness, also among many – including some of the guys who are righteously angry. I wanted to take a minute to address that group – the righteously angry guys who are also putting a lot of energy into explaining why they’re not part of the problem.

I’m not going to try to speak for the women who’ve been victimized by this behavior (and by the entire structure of our society, which fosters and protects the perpetrators of this behavior). I’m just going to speak for myself, and state this as simply as I can. (Not very simply. Sorry.)

It’s fun to pile on obviously terrible people who clearly deserve it (hi Woody Allen!), but women aren’t subject to harassment and abuse just because of a few bad apples – it’s the result of a centuries-long marginalization of women, and for every Harvey Weinstein who eventually comes to light there are hundreds of perpetrators who never enter the public eye. And for every perpetrator there are dozens of guys who have let insensitive jokes and inappropriate conduct (and much, much worse) go, rather than risk their own privileged position to help. If you’re a man, you’ve personally benefited all your life from women’s position as second class citizens – and you need to acknowledge that.

Men whose first instinct right now is to make sure everyone knows you’re one of the good guys: keep it to yourself. Your job right now is not to worry about whether you look bad, or to point at other men who are demonstrably worse. Your job is to do whatever you can to acknowledge that the systematic harassment, assault, and abuse of women is happening, that its victims don’t deserve it, and that whether you affirmatively did anything or not you are privileged, and advantaged, by this misogynist society.

I like to think that I’m an ally to women and do my part to help (if you’re reading this, I bet you do too!), but I know I could have done more in the past, could be more aware of these issues, could speak up much more loudly when I see something wrong. So rather than just sit back now and prove my goodness through retweets and likes, I’m taking 10 minutes to write this down and do a tiny bit to affirmatively tell women that I have their back, and to tell guys to take a break from defending themselves to honestly think about how they have contributed to this (and continue to do so).

In summary:

  • Don’t get defensive about how this phenomenon, or the conversation about it, makes you look. This is not about your feelings
  • Recognize that even if you’re a good guy you have played some part in this (by the way, lots of “good guys” are actually not good guys!)
  • Listen to – and believe! – women when they share their experiences
  • Try to learn something from all of the above

As a final note, I wanted to include some links to important pieces women have written about this (or indirectly about this). This is just the tip of the iceberg:

PS, I recognize the irony of this public signaling of my virtue. Mea culpa!