That has been my stunned and, yes, privileged reaction to the recent social media movement of women posting:
Some included this explanation and call to action:
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.
I can’t help but shake my head and chuckle at that sentence. Even in this moment, women took the time and care to shelter the collective fragile male ego. By “people” they mean us, fellas. By “people” the millions of women who have been objectified, catcalled, humiliated, propositioned, trapped, followed, pressured, grabbed, groped, assaulted, raped, and, in too many cases, blamed, mean us.
Guys, the irony of an article, intended to explore and advance issues of diversity and inclusion, speaking exclusively to a segment of the readership, is not lost on me. But we — And I do mean “we,” as I neither exclude nor excuse myself. — need to acknowledge and address this problem as the crisis it is.
And let me be clear. I do not mean to suggest that men and boys can not be or have not been victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment. I do not mean to suggest that there are not women and girls who have committed these types of violations. And I do not mean to default to a binary understanding of gender. However, I do mean to focus, here, on the dynamic that seems to be the case in the overwhelming majority of these cases, men assaulting and/or harassing women.
“I’ve never had a job where I wasn’t harassed by someone on some level.”
My friend (de facto sister) shared her truth so nonchalantly I found it all the more infuriating. I wanted to exclaim into my cell phone, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” But, of course she was serious. She was as serious as the millions of women who were sharing their reality on Facebook and Twitter, making the #metoo hashtag so ubiquitous that I saw an estimate that it was shared once every four seconds this past Sunday.
Of course she was serious. She was, as my friends and I used to say, as serious as a heart attack or, perhaps, as serious as the emotional breakdown one woman had on the phone with me as we discussed the movement, the cultural reality it dragged into the light, and the personal horror stories it brought to the surface for her and so many other women who had been taught and coerced to bury those stories deep… preferably behind a pretty smile.
Gents, if you’re still reading, you may be thinking this is not your problem. You may believe that you are not the reason for a single “Not me” that went out into the world. I am not arguing that you are wrong. I am arguing, though, that the vast majority of men are likely saying the same thing. So, if almost all the women out there are saying it has happened to them… and almost all the men out there are saying they haven’t done it… either some of us are wrong… or there are, like, seven guys running around terrorizing an entire nation of women. Doubtful.
It’s the joke we told. It’s the joke we laughed at in order to fit in. It was the “compliment” on the fit of a suit that we would have never made to a man. It’s that time at the holiday party when all we said was– Well, we can each do our own inventory. But I’m not going to pretend I am not part of the problem, whether through acts of omission or commission.
And I’m not going to pretend that there hasn’t been a cost. We can’t have half our workforce living in fear of the other half. We can’t have women choosing to work elsewhere because our toxic masculinity creates a toxic work environment. We can’t afford to suppress talents, knowledge, and insights women could and would bring to our teams, to our leadership, to our board rooms. We can’t cost ourselves and our organizations, whether through the loss of legal fees, reputation, or freedom — Reminder: We’re discussing, in many of these cases, actual crimes! — because we continue to perpetuate a version of manhood that is built on the subjugation and exploitation of women. Our collective bad behavior is bad business. So, if your soul doesn’t lead you to change your ways, let your ledger be your guide.
To truly change the reality before us, we will have to drive cultural transformation. Everything from the way we think, to the way we joke, to the way we assess leadership, to the way we describe strength will have to be assessed and addressed. That kind of work will take much more than a single article. That kind of work will require much more than a single initiative. Perhaps it will require the effort(s) of more than a single generation to shift from “boys will be boys” to “boys must become men” to the redefinition of manhood, itself, we most desperately and obviously need. So, in the face of such enormity, we might be best served to start small.
As a coach and consultant, I have learned and developed many frameworks for discussing and implementing change. I offer this simple framework as a way that some of us might, at least, begin to clean up this mess of toxic masculinity: Stop. Start. Continue.
What behaviors will we stop, start, and continue to transform #metoo from a cultural reality to a cultural relic?
I offer my own, here, in real time, as I search my memory and my conscience for ways I could have been a better colleague and ally, and ways in which I will be, going forward.
I will stop being silent. When I witness inappropriate comments, whether on a street corner or in a corner office, I will speak up and say that it is not right. Too many times, I have let it go for reasons ranging from “He’s a mess” to “She’s tough.” That stops now.
I will start amplifying the voices of the women around me. I’ve read about the studies, detailing how much more likely women are to laugh at men’s jokes in conversation. I’ve witnessed the dynamic in meetings where a woman says something to no response only to have a man repeat it and be treated like he just unlocked the mysteries of the universe. I will use my voice to disrupt that pattern.
I will continue listening and learning. Of course I knew that sexual harassment and sexual assault were serious issues, realities of the world in which we live. I did not know, blinded by my own privilege, that enduring these violations was regarded as, as one friend put it, “as natural as breathing to me.”
What will you stop?
What will you start?
What will you continue?
If you’re unsure, looking for answers, ask a woman you trust and who trusts you. You can Google some of the lists and articles that have been generated and written for men seeking to be better allies. You can take a moment and exercise something we, as men, are not often encouraged to exhibit: empathy.
My sincere hope is that, in business and beyond, we will look back at this moment as the genesis of a profound shift, a cultural transformation that makes our orgs and our world safer places for all who enter.
And I hope that when other men share that they were a part of that change, I have an opportunity to say, “Me too.”
The Kaleidoscope Group