For me, seventh grade was the first year of middle school. I had no idea what middle school would be like, and being new in Kelowna, I had no idea who I’d be going to school with. As the school year progressed I found my place, but I noticed something I’d never seen before. Guys were constantly going around and slapping girls asses or groping them in some way. It seemed like I was the only one not doing it. A friend of mine told me that girls like guys that are assholes, so I became an asshole.
Looking back at my own life, I can pick out multiple times where something I thought was normal could have been traumatic or uncomfortable for women. I haven’t always lived up to being a friend and ally to women. It took me most of my teenage life to truly treat women with respect. With the last year of the #MeToo movement, and recent developments in the United States political theatre, I wonder how many other men don’t realize how their actions impact women.
As men, it is not our place to tell women what they should or should not do in the context of #MeToo. Our job is to listen. Our job is to provide a safe environment where women in our lives feel comfortable sharing their experiences with us. These will not be comfortable conversations. These conversations may expose a side of you or a side of your friends that you find deplorable. It’s your job to change those aspects of yourself, not blame women for exposing them.
There’s a dangerous line of conversation going around now that no men are safe, and that any woman could make a “false claim” to ruin a man’s life. The President of the United States has openly promoted this belief. It’s fundamentally flawed. It’s disgusting that someone could be more concerned about a man’s reputation being damaged than about a survivor of sexual misconduct finding justice. Studies have found that between two to ten percent of claims turn out to be false or lack sufficient evidence. Meanwhile, ten to 20 percent of men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime in Canada alone. Despite the higher likelihood of men to be assaulted than to have a false claim against them, it’s rarer to hear men speaking about against sexual violence than to hear them speaking out against false claims.
The narrative that a man’s career is more important than instances of sexual assault promotes a culture where survivors will be reluctant to come forward. When someone is brave enough to share their experience and relive their trauma, every effort should be made to properly investigate the allegations. They should not be attacked further.
There are also things men can do in our daily lives. Don’t touch people without their consent. Don’t make lewd sexual comments to people. Don’t comment exclusively on someone’s sexual attractiveness unless you’re in a relationship with them; some people may laugh it off, but it’s deeply uncomfortable more often than not. Take no for an answer—accepting rejection is a normal part of life. Nobody is obligated to go out with you, sit with you, dance with you, or have sex with you. Respect that. Call out other men for negative behaviour, let them know that what they’re doing is not okay. And most importantly, treat women with the respect and decency that you’d want to be treated with.
#MeToo is about more than bringing sex criminals to justice. It’s about changing our culture and preventing sexual violence from happening in the future. That change won’t happen without men looking inside themselves and coming to terms with behaviours that allow this culture to continue.