June 19, 2017

Dear Male Mentors—Stop This.

Dear male teachers, life coaches, consultants, mentors, therapists, priests, soccer coaches, business investors, bosses, and trainers:

It is not a compliment to tell your female clients, students, or employees they’re hot, or beautiful, or sexy, or attractive.

Don’t call us “babe.”

It’s not cute to even subtly hint about having sexual thoughts about us.

It does not boost our egos.

It isn’t helpful. It doesn’t give us confidence.

Don’t joke about getting with us. Don’t joke about us rejecting you. Don’t joke about whose league who is in. It’s not funny.

We know that there’s a hint of truth in every joke.

Don’t let us overhear you talking to a friend about how you could get with us or how we secretly want you.

The moment you do any of these things, you have reduced us to an object of your desire.

You remind us that we cannot escape being sexualized.

You make us feel like there are no truly safe spaces where we can receive masculine guidance. Like there’s nowhere where we will be understood or admired by a man without being wanted.

If we are enlisting your help, if we are requesting your support, if we are counting on you, or managed by you, or look up to you, do not abuse the already unequal male/female power dynamic. Do not take what you can get.

Do not use our gratefulness or our trust or our admiration or our feelings of indebtedness to justify crossing the line even an inch.

Do not make us decide between standing up to you and our success.

Do not create even the slightest grey area.

When you do things like this, you make us question your intentions, and the intentions of every other seemingly well-meaning male. You make us wonder if you’d be so kind to us if you didn’t find us attractive. You make us question our own intrinsic value.

You make us imagine you fantasizing about us—and it feels like violation.

Most of you know exactly what you’re doing. You want us to think about you in that way—like you think about us in that way. You never do anything overtly enough we can call you out on it.

But, we are intuitive. We know the second you start thinking about us like that. And if we ever do call you out on it, you deny it. You call us dramatic. You make us feel wrong and crazy.

It may seem like nothing to you. You may have the best of intentions.

It doesn’t matter. It’s way too real for us.

We’ve had too many innocent comments lead to boundaries crossed. We’ve been violated too many times. We’ve too often been in the position of feeling like we owe a man something in return for his help, kindness, network, mentorship, advice, money, or validation.

We probably won’t tell you any of this. We feel indebted to you. We won’t want to seem ungrateful. We won’t want to hurt you. We want to believe the best in you.

So I beg you to take it upon yourself to maintain crystal clear boundaries of professionalism unless, and until, there is no longer an unequal power dynamic between you and us.

Dear women with male teachers, life coaches, consultants, mentors, therapists, priests, soccer coaches, business investors, bosses, and trainers…

I don’t care how much of his advice, time, money, connection, expertise, encouragement, or wisdom he’s given you.

It is irrelevant how important, rich, famous, generous, considerate, supportive, helpful, or smart he is.

You do not owe it to him to let anything slide.

You are not crazy for thinking he’s coming on to you.

You are not being mean or untrustworthy when you question his intentions.

You are not ungrateful for calling him out on it.

You are not responsible for hurting his ego or his feelings.

It doesn’t matter if you’re wrong about him being interested. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

It doesn’t matter if you think it’s never going to happen again.

Until our society has an equal balance of power between men and women, don’t give him the benefit of the doubt. Don’t let him get away with sexualizing you, even in the subtlest of ways.

Every time we do, we are teaching them that it’s okay. We are letting them test the waters of our trust and indebtedness.

Nip it in the bud before the bud has formed. Let him think you’re dramatic, or uncool.

This isn’t about him. This is about you. This is about you having respect for yourself enough to not think that you need to give an ounce of yourself away in exchange for male support.

This is about you drawing a firm line so that you are free to safely receive masculine guidance without having to tolerate the soft voice in your head that wonders when and if he’ll push his luck.

This is about you believing strongly enough in your own intrinsic worth to know that who you are is enough to deserve masculine wisdom, support, and generosity without needing to offer up yourself in any small way in return.

You get to set the boundaries. You call the shots. You decide what’s not okay.

It’s not up to him.

Stand up for yourself. Be clear. Expect professionalism. Expect respect.


Author: Brandilyn Tebo
Image: Robert Couse Baker/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson

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