Yes, this letter is gendered, which I try to avoid when possible. And I already know that the problem isn’t just men—it’s the insidious culture we live in, and it’s women, too.
But it seems like new allegations surface every day, and yes, most of them involve men. It started with Donald Trump and was largely ignored. Then the Harvey Weinstein allegations opened the floodgates to women finally speaking up about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. Kevin Spacey. Louis C. K. George Takei. Sylvester Stallone. Al Franken. Russell Simmons.
I’m sure there are many more to come. Right now, we’re going to believe the women (and men) coming forward and support them as they share their heart-wrenching stories.
But over coffee with a friend, a new idea floated up out of all of this: if every single woman I know has a “me, too” story, then what does that mean for the men we know?
I set my coffee down slowly. It was truly shocking to think about it from this perspective, because it means that you, dear men, are very likely culpable of some inappropriate act in your past. It makes sense. After all, if every woman has a story, then a large number of men would stand accused if all those stories were to come out.
But they can’t all come out because, sadly, we don’t all have a name to go with our stories. So many of these encounters have come at us from total strangers.
Dear Men, please don’t stop reading now. I know this is difficult to hear. Please don’t turn away. I’m not sitting in judgment. Instead, I’d like to illustrate a point and then share a way that you can help us all—yes, even help yourself.
This may be uncomfortable for you to read, but I can tell you that it’s far more uncomfortable for us to experience. So please be open to what we have to say.
I can’t speak for all women, but I can speak up as a woman who echoed “me, too” and a woman who has had a lifetime of these stories reported to me by friends, family members, and—when I was a family therapist—clients. Even strangers. The stories are so prevalent that we accept them the way we accept our next breath or the next beat of our hearts.
We grew up being sexualized. We learned how to best avoid being raped. We learned fear from the cradle. We learned that how we dress is a dangerous distraction. Catcalling became a daily occurrence, as common as breakfast. With the internet, we’ve adapted to online harassment, unsolicited d*ck pics, “hey beautiful” messages coming at us from total strangers as if they were a compliment and not an unwanted evaluation and intrusion. And every single woman I know has a story. Many men I know do, too.
And if all these women have a story of being sexually harassed or assaulted, then it means that more men have these stories, too—but from the other side. What we need right now is more men willing to come forward and own up to their, hopefully, past behavior.
We need more men saying that at one point in their lives, they were inappropriate in their conduct with women.
We need those men to come forward, to share their stories, to apologize, and to raise awareness of this unfortunate cultural paradigm.
We need men who can bravely say I did this, I’m sorry, and this is how I’m living my life to educate others and eradicate rape culture.
Perhaps you’re a man reading this who is so sure that you’ve never, ever committed sexual assault or harassment. Here’s a quick questionnaire:
>> Have you ever touched a person without his/her express consent?
>> Have you ever asked a woman why she wasn’t smiling or told her she’d look better if she smiled?
>> Have you ever sent an unsolicited message commenting on a stranger’s looks?
>> Have you ever catcalled another person?
>> Have you ever made an inappropriate sexual joke?
>> Have you ever shown your genitals to someone without their express request? This could be in person or by message. (If you’ve ever sent an unsolicited d*ck pic, this is you.)
>> Have you ever flirted with or made sexual advances to a person who could be considered subordinate to you in a professional situation?
>> Have you ever laughed at jokes about rape or assault?
>> Have you ever put your hands on a man/woman without their permission while dancing in a club or bar?
>> Have you ever had sex with a person who was inebriated and, therefore, incapable of providing consent?
>> Have you ever continued to touch someone who said no?
>> Have you ever made repeated sexual advances to someone who has said no?
If you said yes to any of these questions, you may be the reason someone else says “me, too.” And if you are, I hope that you’re a better person now, a person who would never repeat this behavior.
But I also hope that you have the courage to do what most men aren’t doing right now: come forward and share a time when your behavior led to someone else’s “me, too” story. Do this without excuses, then apologize and make amends. Tell others how you now live a life that teaches others to do better than you did.
You don’t have to be a rapist to have promoted misogyny, rape culture, or sexual violence. You can be an ordinary guy who lives a pretty average life. You can have healthy relationships with both men and women. You might even be considered a pretty nice guy. But people make mistakes—all people.
Those mistakes don’t have to define our character. But never acknowledging those mistakes, apologizing, or attempting to make amends? Those are the things that define us.
We need you to be brave. We need you to how you contributed to someone’s “me, too” story so we can all work together to make sure there are a hell of a lot less of these stories in the future.
Thank you for listening.
With sincere love and endless amounts of compassion,