Men, We Need to Talk - by Tom Krattenmaker
Straight men, there’s an overdue conversation we need to have. It’s about women – how we regard them and interact with them, especially around sex. It’s about how we navigate the new norms that are rapidly setting in as women courageously expose the abuse they’ve been enduring and insist on the equality that is rightly theirs.
The way to start this conversation is by listening. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, women’s voices are a surging force, so there’s no excuse for not hearing. When we read their accounts in media and on the Internet, when we talk to the women in our lives – when we listen to them – this is what we can hear them saying: They are sick of women being badgered by men who won’t take “no” for an answer, of women being backed into corners where there’s no way out, physically or otherwise. They are tired of women being treated as though their bodies and sexuality are not fully theirs but, rather, something to which men have a rightful claim.
Sick of It
They are asking men: How would you like it if your workplace colleagues were more interested in the shape of your body than your ability and ideas? If your boss made it clear your career prospects depended on your giving in to his sexual advances? If you were expected to smile your way through such an ordeal and “take it as a compliment”?
Women are revealing the tactics they’ve had to develop, like giving out fake phone numbers to heavy-handed men who won’t let up at a bar or a party, like female bystanders overhearing a menacing conversation between hunter and hunted and intervening by giving the target a big hug and pretending to be her friend.
After we have listened to women, what should we be communicating to each other?
Not a litany of complaints. Some men whine that women hate us now. (No, they don’t.) Others moan that it’s hard to be a man these days. (More complicated than it used to perhaps, but not half as difficult as it is to be a woman.)
Some men complain that women have lost the ability to make men feel special. (No, but more and more men are realizing it’s not women’s job to make us feel special – unless, of course, we are in a relationship with them, and then it’s equally on us to make them feel special too.)
Some lament how tricky things are getting when it comes to attraction and courtship. How do they know when their overtures are OK as opposed to grievous infractions that will incur the wrath of H.R. or the law? (It’s not that difficult, men. If there’s a woman you like, get to know her as a person and develop a relationship with her. Let sex grow out of closeness and affection, not the other way around.)
Start Talking Sense
Men need to stop griping and start talking sense to one another. We need to be telling each other to … • Stop treating women as though they exist to please our eyes and excite our bodies, that sex is the main reason they were put on this earth. Stop putting them in impossible situations where they’re a “slut” if they do and a “bitch” if they don’t. Stop treating sex as a form of recreation while leaving women to deal with the profound reproductive consequences. • Show some class and maturity when women rebuff you. Remind your disconsolate friend that he’ll be OK, that he’ll meet other women, that “rejection is part of life and you won’t actually die when someone you are interested in isn’t interested in you,” as Daily Kos writer Kelly Macias aptly puts it.1 • Accept the truth that sex is not the measure of our masculinity. Many of us have grown up and lived under the myth, under the locker-room delusion, that our status as men is equal to the number of notches on our belts. If there must be notches, let’s award them not on the basis of how many women we’ve had sex with, but how many whose equality and humanity we have honored. • Stop putting the burden on women. We need to make it clear to each other that it’s not women’s jobs to please us, or police us.
Whose Issue is This?
You think sexual harassment is a women’s issue? Funny how those who dominate the public discourse (men) have managed to erase themselves from this story. Who do we think is doing the harassing? Sexual aggression, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault – these are men’s issues. And it’s the offending men who must change their behaviors. The women with whom we work or study – are their appearance, their clothes, their bodies fair game for our focus and frequent asides and commentaries?
Next time we hear one of our fellow men suggest that sexual harassment is something that women “bring on themselves” – their flirting, their revealing clothes, their cleavage, their whatever – there is a simple response we must give them: No, they don’t.
Men, let’s help each other expel from our heads the noxious lie that a woman is to blame if a man has sexually harassed or assaulted her. We need to learn that it does not matter what she was wearing. It does not matter how much she drank. Her body, her sexuality, are hers alone.
What men do own is responsibility – extra responsibility that attends to our privileged status. As writes Sady Doyle, author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear … And Why, “Men are in a better position than women to call out other abusive men.”2
Unto whomsoever much male privilege is given, of him shall be much required. We need to encourage each other to use our privilege to support the women who are harassed, pressured, belittled, dehumanized, assaulted – and then are disbelieved when they have the courage to incur further wrath by telling the truth.
You want to know who’s a “real man”? We need to teach each other that he’s not the one who’s good at “getting women.” He’s the one who treats them as equals. He’s the one who stands up for them when their dignity and humanity are under assault.
Communications Director at Yale Divinity School, Tom Krattenmaker is a writer specializing in religion in public life and author of, among other books, Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower (Convergent, 2016). Parts of this article are adapted from a column he wrote for USAToday.com on Jan. 29, 2018.
1 Kelly Macias, “Allegations against Aziz Ansari allow us to explore the ways women are conditioned not to say no,” Daily Kos, Jan. 19, 2018.
2 Sady Doyle, “We Need Male Allies, Not Male Heroes,” Elle magazine, Dec. 6, 2017.