It was as normal a morning as you get in the Department of Corrections. The caffeinated buzz inside the chow hall was interrupted by the sound of trays hitting the floor and shouts too, “kill that baby raping b*tch”. Less than fifteen feet from me, an older white man was getting stomped out as he curled in a fetal position wedged between two stools at the rectangular table he was eating at. It took close to a minute before correctional officers intervened on his behalf.
I didn’t personally know the man who was attacked. Once it was alleged he was a child molester; I avoided him: which was easy to do in prison’s self-segregating culture. The stigma associated with child abuse and domestic violence is so powerful in prison that the majority of people avoided those who wore their scarlet letters. I don’t advocate replacing due process with beatdowns, but we should make it much more socially unacceptable for people to commit sexual assault, defend sexual predators and slut-shame their victims.
On October 5th, Jodi Kantor and Meagan Twohey exposed the open secret that was Harvey Weinstein’s sexually aggressive behavior. This was supposed to be another example of a man abusing his power to get what he wanted. Men were supposed to point our fingers in judgment and chalk it up to the “Hollywood scene”. We were supposed to scapegoat him. He would be the newest face of patriarchal violence. We were going to publicly sacrifice him to redeem ourselves from any of our past transgressions. This story didn’t get the memo.
Almost seven weeks after their New York Times article was published it’s obvious that something has changed. This wasn’t just another pebble in the ocean. This was the earthquake that led to a tsunami of sexual assault allegations and admissions. In the wake of their article remains the reputations of politicians, comedians, media figures and actors who thought their criminal behavior was safely stowed away in their past. Every accusation isn’t proof of guilt, but the old ways of discrediting these women have become unacceptable. This shift isn’t just another sign of “P.C.” culture. Something has changed, and we need to look honestly at ourselves to make sure we aren’t hindering progress. As I type, Charlie Rose and Glenn Thrush have joined the growing list of men accused of sexual misconduct. There is a reckoning happening.
As men, we have to admit that this is a problem we can’t fully understand. No one is responsible for the patriarchy we inherited, but we have to acknowledge its existence. There are power dynamics that continue to keep women in subordinate positions. We need to confront these dynamics and change them. This isn’t the time for us to ignore what the status quo has done to women, nor should we try to absolve ourselves of any responsibility to destroy it. Not groping or raping someone is too low a threshold to cross. Not sexually assaulting someone is literally the least we can do. We don’t deserve a reward for being decent. We shouldn’t congratulate ourselves or seek applause for not engaging in the overtly problematic behavior.
There are some things we need to start doing right now.
- Keep your hands off women who don’t give you permission to touch them. This is not debatable.
- Leave young girls alone. It doesn’t matter how mature she looks.
- Watch the reckless eyeballing. The line between looking and staring is thinner than we will ever know.
- Keep your hands above your waist. She won’t think it’s cute or funny. STOP!
- Don’t use your size to intimidate women. This is assault.
- Stop defending sexual predators because they look like you, worship like you or hold your political beliefs. Just stop. You look ridiculous.
We don’t have to terrorize women. We don’t have to deny the existence of sexism. This will take work. If anyone reading this has violated someone, apologize now. Find a way to reach out to them and admit your transgressions. We need to stop violating our women. I can assure you there are worse punishments for this type of behavior than public humiliation. We all have to do better.