Men, this post is for you. Written by a fellow man, one whom would like to be the best ally he can be in the fight against misogyny and rape culture. This will focus primarily on the workplace, and handling situations with co-workers, but will also include methods of everyday support for the women in your life.
The recent #MeToo campaign, inspired by the outing of Harvey Weinstein, really got the country talking about sexual assault, sexual harassment, and rape. With the plethora of actors, politicians, and others now taking heat for past actions, many men (including myself) may find themselves at some point wondering: “What can I do to show I am an ally against the culture that has allowed this to perpetuate? What can I do to help end these atrocious acts and help to better protect those I care for?” The answers to these questions, are not absolute, nor will the process be quick, nor easy. What we face, is the need to change a culture that has been nurtured for hundreds of years at the least.
One of the most overlooked cultural allowances that contributes to rape culture is objectification of women. This occurs in many forms; pornography, jokes, even everyday conversation. I am reminded of a conversation overheard during break time at the 9-5 I have. At the time, I was unsure of what to do, so I did nothing. The conversation involved only men, and pertained to their preference in attractiveness to female actresses. The comments were mild to begin with, “So and so is one of the most beautiful actresses around”, etc. This quickly changed, however when actress Christina Applegate came up. A question was posed “Pre, or post mastectomy?”. To this, every person involved in the conversation replied with the answer “Pre”, and one even noted, “She was way sexier with tits”. The response here is obvious objectification, and minimizing a woman’s attractiveness to the size of her breasts. This was an overstep on what began as a normal conversation on celebrity crushes.
At the workplace, many businesses are still male dominated in their population. This fact is clear in the technology industry, in which this author works. The earlier example outlines this very plainly. So then, how can we few male allies, that can recognize this obvious addition to the culture of objectification and rape, begin to curtail these situations as we see them? As always, the answer varies.
Here are some suggestions (none of which are guaranteed to work in any one situation, use your best judgement) on ways to point out the flaws in others speech and thinking around this subject:
Sarcasm: Many times, the men that are making remarks such as this are “Alpha Males”, and often do not respond well to direct call-outs. Sometimes, in these situations, sarcasm may be a useful tool to derail their line of thought, and make them (hopefully) empathize with your point. In example: From the earlier mentioned situation, I could have responded: “Well, I guess it is too bad she didn’t just die from the cancer so you’re image of beauty isn’t ruined.”
Empathy: In this writer’s opinion, this often works best in one-on-one scenarios. Had the earlier situation happened between myself and one co-worker, a different response I could have gone to is: “Hey, think about what you are saying about the woman, she lost her beauty because she had a life-saving operation? Think about if your father divorced your mother because she had a double-mastectomy, and wasn’t attracted to her solely due to that. It would be painful, and incredibly invalidating.”
Direct Confrontation: This is also known as a “Call-out”. This really should be saved for known allies whom say something they may not realize is objectifying or contributing to perpetuation of rape culture. Make sure to be firm yet nurturing when calling out a comrade, being over emotional or angry can cause misunderstandings, and the last thing we need is more division on the left.
Education: If you are using any method of attempting to talk to someone about their language and they are unsure about rape culture, or the objectification of women: BE PATIENT. This culture has been going on for centuries, and will take time to confront. If you have someone willing to hear you out, send them information. There will be a list of good links for male allies at the end of this article.
Self-Care: As always, with everything related to social justice: make sure to take care of your mental health too! If a confrontation is too overwhelming or big, don’t feel like you need to confront it on your own. If the problem is serious enough, seek out Human Resources (remember, this is mostly workplace related) and file an anonymous complaint. There are many ways to combat this vile culture, and you don’t need to risk your mental health unduly in the process!
Watch your own words: If another comrade mentions something to you for sounding in any way misogynistic, listen, and learn. Even as allies, we are still never going to be perfect this early in attempting to remove this culture of oppressing women. We will need to make many sacrifices along the way, surely some that even the most empathetic ally may not see coming, and not understand.
Finally, as always NEVER VICTIM BLAME: The biggest problem even among other women, in perpetuating rape culture, is blaming a victim. It is never fair to blame the victim of a sexual harassment/assault or rape. There is no excuse. We need to turn the narrative to the offender, not the victim. “Why would they think that’s okay? That’s never okay?” and “What’s wrong with them?” are much better ways to address this.
In closing, as the battle of removing misogynist culture norms from our society, it will ultimately come down to us men being willing to change and support women in any way that removes the constant fears of being assaulted. Below are some more great articles and resources on being a great ally: