We are living in a heyday of toxic masculinity. Yesterday’s “Me, too” status movement — a movement predicated on the simple idea that sexual harassment and sexual assault are really, really common — was about the ongoing updates of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory practices throughout his career. But it’s reductive and untrue to say the movement was just about that; it was also about repeated threats to remove coverage of birth-related health treatments. It was also about threats to criminalize currently-legal abortion practices. It was about having a President who famously proudly announced he sexually assaults women. It was about news outlets publishing “warning” soundbites about “witch hunts” from other famously-known sexual predators like they are a credible voice of reason. As a culture, we create a safe haven for people like Harvey Weinstein, who demonstrably are able to aggress again and again and again without consequence over a multi-decade career.
Changing that takes action and focus. It takes coalition-building. It takes creation of accountability.
But here’s the good news: Yesterday’s movement was an excellent first step, as was the #IBelieveYou hashtag that people were posting in response. As the sheer volume suggests, sexual harassment and assault are appallingly common — across generations, across socio-economic status, across orientations, and across the gender spectrum. Silence is a necessary component of system navigation for sexual predation; a problem that isn’t identified cannot be fixed. It’s just that silence is not the only component.
So what are we doing from here? Now is a great time to turn social momentum into social action. But that’s easier said than done, especially when it’s so unclear what people can be doing to help! So here are some modest, concrete suggestions on how to do that:
- Learn How to Become an Active Bystander. This one is on all of us, but it’s especially anyone who is placed in the role of a bystander to violence — people who are observing a casual interaction take place, especially in less high-stakes social contexts. (A friend of mine observed that he wasn’t sure how to handle violence in inherently power-stratified environments like the workplace, which is a very fair observation, and I’ll get to that below.) The potentially helpful role of bystanders, especially in instances of sexual violence, is very well–documented — and so is its corollary the bystander effect, which by definition helps perpetrators maintain a status quo. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center maintains a resource list and information packet for learning how to be an active bystander, as does Partners to Social Change and RAINN. Take some time to read up on what concrete actions are helpful to others in dangerous situations!
- Learn How to Talk to Survivors. Statistically speaking, you probably know somebody who is a survivor. It’s a good idea to learn emotional first-aid generally in our current political landscape, but at minimum, it’s a great idea to take a few minutes to review resource suggestions on how to navigate assault situations specifically so that you know how to handle it when someone discloses this history to you. (The good news is, if you said “I believe you” yesterday, you are already doing a very important piece of this!)
- Learn to Spot Attempts to Enlist Assistance to Violence. A systemic structure of sexual violence (or any structure of violence, honestly) relies on complicit assistance from everyday people. Those people are not monsters; they’re just people who aren’t aware what’s up and can be enlisted as tacit support as a result. And sometimes it’s not possible to speak up without taking on substantial risk, especially in our current environment, but you should always be making that conscious choice instead of just not noticing when your silence is taken as support. Take yourself out of the pool of people who are accidentally helping whenever you can — learn to recognize instances where your support is being enlisted indirectly through social interaction. This can be in big ways, but it can be in little ways, too — the stereotypical “women, amirite?” phrase exists for a reason; it’s building consensus and reinforcing the beliefs held by the speaker. No, that person is not right, and it’s okay to tell them so!
- Go Forth and Do the Things You Learned in the Wild! Listening is an important first step, and learning is an important second step, but ultimately these things are building towards action. Now is the time to put the things you learned into practice when it’s practicable to do so — which is uncomfortable and it sucks, but not as much as people getting assaulted. Several of the resources listed above have concrete suggestions and steps for how to handle specific situations. It’s really, really valuable and important to spend some time figuring out how to integrate them.
- Call Your Reps, Call Your Reps, Call Your Reps, Reps, Reps. A lot of the systemic changes happening right now are on a giant scale, and that’s big and scary and awful. But it also means that you can help by simply exercising your civic rights as a citizen on issues of policy. Stay attuned to issues like coverage changes to the ACA and the abortion bill in the House, and call when you can. If you can’t call, use resistbot to text faxes. If you can’t do either, stay informed. These things might feel like they aren’t related but they really, really are.
I have about a billion other thoughts on this topic, and I might ultimately say more, but for now, I think I’ve hit the major highlights. Thank you for paying attention and join the conversation, and please stay in the fight! We need to all participate if we’re going to build a better culture.