Men can and should be better "Me Too" allies

Men can and should be better

The #metoo movement set off a wave of sexual assault allegations that highlighted the many ways that Hollywood is still very much a men's club. Many of these men, such as Louis C.K and Aziz Ansari come with their own male apologists, who insist that there's a spectrum of sexual harassment, or that such allegations are blown out of proportion.

But that is the problem.

All sexual harassment, regardless of how "mild" it may seem, is bad and should be treated as such. Touching someone without their permission shouldn't been seen as anything less than despicable.

This type of cognitive dissonance is, unfortunately, very common among men who may see themselves and other men as being outside of the intricately woven systems of privilege that oppress women on a daily basis. These causal relations with gender privilege aren't always immediately noticeable – in fact, they aren't to most men – which is why it is the responsibility and burden of men to acknowledge these patriarchal structures and fight against them.

Understand that you probably have engaged in harassment towards women at least once in your life.

A few weeks ago, a story came out about comedian Aziz Ansari detailing a sexual encounter he engaged in with a woman that ended in assault. It's a notable case of sexual assault, because the perpetrator in this case isn't the scary bogeyman lurking in the bushes at night, but a self-proclaimed feminist who didn't pay attention to his partner's uneasiness when she said things were moving too fast and she didn't feel like having sex.

To many men, this encounter may not seem out of the ordinary. They might have even done it themselves at some point.

This is the hardest point to get across, because it requires owning up to any complicity on your part, as well as your own contributions to oppression. This doesn't necessarily mean that you're evil, but that you have probably done some subtle form of harassment without even knowing it. 

Problematic behaviors include persistence after a rejection, non-consensual kissing or touching, not reading social cues that signal discomfort, unintentionally blocking room exists when flirting and so on. Society has taught men to behave this way, because society places women as objects of desire to win through any means necessary.

This is reflected in everyday interactions with women, the entertainment media we consume, our family, friends and peers. We're all coded to think this way through ingrained social norms.

Because of that, it's crucial that men step back and examine the way they behave around women. Ask yourself if you've ever personally made any woman in your life feel threatened. Evaluate past encounters that may seem off and hostile in retrospect. Always ask for consent for everything, including hugs. If it involves physical contact, you need to ask. The more in check we are with how we speak to women, the better allies we become.

Being an effective ally means teaching other men about feminism.

You've probably heard a raunchy joke about female bodies told by your friends at some point. Maybe a roommate of yours likes to boast about his sexual conquests with violent imagery ("smashed her real good") or they speak ill of women in private. Maybe they've made light of rape through distasteful jokes or worse, have committed harassment themselves. If you're the type of person who never speaks out against such behavior, then it's time to change.

It can be immensely difficult sometimes to speak out against crude misogyny, but silence is a fertilizer for oppression. Misogyny grows and festers when it's allowed to go unchallenged.

Speak out against sexist jokes and men who are making women feel uncomfortable. If your friend is harassing a woman in public or making unwanted sexual advances, get involved. If necessary, get in touch with law enforcement if it gets physical or violent. The world isn’t going to become a better place if we’re all complicit in making it worse for oppressed groups. 

Help give a platform to women’s voices. 

There are many things that men have to do to dismantle misogyny, as the burden is on the privileged group to stop oppression. However, men should also empower women and help to get their voices about issues heard. When the subject of sexual assault is dominated by men, we’re only getting one perspective, that of the privileged gender. 

Even if you are a man, you can still make a tremendous impact in the fight against sexism by using your privilege to demolish oppression and advocate for women, minority groups, LGBTQ+, and so on. We shouldn’t force the job of educating other men on women, but help to lessen that emotional toll by carrying the weight with our allies. 

Michael Dawson is a senior majoring in English. His column runs biweekly. 

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