Not all men are guilty of perpetrating sexual harassment against women in the workplace and beyond. But all men have an instrumental role to play in the broader effort to combat the harassment of women, and it starts with simply talking about the issue with other men.
Failure to condemn sexual harassment—whether it be verbal haranguing, or outright physical assault—can portend dire consequences for people close to you, as the comedian Daniel Sloss explained in his 2019 HBO comedy special. He speaks in an unvarnished way about a male friend who raped his female friend, and how he didn’t do anything about the myriad warning signs that presaged the horrible event. He could have acted, perhaps simply by saying something to his male friend who often displayed multiple red flags, but he instead shrugged off the danger.
Given the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault around the world—nearly one in five women in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, according to 2010 numbers compiled by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center—Sloss’ words are a stark warning.
As Sloss notes, the process of depriving sexual harassment of its normality starts with men talking about it, instead of ignoring it. Here’s how you can begin.
Listen when women talk about their experiences
One way for men to fully grasp the ubiquity of sexual harassment in society is to listen when women talk about their experiences. According to Dr. Heather Stevenson, a clinical psychologist who specializes in men’s issues, talking to women can drive home the phenomenon’s insidious nature in ways that discussions with men just can’t.
She tells Lifehacker: Coming from a place of genuine curiosity and openness will usually be met with receptivity, and hearing direct stories from people you know is likely to have a greater impact on how you process the information. If you don’t yet feel comfortable initiating a conversation with a woman in your life watch one of these videos of women recording their experience walking down the street and the harassment they experience from men. Then use that as an opener with someone you know.
It’s impossible for men to rationalize the scale of harassment globally—whether it’s on the streets, online, behind closed doors in private homes, in the workplace and beyond—without hearing it from women themselves. Listening to women will help men understand how people close to them may have been enduring this kind of harassment for years—perhaps emboldening them take action.
Take action with male allies
Beyond talking to women, men can go from unwitting bystanders to allies by speaking out when they witness bad behavior by other men. Having these conversations regularly is good and necessary, and men should consistently call out instances of misogyny uttered by their friends, family, and co-workers.
But the work becomes more actionable when men ally themselves with others devoted to the cause. The University of Southern California’s School of Social Work implores men to “sustain an ongoing dialogue with friends, peers and family members, with the ultimate goal of encouraging more people to become active allies for the cause.”
For her part, Dr. Stevenson recommends some more targeted advice, pointing to organizations such as A Call To Men and Man Enough as specific resources. She tells Lifehacker that men should consult these groups, as they’ll allow them to “find other men who may already be having these types of dialogues or are open to these types of conversations as a way to continue and deepen the work.”
When it comes to casual friendships, Dr. Stevenson makes clear a distinction between positioning oneself as an educator and simply questioning comments you might find inappropriate.
“We don’t necessarily need you to always take on the role of educator with other men, though it is appreciated when you do,” she says. “But we do need you to at least take on the role of questioner or rejector of comments/conversations” that perpetuate harmful notions about women.
Rethink the way sex gets talked about
Much of the casual misogyny woven into today’s social fabric begins with the way men are socialized. A lot of that is shaped by mass media, and the way women have been hyper-sexualized to gel with stereotypical male tastes. In order to help a broader segment of men understand that their conception of femininity has been engineered by a culture that positions women as objects who exist only in relation to men, men have to break down the ways they’ve been taught to talk about sex.
As Dr. Stevenson explains, men must question the popular images, portrayed across advertising, movies and pornography, that overtly sexualize women:
When the programming we are all subjected to only portrays stereotyped roles we all become passively conditioned to take on those beliefs and therefore act from a place of entitlement in response to those messages. The problem really comes from not stopping to question what we’re being fed, why, and who is at the steering wheel driving those messages.
When men start to understand that the portrayal of women in mass media is a fabricated ideal, it will help chip away at the problem’s enduring impact. Luckily, if you’re a man who wants to help make a difference, you can do your part in relatively simple ways. It’s imperative that you do.
Published on LifeHacker