Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched the #metoo tweets and posts make their way through my social media feeds, and I’ve read the articles and stories, mostly from women, about how they have been subjected to sexual abuse and harassment. They bring about mixed emotions in me: sadness that so many close friends and family members have been touched by abuse; anger at the depths to which sexual harassment is embedded in our society; empathy for those who are hurting, pride that people have the courage to come forward and call out sexual misconduct; and a sense of urgency in wanting to be a part of a solution to end sexual violence.
I don’t have my own story of sexual abuse. Being a man makes you less likely to have experienced it — particularly rape where the statistics are that 1 in 5 women compared with 1 in 71 men experience rape at some point in their lives, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Also, I’m all too aware that male voices often control the media we consume, and that some of those powerful men (Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump, to name a couple) are the very men accused of serial sexual assault.
That’s why for this column I spoke to some of the women I see nearly every day to add some of their thoughts on the subject, particularly their thoughts on what role they think men have in fighting back against sexual assault.
My wife, Kitty Antonelli, who made her own post about #metoo soon after the hashtag started trending, believes that much of the burden for combating sexual assault has been placed on women, and thinks that should change.
“It’s up to men to listen to women’s experiences, to call each other out on behavior that they see other men doing, and to recognize when they are making women uncomfortable and pushing boundaries,” she said to me.
Kristin Palpini, up until recently the editor of the Advocate, said she hopes that, through awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual assault, men become more empathetic to women’s experiences and understand some of their fears.
“If it’s late at night and there’s a woman going up in the elevator, maybe wait to take the next one,” she said. “Being alone with a dude in an elevator at 3 in the morning is really scary.”
The Advocate’s art director, Jennifer Levesque, wants men to understand that sexual abuse is just not okay.
“Bottom line is: hands to yourself,” she said. “I don’t want to have some sleazy dude start groping me if I happen to be wearing a short dress. I’m wearing it for me; I’m not wearing it for you.”
And finally, I talked to my mom, Susan Loman, a recently retired professor at Antioch University in New Hampshire. She said the deluge of stories of sexual abuse has been a long time coming, and that she is pleased to see the subject out in the open. It’s important that people understand that this is not something isolated to Hollywood, and that the power differential between men and women is something on display everywhere.
“Being a woman in meetings, you’re often talked down to, like you don’t have a voice,” she said. “If a man is talking, he says, ‘Let me finish.’ ”
“What I want to hear from men is that they are willing to look at themselves,” she continued. “I think there’s subtleties that happen and men might not even realize.”
My own experience, though it does not include sexual abuse, does involve a good deal of being encouraged to participate in shitty, misogynistic behavior. I’ve frequently seen men encourage one another to joke about and in some cases even act on sexual abuse. There is pressure to join in on jokes, on catcalling, on all kinds of bad behavior.
While I spoke to women for voices to add to this column, it is important for men to speak to one another about this topic. I plan to speak to the men in my life about it, especially a special one I have gotten to know recently.
Nearly 10 months ago, my wife gave birth to our child. We decided to wait until birth to find out the sex. Before we knew, I thought about what it would be like to bring up a girl in these times, and to teach her that she mattered and to fight for her place among her male peers and for equal pay and respect for any work she would go on to do. Our baby turned out to be a boy. Reading the experiences of the participants of the #metoo movement, I see that with a son it will be different. He must not only be taught to advocate for himself, but also to make space for, support, and believe the women in his life, and work to stop sexual abuse.
It’s something I will also have to work on — me, too.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at email@example.com.