Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

It was me, too



How many trending hashtags and tales of terror is it going to take?

Assault and harassment of women is unacceptable, all too common, and must be dealt with. Full stop.

Great, let's call it a day and celebrate with some mimosas.

Well, how much really changed after #YesAllWomen detailed how each and every woman is on the receiving end of harassment in some way? How much progress will be made after millions of women share #MeToo, that, umm, each and every woman is on the receiving end of harassment in some way?

Perhaps we need to go back to the #YesAllWomen campaign from 2014, which highlighted women's challenges in the face of the #NotAllMen crowd, where males washed their hands of any responsibility because they couldn't possibly be the ones assaulting or harassing.

The scene played out similarly on Monday, on my timeline, at least. After a deluge of posts from women — some going into stomach-churning detail, some sharing a heartbreakingly simple "Me too" — the odd post from a man started to pop up. The first couple I saw owned up to their roles in creating a world that was unsafe for women. One was a carbon-copy that riffed on the popular post women were copying and pasting while there were also a couple of original mea culpa moments as well, where the posters admitted their wrongs and pledged to be better.

But many more men, while sympathetic, said their course of action going forward is to avoid being a bystander, to call out bad behaviour when they see it. That's great and all, but with numerous news cycles dedicated to women hammering home the point that, "Yes, it's all of us," shouldn't we consider on our side that, "Yes, it's all of us?"

We're not all rapists or catcallers, no, but it's disingenuous to think we haven't had some role or another in someone at least considering making a "Me too" post. There are a number of reasons why a woman wouldn't be eager to participate, ranging from the all-too-common responses that shame and gaslight the victims to politicos co-opting the conversation to fit their own ideologies. But at the heart of it, fixing our misdeeds shouldn't have ever been her burden or responsibility — and absolutely shouldn't be now. We shouldn't require women to publicly relive every excruciating detail of a past trauma every time there's a "he said, they all said" kind of scenario like the Harvey Weinstein scandal that helped set off this latest push (though the Me Too campaign originates with black activist Tarana Burke, who started it about a decade ago).

Instead of demanding "prove-it" performances from women, maybe we as men need to start admitting when we're wrong.

When I was younger, I fell into the nice-guy trap, believing I was entitled to women's time and attention for being decent (or, more accurately, what I defined as being decent).

You see it a lot in movies and on TV, where Joe Everyman wonders loudly why a gorgeous woman won't give him the time of day when she dates jerk after jerk. But then some plot point turns him into a hero and he secures the attention of a special lady. By the end, though, the revelation is that he just needed to be who he was all along. Then he and the supermodel make out. This kind of entertainment is clearly branded as fiction, as fantasy, because he gains powers or finds himself in a wild and wacky situation. Perhaps, though, the very moral of the story is made up as well.

Emboldened by these tales, I demanded women just get to know me before saying no, believing full well that my charm would win them over. And I'd get upset when this didn't happen, turn around and share how awful and hurt I was feeling, explicitly placing the blame on my romantic target, often through songs of heartbreak and woe (you'd find more polished versions on the radio). Clearly, her feelings weren't of any importance to me.

It can obviously be scary and heartbreaking to be rejected, but with the general sense of entitlement many men feel — to the point of assault and even murder when we don't get what we want — it can be a hell of a lot scarier to reject.

Sitting too close or staring too long, or making an uncomfortable joke may not seem like a big deal to us guys, but it's something women have to deal with daily.

A lot of it is what we're told is "Boys being boys," but a lot of it is how we've been conditioned. As men, we control the vast majority of the messaging that gets into the public consciousness. We need to rethink how our actions affect others, even when they're behaviours that are so often affirmed.

One post I saw from a man deferred to his partner, saying her words held more weight. Considering how much space men take up in conversation, how often we talk over and down to women, it's thoughtful to do this. But women have spoken over and over again. It's up to those of us who have listened to make things better, starting with ourselves, because it's been me, too.