From #MeToo to Men Too: How Men Can Prevent Harassment and Abuse

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post.

Since the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault story broke the floodgates, every day brings new allegations of powerful men assaulting or harassing women, and millions of women have been publicly sharing their personal stories and declaring “#MeToo.” But why is the onus always on the women to share their stories, to be the only ones leading the outcry and call for change? Both men and women are asking how men can get more involved in this movement and are committed to educating men on how to use their voices and influence to become part of the solution.

That’s why the Joyful Heart Foundation and A CALL TO MEN, a violence prevention organization, partnered to launch their #IWILLSPEAKUP campaign asking men to speak up and support survivors of sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Because as A CALL TO MEN cofounder Ted Bunch told me, “Only men can end men’s violence against women,” and as Joyful Heart Foundation CEO Maile M. Zambuto put it, “This is not a women’s issue; this is an issue of humanity.” The op-ed and PSA are a powerful response to #MeToo and call to men to end harassment and all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls (and includes a pledge of actions to “break the silence and create change”).

Leading Hollywood men including Andre Braugher, Tate Donovan, Anthony Edwards, Dann Florek, Peter Hermann, Max Joseph, Daniel Dae Kim, Chris Meloni, Danny Pino, Andrew Rannells, and Blair Underwood star in the PSA, titled “I’ll say something next time.” You can read the full text, watch the PSA, and read the pledge here.

Maile Zambuto expressed to me what she hopes this campaign achieves: “During this incredible, moving, and inspiring movement of #MeToo, as survivors come forward to share their truth, I hope #IWILLSPEAKUP will evolve the conversation to men being brave and courageous by standing up and speaking out and challenging and holding other men accountable.”

With the incredible momentum that #MeToo has gained, combined with men getting more involved through campaigns like #IWILLSPEAKOUT, could this be a tipping point for making real and lasting change in the area of sexual assault and violence against women? If so, I say let’s seize this moment and opportunity. Let’s make sure that we—men and women—continue to stay involved and outraged, and follow our outrage up with action. Ted Bunch says it begins with men becoming more aware and starting to understand that “they are the solution.” Then we need to “turn that awareness into action, and that action into lasting change as we create the next generation of manhood.”

Maile Zambuto agreed, telling me, “We can’t just be shocked and outraged when something comes up in a news cycle and then dies down and then comes up again. We need to be shocked and outraged every day that women in this country are devalued, dehumanized, violated, and abused. When we get to a place where there is not normalcy and acceptance and disregard, but instead shock and disbelief at any incident on any given day—to me, that’s what real change is.”

I decided to further explore how men can get involved in this movement by interviewing a selection of male and female activists in my network to get their thoughts on why men don’t speak out, what a movement would look like with men and women working together as allies, and concrete ideas and advice on how men can use their voices to be a part of the necessary change.

Featuring: Justin Baldoni, Ted Bunch, Eve Ensler, Michael Kimmel, Matt McGorry, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Maile M. Zambuto

Justin Baldoni, actor, activist, host of the upcoming talk show Man Enough.

Marianne Schnall: Why do you think men don’t speak out?

Justin Baldoni: Young boys are taught that in order to be accepted and liked by other guys, two things need to happen: we need to be tough, strong, and confident; and we have to reject the girls and show allegiance to the boys. “Guy Code” starts in elementary school as “no girls allowed” and quickly devolves into “bros before hoes.” I believe the solution lies in teaching boys and girls to build empathy long before this behavior becomes rewarded socially. And as grown men, our reputations can’t mean more than the lives of the women we hear men talk about.

MS: What advice do you have on ways in which men can speak out, be a part of the solution and create change?

JB: We have to be brave enough to say things like, “Common, man—that’s not cool” or “Dude, don’t talk about her that way.” While it may prove to be unpopular in the short term, in the end men respect other men who are firm in their values. If we don’t hold each other accountable, then that means the behavior is rewarded and we become complicit.

Ted Bunch, Cofounder of A CALL TO MEN

Marianne Schnall: How did the idea for the #IWILLSPEAKUP campaign come to be?

Ted Bunch: The Joyful Heart Foundation came to us with a vision for #IWILLSPEAKUP. In direct response to #MeToo, they brought leading actors and artists who were willing to use their platform and influence to say #IWILLSPEAKUP and support survivors. The Joyful Heart Foundation has been tireless in their work to engage men within their spheres of influence.

MS: What are your hopes for the campaign? What are your goals?

TB: First and foremost, it is our hope that every survivor who shared their story feels validated and believed, and those who did not or could not share their story, also feels our support. Second, we hope that men will start to understand that they are the solution. We have an opportunity to educate men about how our collective socialization results in a culture that devalues women and ultimately allows many forms of violence and discrimination to persist and, harms all of us.

MS: What do you feel is missing in the corporate response to these issues?

TB: Institutions, corporations, and organizations typically approach sexual harassment, domestic violence, and sexual assault solely from a policy perspective. But this approach keeps the problem contained within one area, like the human resources department. It also allows men who are not actively harassing, abusing, or assaulting to say, “This is not my problem.” Those men can separate themselves from the “incident” when in reality, they are the solution.

These issues are not limited to the workplace and sexual harassment. They are pervasive throughout our society and serve as the foundation for all forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence and sexual assault. Men are socialized to believe that women have less value than men, are the property of men and are objects for men—specifically sexual objects. That collective male socialization creates a climate where men often give other men the benefit of the doubt, don’t believe women, or blame women for the violence that other men perpetrate against them. That’s why sexist jokes at the water cooler, sexual harassment, and all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls persist, and will continue until men decide that it shouldn’t.

MS: Why, from your perspective, are men reluctant to speak up?

TB: Men are socialized—from the time they are toddlers—to distance themselves from the experience of women and girls. From the toys they are given to play with to the emotion they are allowed to express, men are taught that if they have any similarities to women or even interest in women other than as sexual objects, they are less of a man. This distancing is one of the main reasons men don’t speak up and instead, excuse the behaviors of other men.

A second reason is that all men—not just men who are abusive—are socialized to view women as objects, as property and as having less value than men. Because all men have been taught it’s okay to view women as objects, they laugh off comments about a woman’s body or excuse them with phrases like “boys will be boys.”

There is also a third, less discussed reason: many men are afraid they will not speak up correctly, and you have seen some of this in response to #MeToo. Men come forward, and because they don’t have a deep understanding of sexism like many women do, they don’t always say the right thing, or know what to say, and there are consequences to that. Part of our work at A CALL TO MEN is helping men develop a voice to speak out.

MS: What general advice would you have on ways for men to speak up, and be a part of the solution and make change? And why should they?

TB: There are so many things all men can and should do, but let’s start with these three critical steps to create positive change. First, reflect. And we say this in the pledge: men need to think critically about the messages they have received about manhood, women and girls and how many of those messages do not value women and girls, and seek to dominate and control others. If you need a place to start, you can watch A CALL TO MEN CEO Tony Porter’s TED Talk and challenge how you have been socialized to view women as objects, property and having less value than men.

After that self-reflection, start living by the principles of healthy, respectful manhood, and valuing women, girls and those of us who do not conform to a gender binary. We know that if we can get men to embrace and promote a healthy, respectful manhood, we will prevent violence and discrimination against women, sexual assault, sexual harassment, bullying and many other social ills. Men will also be healthier, whole and authentic men.

Finally, all men can use their influence and platform to speak out about these issues. Some men don’t even realize they have a platform, but they all do. All men have friends, colleagues, family members, and young men and boys in their lives that they can talk to about healthy, respectful manhood. I encourage all men to pledge to speak up.

MS: Do you feel hopeful that a shift is happening with all these high-profile stories coming to light and women using their voices?

TB: We are hopeful because we see transformative change with men every time we hold a training or event. We must continue to create the space for men to think critically about their socialization.

Eve Ensler, playwright, author, founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising

Marianne Schnall: Some men may feel reluctant to speak out on these issues, since they are not sure where they fit in or are worried they might not “do it right.” What advice and encouragement do you have for men on how to use their voices and influence that both validates women’s experiences and helps them to be part of the solution?

Eve Ensler: First, let’s remember that violence against women is a men’s issue. We don’t harass and rape ourselves. For years, women have not only been the victims and survivors of abuse but we have had to create the movements to fight it every hour, every day.

Men need to decide whether they will continue with the privilege and power in a rigged and deadly system of patriarchy, which has been responsible for 1 billion women being raped beaten and untold women being harassed, degraded and demented at the work place. Or whether they will move in large numbers to release themselves from the tyranny of patriarchy and to create a world of tenderness, vulnerability, equality, and respect. It begins, I think, with deep self-interrogation. Then actively educating oneself by reading feminists, being in groups with men to tell stories and ask questions and then of course, standing up for women and understanding that as men, this is your struggle because men will never be free or safe or loved until your sisters are free and safe and loved. We need a highly activated, motivated massive men’s movement.

MS: What would a movement inclusive of men, working together with women, to end sexual harassment and all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls look like?

EE: It would mean we could finally stop asking, “Where are the men? How do we get them to care?” It would mean they would take the ball and run with it and do everything in their power to transform toxic masculinity, stand up against every form of violence, call out their brothers, fathers, sons, bosses when they are abusing women. It would mean we find the ways and forms for men to take responsibility for their past actions so that they can use them to help transform and reach other men in dire need of direction.

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