Exactly how many “shitty men” will it take for us to save our sons?

This article was originally published in Quartz.

Where are all the good men?

That’s the question for America after a week of truly horrifying news about Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexually predatory behavior, a few months after Bill Cosby went to trial on charges of drugging and sexually assaulting one of the dozens of women who accused him, and almost exactly a year after the United States elected Donald Trump president even after hearing him brag to Billy Bush that he forced himself on women (and women came forward to substantiate his claim).

Maybe you heard that Brad Pitt allegedly threatened Weinstein with a “Missouri whooping” after the movie mogul accosted his then-girlfriend, Gwyneth Paltrow? Still, maybe you also felt like:

Pitt’s now-much-publicized moment of chivalry stands as a tepid response within the entertainment industry to what now appears to have been widespread knowledge about Weinstein’s behavior. Actor Rose McGowan, who says that Weinstein raped her, has used Twitter to call out men from Ben Affleck to Jeff Bezos, saying they knew of Weinstein’s actions:

Since then, male Hollywood A-listers have very, very slowly spoken out about Weinstein, though most have denied knowledge of his behavior, danced around it or, in Seth McFarlane’s case, claimed to be actually standing up to him by making this joke at the Oscars in 2013:



If you’re left with this question, it’s understandable:

The question contains the problem

Maybe the problem is, in part, the hunt for “good men,” which encourages a moral distancing that lets the rest of us off the hook. “Good men” are raised in the same culture that enforces a cone of silence around around all sorts of nasty behavior. If legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s knowledge of Jerry Sandusky’s sex crimes made him a “bad man,” who else knew and said nothing? Surely the Catholic Church’s truly incredible, worldwide cover-up of molestations by priest highlights that a simple division of “good” and “bad” individuals is an onerous, impossible, and frankly pointless exercise when it comes to widespread and systemic toxic behavior. “Bad” becomes, in the end, merely a matter of degree, when “good” men remain silent, or offer generic messages of support on social media, claiming wide-eyed outrage and surprise.

“As long as we continue to make it between bad guys and good guys, as long as we keep on doing that, we’re never going to get anywhere,” NYU psychology professor Niobe Way tells Quartz. Way, who wrote Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, works with adolescent boys, who’ve educated her on exactly how masculinity (“something we’ve created as a culture”) is socialized and reenforced.

“It’s not just about being a man, it’s about not not being ‘girly and gay,’” she says. “What I learned from the boys I work with is that what ‘girly and gay’ means is all the things we associate with being human: to be sensitive, to be attuned to emotions, to care about relationships, to express your sadness when you feel sad, to express your happiness when you feel happy, to get excited. It literally is linked to everything we associate with humans. And then to be a man is to not be that. The consequence of that is our culture.”

When I first began injecting testosterone in my thigh six years ago, at age 30, I learned pretty quickly that, like Fight Club, the first rule of masculinity was: Don’t talk about being a man. The second rule? Don’t talk about being a man.

I’ve thought a lot about the ways I internalized this “rule” in the years since, how it worked on me, the moments it pressured me into silence, how it suggested my silence was what kept me safe from ridicule and from exposure. In the years I’ve been asking questions about things that make me uneasy, I’ve seen that to address any troubling aspect of manhood is to risk relationships, jobs, even one’s life (I receive death threats regularly for stories like this one).

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