Revelations that megamogul Harvey Weinstein was using his position of power to intimidate and harass women came as a shock to some and a complete non-shock to others. You get one guess for which gender was shocked.
I don’t know a single woman who was shocked that a man in power used that position of power to bully, cajole, or force women into sex. Almost every woman has seen it happen to somebody else or had it happen to her. The Weinstein allegations led to a chorus of #MeToos from women across industries—television, journalism, U.S. Olympic gymnastics, etc.
Of course women knew this happened everywhere. Almost every woman knows the cold intravenous feeling we get the moment an encounter with a man turns from annoying to threatening, the hot flush of embarrassment when we later question whether that turn was our fault. This is just part of how we navigate the world.
Men’s reactions were a little different. An awful lot said they had no idea sexual assault and harassment was so rampant in their respective industry. An almost suspicious number. Now, I’d believe if a tiny sliver of the male population were not perceptive enough to notice things that are happening, over and over, to people who are not them. I’m sure some guys really do spend so much of their lives buried so deeply inside their own asses that they don’t notice problems that are right in front of them. Fine. Men, if you’re that stupid, you shouldn’t be in charge of electrical appliances, much less most Fortune 500 companies and world governments.
But some of the men, from Hollywood, California to Hollywood, Florida, who say what they’re learning from #MeToo is totally new information are not telling the truth. They noticed. They didn’t do anything because they didn’t think it was a big enough deal to do something. And they know how bad it was that they noticed and did nothing, which is why they’re lying about not noticing now. They’ve correctly judged that “I’m stupid!” is more redeemable than “I’m terrible!” We see you.
Some men have said they knew it was going on, kind of, but not how bad it was despite it happening in front of them and to people they knew. Quentin Tarantino, a longtime friend of Weinstein’s, told the New York Times’ Jodi Kantor that he’d heard stories of his friend terrorizing women, including one of Tarantino’s girlfriends, but that he thought it was some Benny Hill madcap shenanigan “boss chasing his secretary around the desk” stuff. Now that it’s all come out, he realizes how bad it was. It didn’t take his actual girlfriend telling him her lived experience to convince him of how bad it was; it took stories in the New York Times and the New Yorker and Huffington Post, stories that involved women who weren’t his girlfriend. It involved negative publicity. “That’s egg on my face,” he told Kantor.
There are Tarantinos everywhere, aligned with the Weinsteins of their world, men who won’t throw their hands up and pathetically say “my bad” until it threatens their career. We see you.
Some men have said they knew what was going on but didn’t know how widespread it is. Or they, like most women, knew that it was everywhere. Maybe they feel confused about what they were supposed to have done, what they should do in the future. They’re quietly taking a look at themselves now, running through encounters they’ve had or witnessed, asking themselves if they’ve ever enabled a Weinstein or a Dr. Larry Nassar or Bill Cosby or Roger Ailes. They’re texting their female friends heartfelt paragraphs at 3 a.m. about how they hope they never hurt them or let somebody else hurt them, and their female friends are waking up at a normal human hour and looking at their phones and responding, “Are you drunk?”
But this kind of man is important, and without him, nothing will change. As empowered to speak up as women are now, they’re still not very empowered to do much else. The people with the important jobs, for the most part, are still men. The men who need to hear it the most are need to hear it from a man. This isn’t because men are the ideal anti-sexual harassment advocates. It’s because some men still don’t believe things women tell them.
Comedian Jim Jeffries delivered one of the most resonant responses to this particular moment. “I was stupid to think that people like Harvey Weinstein were rare,” he said on his Comedy Central show on October 17th. He later added, “I thought I was a pretty good guy with all the not-raping I’ve done. But it turns out, that’s not enough. It’s a start, but it’s not enough.” Jeffries wasn’t talking to a college feminist club or trying to score woke points on a For Your Consideration clip. He was talking to exactly who needs to hear and internalize what’s going on. He was speaking to younger men, red state men, men who might not have a ton of daily interaction with women who aren’t in their families.
Right now feels like a watershed moment for confronting institutionalized sexual assault and harassment. But then again, the last few years have had their share of what felt like watershed moments that have ultimately led to nothing but resignation.
It felt like a rash of particularly terrible mass shootings including Newtown would lead to a change in gun regulation, but it didn’t.
It felt like a series of jaw-dropping displays of aggressive stupidity in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign would derail Donald Trump’s Weasels Take Over Toad Hall presidential campaign, but there the weasels are, redecorating the Oval Office.
It felt like President Obama singing “Amazing Grace” at a memorial service for victims of the racially motivated shooting of a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, was a watershed moment for confronting, but a couple short years later, the beady-eyed beta males who would have cheered Dylann Roof on marched on Charlottesville hoisting tiki torches. The President’s chief of staff is making up stories to make a black female congresswoman, and two black women grieving the loss of their veteran son and husband sound like liars.
In order for the Weinstein scandal to mean anything beyond a footnote in a future episode of I Love The 2010s, the men driven to reflection need to keep thinking, keep listening to their female friends, keep talking to their male friends. Women have done everything they can. Men, we need you to help us finish the job.