Locker room talk. Harmless braggadocio. Boys will be boys.
If you’re a hetero male like me, you might feel that we’re getting a bad rap, that we’re being slandered and libeled, being painted with a big stinking brush. We don’t talk that way. We don’t even think that way. OK, sure, we like looking at women and yes, we are guilty of crudely expressing our opinions about female anatomy, but that’s different. Isn’t it?
Are we perpetrating a culture where the lines between crudeness and criminality are so nebulous that we don’t know where the breaking point lies? Are we presuming that a man’s words never lead to actions, or that our fraternal smiles are never taken as tacit approval to turn thought into deed?
Here’s a radical idea: Let’s listen to the women around us.
If there’s one thing that should absolutely shock you about the current Trump Tape firestorm it’s this: the women in our lives are just sadly shaking their heads.
At work, in conversations, on social media, in the news, woman after woman after woman is telling her history, setting aside any feelings of shame to relate her past experience with abusive men. A girl of five is pawed by an adult male. An Uber driver propositions a woman he’s ferrying from airport to hotel. A woman wakes up from anesthesia to find her rape in progress. A guy on a crowded bus moves up behind a young woman and…rubs his groin against her. Touching. Groping. Physical restraint. Pelvic grinds. Unwanted open-mouth kisses. Refusals that are ignored. Pleas that are ignored. Demands to be left alone, all ignored. And then there’s the fallout. The curses, the name calling, the stalking, the threats, the violence. I’ve heard these and other stories from friends, co-workers, acquaintances, relatives, neighbors, and from my spouse.
I know, I know. We don’t all behave this way but here’s the point: More of us do than we want to admit.
There are enough of “those men” out there to affect the lives of every woman we know. There are enough of those men out there — locker-room braggarts, slick-mannered predators, abusers who profess how much they “love” women — there are enough of them so that a full third of women report that they have been raped, beaten, or stalked. A third.
One out of three.
And yet, as soon as a woman comes forward with an accusation, society asks — no, we ask — What’s her motive for accusing him now? Why did she wait so long?
What’s her motive for accusing him now? Because someone else spoke out and she doesn’t feel alone, or she finally feels strong enough to speak her truth.
Why did she wait? Because we don’t listen; we only shame.
So let’s listen to them. Listen to what they’re telling us.
Their world is not safe. Their world is filled with dangers we simply do not perceive. Their world is a dance between risk and trust, politeness and affront, pleasant faces and hidden intents.
Our natural male response is to run out and beat the tar out of whomever assaulted her but, while satisfying, such alpha-male-isms only deny the truth: Good men cannot protect women from bad men, not when the problem is this pervasive.
We must find another way.
A woman’s world may never be safe, but we men can at least help make it safe for them to speak out. And then we can listen to them. We can believe them. We can stand at their side.
We can be allies, not bystanders.
Listen to them, boys. Listen to them.