I belong to the flood of women in the world that have a #MeToo story. In a continuum from sexism to sexual harassment to rape and other forms of violence, I think we’d be hard-pressed to find a woman anywhere who hasn’t got a #MeToo story. And when you include sexist policies baked into the governance of many cultures, we’re all affected to varying degrees.
Because sexual harassment is so pervasive, it seems easy to blame every man around, to hold them all accountable for the godawful behavior of a certain portion of the male population. A man sexually harasses a woman and other men won’t listen to her or believe her or speak up or do anything, so they are as guilty as the harasser.
I have seen this blanket condemnation of men many times online as #MeToo stories are shared. I would like to offer a different perspective based on my #MeToo experiences.
My first #MeToo story happened when I was 9 or 10 years old. My sister, who is a few years younger than I am, was with me. We were riding bikes in an inactive industrial area not far from our home. A forest green car rolled up, one of those 1970s-era giant sedans. The driver, an older guy, asked us directions to a particular person’s house. We told him we didn’t know where the person lived. Then the guy started saying things of a sexual nature to us. I immediately said, “We have to go home, NOW!” And my sister and I hightailed it out of there, heading straight home, where we immediately told Dad what had happened.
While I can’t remember the name of the person the guy had asked for now, at the time I told my dad who it was. I also don’t remember what kind of sexual stuff he had said to us, but I knew it was wrong.
Without hesitation, my dad believed us and we went driving around to see if we could find the car. I have no idea what my dad would have done had we found that guy, but I knew he was furious and ready to defend us.
And that’s when I learned several lessons about dealing with sexual harassment. 1) Without fear of offending adults or men, I learned I had the gumption to be impolite in order to get out of a bad situation. 2) I could tell someone about the harassment and be believed. 3) There are compassionate men (my dad!) in the world who were willing to defend girls and women.
My dad was actually my first feminist role model, strange as that may sound. He taught me that girls and boys were equal, that I could take on any task, no matter what the societally-assigned gender, and women deserved to be paid the same as men.
He taught me to throw a baseball, whereas Mom had this notion that any girls she gave birth to would be cheerleaders to cheer on the 9 boys she wanted to have so she could have a baseball team. As it turned out, Mom and Dad had two boys and two girls, so no baseball team with cheerleaders was created.
Dad had us girls take gun safety, just like the boys. He thought we ought to know how to change our own oil in the car. And he later taught me a little something about plumbing.
While he was teaching us girls that we were equal to boys, he was also teaching my brothers how to be compassionate men.
When I was in middle school or early high school, another #MeToo incident occurred. A creepy kid who was fairly new in town was visiting our house. I’m not sure who had invited him over, but I think it was one of my brothers. At one point he attempted to lay on top of me. I shoved him off and gave him what for. He was never invited back. The incident is vague in my memory, but I’m pretty sure I told my brothers what had happened and they steered clear of the kid.
I have been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by compassionate men, from my dad and brothers and my Grandpa Jens, to my brother John’s best friend in high school, Erik, who became my husband.
Erik and John and another friend were driving around town one day, probably when they were in high school, when they saw a guy smacking his girlfriend around outside a bar. They whipped around the block and got out of the car near the couple and said something to the effect of, “If you hit her again, you’ll have us to deal with.” The man didn’t dare hit her again. A similar incident occurred, wherein Erik saw a guy hitting his girlfriend, and Erik stopped that, too.
Erik was recently at a concert where a guy behind him kept punching people, including a woman who was smaller than I am (I’m 5’4″ and 107 pounds), on his way to the mosh pit. After about the fourth time Punching Man went through, Erik turned to the woman’s boyfriend, who was getting fed up with Punching Man, too, and said, “If he comes through again, I’m going to do something about it.” Sure enough, Punching Man came swinging through and Erik gave him a taste of his own medicine. The woman’s boyfriend, who had been avoiding the mosh pit, headed in after the guy.
As you can see from these examples, the compassionate men in my life are willing to listen to and defend women who are being harassed. Erik and I have taught our two sons the same compassion and they readily defend anyone who is being bullied or harassed. Our son Ian made a deal with bullies in middle school that if they would stop their bullying behavior, he’d create a drawing for them. He is a magnificent artist, so this was an excellent tactic that worked. Our son Sebastian is ever at the ready to assist his female friends if they are being harassed.
I have been lucky that the #MeToo incidents I’ve dealt with haven’t led to horrifying outcomes, as happens with so many women. But, I also recognize that not all men engage in sexually harassing behavior. Further, these non-harassing compassionate men are speaking up and taking action to stop harassers, although they don’t broadcast that to the world. Women need to recognize that these compassionate men are their allies in the fight against harassment and inequality and stop throwing them in the same slop bucket of shame as the harassers. The harassers deserve the shame and punishment they get; compassionate men don’t.