Guys, we need to talk.
After all of the headlines, after all of the breaking news, after one fresh allegation after another, can any of us actually be proud to be a man these days? In the past, we used to write off the bad behaviors, claiming they were exceptions to the rule. These days, it may be easier to assemble lists of which men are NOT accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault.
While there is plenty of blame to go around, and that blame starts first and foremost with the accused, we all have to take some responsibility. For years, we have written off such allegations with trite lines like, “boys will be boys.” Today, we see those same excuses come up when we hear, “that’s just Charlie being Charlie,” or “Al was just trying to be funny,” or “that’s just who Louis is.”
We excused professional athletes when they were charged with hitting their wives or girlfriends or accused of rape or sexual assault. We let our fanboy thinking get in the way, placing one’s standing as a star athlete above one’s standing as a man.
We’ve even let our politics lead us to justify the egregious behavior of some because they advocate for and champion the causes and issues that we believe are so important. We even condemn the accusers, thinking they are part of a nefarious plot to bring down our champions and our voices.
For every trusted journalist, election-winning politician, award-winning producer or actor, laugh-inducing comedian, or revenue-generating titan of industry who is accused of wrongdoing, we must still ask how many others are out there. How many of our fellow men are conducting the same heinous acts, either believing they are entitled to or feeling they are justified because their heroes are doing the same thing? How many accusers can’t come forward because they live in a small town, need the paycheck, or worry for their families? How many others?
Any rational person must realize that the accusations of recent weeks are just the tip of the iceberg. As such, it is no longer sufficient for us to parse our outrage at such behavior. We should not longer be using phrases like “as a father” to express our anger. This should infuriate us as human beings. Period. It shouldn’t matter if the accused is a woman, a man, or a child. What’s wrong is wrong.
Perhaps we have lost sight of the difference between right and wrong in such situations. Perhaps we need a reminder of what is acceptable behavior in civilized society these days, and what is not. So let’s recap.
First, when someone smiles at you or says hello, that is not an invitation to proposition. This is particularly true when the person saying hello is in the customer service industry. It may be shocking, but some people are just nice. Some people just smile. It doesn’t mean they are opening for your advances. If you are unsure, think of the judge who may be smiling at your sentencing.
Second, we are not caricatures of 1950s office culture. Men do not chase women around office desks. Men do not make lewd or inappropriate comments to or about their co-workers. You don’t want to be the guy no one wants to be alone with in an elevator.
Third, there is never an appropriate time to masturbate in front of colleagues or friends. And no, asking first does not make it acceptable. It’s ridiculous we even have to have this discussion.
And speaking of ridiculous discussions, it is never appropriate for an adult to pursue a sexual relationship with a child. And yes, those who are 14 or 15 or 16 years old are still children. It doesn’t matter if you are pursuing an underage girl or boy, the key word here is “underage.” If you can’t get your date into an R-rated movie with you …
Finally, if you have to ask if something is appropriate, it is a good bet it is not. If you have to defend your actions because so-and-so also did it, they what you did is indefensible. If you justify what you have done by stating that it isn’t as bad as what someone else did, you really have no justification for your actions.
It’s sad that we even need to have these discussions or need such a primer. It’s sadder that we don’t seem, as a group, to be more outraged by what we are seeing and what we are hearing. It’s no longer about setting a better example for our own sons or trying to treat women as we would want our moms or our sisters treated. It boils down to the very basic question, are we part of the solution or are we part of the problem.
To recap. No means no. It’s not about being a “real man.” Boys will not just be boys. We all need to just behave like respectful human beings.