Most men don’t abuse women. The problem that we need to talk about, though, is the men who know abusers — and never confront them.
Let’s talk about fatigue for a second. Not tiredness. Not even exhaustion. Fatigue is less physical than it is emotional. It’s Sisyphus back at the beginning with his ball, staring up that ramp, knowing he was this fucking close and that’s exactly as close as he’s ever gonna be. Fatigue hasn’t snuffed out his ability, but it’s damn close to bodying his resolve.
It’s also the word that best describes what we’ve been feeling recently.
Three times this week already, with who knows how many more to come, we’ve seen women come forward to share their experiences — no, call it what it is, their abuse — at the hands and whims of men who want things from them. Men in the worlds of media and entertainment, men in our world of media and entertainment, men who have accumulated some measure of power and respect. Men who have, by multiple accounts, wielded that power and respect not to lift but to take.
Whether that taking involves sexual coercion in any of its disgusting flavors or something more insidious, it’s all rooted in the same presumption. A man wants something that a woman has — her body, her attention, her loyalty — and decides it’s his by right. As though it can be his. As though it’s something given at all, rather than shared.
Being a man who does the right thing — and if you want to use the word “ally” here, that’s fine — involves both not-doing and doing. You don’t do the bad stuff? Congratulations. But you, we, need to do the good stuff too.
What happens after that varies. When that man has accumulated some measure of power and respect, a woman may feel like she has no recourse. She tells her friends, or maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she blames herself. Maybe she confronts the man, who threatens and gaslights and tells her that it was her fault or that no one will believe her. Maybe he does something worse, something violent.
When and if that truth does come out, weeks or months or years later, the man denies. He apologizes, yes, but not for the thing he did. He apologizes for “misunderstandings,” for acting in accordance with “how things were,” for the “culture.” He deflects: He is being targeted, his good intentions are being misread, it was all just jokes, he has always been a champion of women, he was raised by strong women, his mother and sister are women.
Look. To point out that men shouldn’t be doing these horrific things is utterly unnecessary. There’s no real reason to discuss it, other than to name it as the reason for our fatigue. But there is a problem to discuss. A different problem. And the problem that we have always needed to talk about but somehow never do, is the other men.
The problem that we need to talk about right now is us.
You know what happens when a man takes? Another man knows. He might be a friend of the taker, might be a co-worker. And when that man knows, and doesn’t do anything, he allows that taking to continue. Abuse is a virus; it needs a friendly host environment in order to enact its desperate agenda.
This shit happened at media companies and record labels, at happy hours and parties 20 years ago, 10 years ago, two months ago; do you think that the men who closed their doors whenever a junior woman entered their offices did so undetected? Hell, no. Other men knew. Sometimes they saw. Sometimes they laughed. Sometimes they warned women — “make sure you keep that door open” — and sometimes they even listened and commiserated.
But they never checked their man.
Most men aren’t creeps, let alone monsters. Most men really do manage to enjoy supportive friendships with women that involve mutual respect. Most men understand that workplace relationships happen and casual sex happens and sometimes even some hybrid of the two happens, but they also understand things like power and consent and how the former so easily taints the latter. Certainly more men today understand those things than 10 or 20 years ago, or indeed at any other point in our history. And that’s a great thing.
However. Being a man who does the right thing — and if you want to use the word “ally” here, that’s fine — involves both not-doing and doing. You don’t do the bad stuff? Congratulations. But you, we, need to do the good stuff too.
The good stuff is more than listening. The good stuff is more than being a grown-ass man and leading by example. The good stuff is using your power to stop the man misusing his. It’s making sure that he doesn’t and can’t do it again. It’s cutting ties with him not because you’re worried about HR or because it’s good optics, but because he’s wrong. The good stuff isn’t a tweet addressed to no one; it’s telling your man — your friend, your colleague, your whoever it is — to his face. Holding him accountable. Letting him know, in no uncertain terms, that there’s no harbor for him here. Firing him if you need to. Cutting him off if it comes to that.
Holding other men accountable isn’t something we’re used to. We weren’t necessarily taught it, not like we were taught other lessons. We were taught to do the right thing, and we understand the burden of raising sons and daughters who do the right thing too, but we were also taught to hold our mans down. Taught that the world is against us, and we’re all we got. That loyalty is everything. Maybe it is — but loyalty is also a contract. When a man takes, he violates that contract. When he tears down, or silences, or misuses the power he’s amassed, he violates that contract.
And when a woman tells us what that man has done, and we do nothing, we violate that contract too.
This isn’t on women to speak up, to say no. They’re doing that; they’ve been doing that. They’ve catalyzed unbelievable change, stemming a reeking tide of status quo and bringing monsters to justice. The problem is that they’ve been doing it alone, fighting uphill against an unimaginably steep, slick ramp, knowing that little awaits them at the top but another ocean of grief. And because they’ve been doing it alone, or because they sense that speaking up invites either silence or blowback, they leave the industries that they love. They abandon the dreams that have driven them.
Make no mistake: This is on us. It’s always been on us. But for far too long, we’ve been speaking up only in the aftermath. Standing with women, but never behind them. For far too long, we’ve been allies in thought rather than deed.
No more thoughts. It’s time for you, for us, for all of us, to understand that being a man means action. Not just in a moment like this; in all moments. In truth, there is no “moment like this” — there is only a never-ending litany of moments that gather pressure until they whistle out, scalding, behind the first woman brave enough to open that vent. So yes, to be a man is to act. Act to stop the moment that you see taking shape, act to prevent the next moment from happening.
That action isn’t without risk — risking friendships, risking professional advancement, risking the ease with which you walk through life. But the men we’ve always respected the most have seen that risk for what it was: the road that leads out of fatigue and toward something better.