The #MeToo movement has gone viral, with countless thousands of women flooding social media with stories of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. And that is awesome. It’s a gift to our culture to hear, consider, and value these painful stories. But I can’t help but think, where are the voices of the men who’ve perpetrated these abuses? Without the stories of these #ImperfectMen there is an incomplete discourse. It’s the sound of one hand clapping.
When only the victims are speaking out, with men mostly skulking in the shadows and wagging our fingers at infamous abusers (Weinstein, O’Reilly, Ailes, Cosby, and the like), pretending those abusers are the sole cause of “the problem,” we can easily forget (or ignore) the fact that famous and powerful men like Weinstein are a drop in the bucket. In reality, almost every man on the planet is guilty at some point in his life of inappropriate flirting, cat-calling, verbal objectification, pushing for sex despite resistance, or some other similarly misogynistic behavior.
No, I’m not saying that every man is a predatory rapist. Thankfully, that is not even remotely the case. I’m simply stating that at this moment in time we seem to be having an important but incomplete conversation about sexual abuse, harassment, and offending. As female victims are calling out their abuse via #MeToo, the male response has been almost solely focused on Weinstein and other equally famous offenders. And while these men do serve as cultural examples exemplifying the worst of the problem, the rest of the male population needs to step up and be accountable. But we’re not doing that. Right now, we’re calling Weinstein and his ilk the bad guys, and we’re letting ourselves off the hook. Even though none of us is guiltless.
Please forgive me if you are a fully actualized man who would never, ever push a woman for sex. If so, you’re incredible and I congratulate you. However, in my five-plus decades on this planet I’ve yet to meet a man who wasn’t, at least once in his life, sexist, misogynistic, or overly aggressive with a woman. Every guy I know has at least one story about behavior he now regrets. Maybe he was 19 and pushed his girlfriend too hard for sex, or he was 38 and drunk at a party and hit on a coworker who wasn’t interested, or whatever. Heck, I’m gay and married to a man for 16 years now, and even I can look back to when I was dating women and see times when I behaved badly. And not just once, either. I’m not proud of that fact, and I’ve learned from my mistakes, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t make them.
With the #MeToo movement, we are primarily hearing the voices of women who’ve been victimized by men. And this has been wonderfully enlightening. Consider the words of author and poet Najwa Zebian, who posted, “I was blamed for it. I was told not to talk about it. I was told that it wasn’t that bad. I was told to get over it.” Even for a man who thinks of himself as enlightened and compassionate and empathetic, that is a powerful and incredibly informative statement. But where is the other half of the story? Where are the voices of #ImperfectMen? Where is our accountability? Why aren’t we sharing our hard-earned lessons so our sons and brothers can learn from our mistakes?
I have closely monitored (and at times been part of) the Weinstein news over the past 10 days, and the one thing I’m not hearing is the voice of the #ImperfectMen who’ve behaved badly, regretted it, learned from it, and amended their approach in positive ways. I’ve not heard #ImperfectMen say, “I haven’t always treated the women in my life with dignity and respect, and I regret that.” Instead, as men we are hiding in the shadows, pretending that ogres like Harvey Weinstein are the entire issue.
What we really should be doing right now is talking about sexual harassment, abuse, and offending. Not just Weinstein’s behavior, but our own. We should be tweeting #ImperfectMen and sharing our stories, however shameful and painful and embarrassing those stories might be. We need to own our behavior, because until we do that, we won’t learn the lessons that we desperately need to learn.
If you’re a guy and you’re reading this, don’t get angry with me and tell me I’m a jerk and I don’t even know you so how can I accuse you of sexual misconduct. Instead, ask yourself: Did I ever have a little too much to drink and push a little too far with a woman? Did I ever take advantage of a situation to make a sexual advance? Did I ever belittle a woman as a way of breaking down her resistance? Did I ever pretend to care about a woman more than I really did as a way of convincing her to have sex with me? Did I ever treat a woman more like a sexual object than a human being? Did I ever treat a woman in a way that doesn’t mesh with my morals and values?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, good for you. Not because you behaved badly, but because you’re willing to be honest about it and own it. And no, you don’t suddenly need to lump yourself into a category with Harvey Weinstein (unless your behavior has been equally abhorrent over an equally lengthy timeframe). You especially don’t need to berate yourself (too badly) for your mistakes if you’ve learned from them and tried to not repeat them. What you can’t do is sweep your behavior under the rug and pretend it never happened.
And that is really my point. The Harvey Weinstein situation is a mess. It’s also a giant learning opportunity for men everywhere. We need to hear from more than just the victims, we need to hear from remorseful men who are ashamed of their lapses in judgment and behavior. Because, sadly, we’ve all been there. We’ve all been #ImperfectMen. And we can all learn from our mistakes. But not if we push them away or point to others as being the problem. So, who among us is strong enough to share his story of imperfection and growth? We need your voice.