Over the past few weeks, as the number of public disclosures of “prominent” men who have perpetrated sexual harassment and/or assault against women continues to rise, a lot of people are asking questions. Who, what, where, and when are common responses to learning that a favorite celebrity or politician has committed an act of sexual violence-not to mention good for ratings and clicks. But the questions I’m more concerned with (and would like to see more discussion on) have to do with “why.” Here are just a few to get us started…
Why do men use their positions of power to sexually harass and assault women? I am in the unique position to get to think about issues of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and sexual exploitation on a daily basis in my professional roles. Just last week I was on the phone with a man who developed a program for men arrested for buying sex. I asked this man about some research I had read which described those who buy sex as addicts. He answered that while there might be a few who are addicted, the men he works with buy sex because they eroticize masculinity and patriarchy. Well, there you go.
I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations in recent weeks over people’s confusion with the types of harassment and abuse that has come to light. Most of their confusion stems from why a man who could most likely obtain consensual sex would use force, pressure, coercion or humiliation against women and girls? I think the answer to that question is that they get off on using their power against women. And, if that’s the answer, that begs the question, why? What is it about our culture and our way of life that makes some men (apparently a lot of men) eroticize their power and control over women? My answer… sexism.
Why have previous disclosures against these men been kept private for far too long or dismissed? I’m over the whole, “I’m a good guy” thing. Sorry men…this is going to seem harsh, but it’s time for a wake-up call. All those “good guys” who would never behave like this and who are horrified that men would use their positions of power to sexually harass and abuse women is great, BUT, we need these “good guys” to start challenging hyper masculinity…you know, all of that “locker room” talk.
When it came out that a ton of A-list celebs had been harassed by Weinstein, the common denominator seemed to be Brad Pitt. Not really, but a lot of the women had dated him and told him about the harassment. Brad is a “good guy” and so he apparently went to have a talk with Weinstein. And, that was it. He didn’t use his position of power, i.e. his being Brad Pitt or a man, to push the issue further and call for Weinstein’s dismissal. Unfortunately, he actually went further than most men go. He actually said something.
With each of these disclosures what we see is that a lot of people knew about these men’s behavior long before it became public knowledge. Often times it was just dismissed as, “he likes them young,” or ignored, you know by putting a lock button under someone’s desk or sending women for interviews in hotel rooms. In a majority of these cases, and apparently in Congress, the disclosures were handled legally and so those with knowledge of what took place actually paid to keep it from becoming public.
Well-meaning “good guys” and women played a part in the sexual harassment and abuse perpetrated by these men because they didn’t do enough to stop it. In that moment or situation, when they learned about what took place, they determined that if they challenged the sexual harassment and assault they would jeopardize their perceived power. Why does someone risk losing status and privilege by calling out sexual harassment and assault? My answer (again)…sexism.
Why Now? I’ve read some articles, heard some commentators, and been asked, “why now?” Why are women coming forward now and do you think there will be a backlash? Women are disclosing now because we elected a sexist to lead this country–a man who has blatantly sexually harassed and assaulted multiple women. This is the backlash.
We better continue asking why and begin asking how. How do we change the systems and culture that have gotten us to where we are today? The who, what, where, and when might be newsworthy, but it’s the why and the how that will create change.