#MeToo and Just Listening

One of the things I pride myself on is my ability to make and keep friends that are diverse, across the spectrum. I have friends who are white, black, brown, male, female, gay, straight, queer/nonbinary, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, young, old, different abilities, and different socioeconomic statuses and backgrounds. The benefit of keeping and holding onto these friendships is that they give me perspective that I oftentimes do not get in my everyday life, or from my own life experiences. They oftentimes give me opportunity to take pause. I frequently disagree or do not understand them. But many times I do, or I have the pleasure to learn from their experiences. Many times, this involves simply shutting up and listening.

I have always been disgusted by sexual harassment and assault. There are few things that provoke such a strong Pavlovian revulsion in the pit of my stomach. I joined a fraternity during my time in college, and thankfully, we were one of the good ones. We would cut people out that violated standards of human decency like the malignant tumor they are. I'd be the first to chase one of those guys out of a party. I'm the guy that says something to the guy who makes a comment as a pretty girl exits an all-male elevator. I have no problems with saying something when I see something wrong. But I also try to know when to shut up.

The stories that I saw from friends all around the country were enough to make my head spin. The problem is one that knows no boundaries. From all corners of my rainbow quilt of acquaintances and friends, I saw women and others express the impact of sexual assault and harassment.

I also saw men attempt to respond – from "I believe you" to "I'm not part of the problem" to silence. I’m the sort of guy who likes to fix stuff, build stuff, and work on stuff. It's almost like an innate quality to want to work on Legos or model planes. As I listened and observed the responses, I saw that other men generally want to help or fix too (a good thing). Many times, however, they expressed this in ways that did not empathize with their friends or account for the trauma that women experience on a grand scale. Our society has gone from an active and prominent repression of women’s individual rights and sexuality to one that is more latent and suppressed. But it hasn't ceased to be repression. Our society tolerates the crimes of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and many other powerful figures because men don't want to hear about the depth of the problem, or don't want to believe that men have traumatized such a huge number of women.

This is a moment to sit down, shut up, and listen. Listen to the stories, listen to the perspectives. Attempt to understand and try to empathize. Advocate for what's right without assuming victims to be some sort of broken mess to be saved. What I've noticed and thought in the past few days is that the vast majority of these women aren't asking for men to say anything. They are asking to be listened to, acknowledged, and illuminated, and they're asking for justice (however they define the term). What they are doing takes a hell of a lot of courage, and they have the courage that men oftentimes lack when sexual assault discussions arise, or when harassment occurs in an largely male space as a woman walks by.

If men want to talk, we should talk to other men. If we want to "fix," we should fix the attitudes that many of us hold and tolerate about sexual harassment and assault. If we want to be morally outraged, it should be at our collective tolerance of these sorts of monsters for so long. We should not grant harassers or abusers any more than their due process rights in a court of law. We should grant them no quarter in our discussions, our organizations, or our employers. We should fully investigate allegations and stand for victims as they attempt to come forward with their stories. We should respect them and their experiences, instead of seeing them as something broken and in need of fixing.

One of these #MeToo stories is too much for us to tolerate as a society. We cannot allow this to happen if we truly respect our fellow humans. We need to see those different from ourselves as friends, coworkers, and bosses. We need to value others for their humanity, for their contributions and accomplishments, for their intelligence and experiences. This is what really matters. Women balance families and careers, or the expectations of society for them to balance both, accomplish all that they accomplish after dealing with historic and systemic repression, and often men still do not take them fully seriously because of their identity. We need to value the female experience and leverage their perspective because it is different than ours, and if we are ever going to become a society that values and protects our fellow humans, we are going to need to know when to shut up and listen.