Toxic Masculinity Ruins the Party Again!

The title of this post comes from two of my favorite women, the hosts of My Favorite Murder, who talk at length in their podcast about the consequences of when masculinity is bastardized and morphed into ugliness and toxicity (spoiler alert: it usually results in violence against women). A few weeks ago, I wrote about how angry I am. I’m angry about a whole lot of things, and one of those things is the consistent degradation and treatment of women. I wrote, “I am angry that men on the street think my body is their property and that they have the right to comment on it or touch it however they see fit. I am angry that this experience inevitably fills me with shame, no matter how strongly and fiercely I react in the moment.” Recently, allegations came out against Harvey Weinstein, billionaire media mogul and the driving force behind many of your favorite movies. At last count, over 40 women have accused him of propositioning them, offering movie roles in exchange for sexual acts, sexual harassment, assault, and rape.

I wasn’t surprised. Up until this point, I never knew anything about Harvey Weinstein specifically other than that he exuded sleaziness even in still photos and yet was married to Georgina Chapman, a success in her own right. I remember that that surprised me, because in my experience, men who give off the lecherous vibe he does are usually married to women who are young, beautiful, and not much else. (See: first family). I’m not here to blame anyone else for Harvey Weinstein’s behaviors, especially not a woman who may have felt trapped by his power and may have been experiencing his abuse and coercion within their marriage, as well. He and he alone is responsible for those actions. But it seems that his behaviors were a well-known open secret in Hollywood, and that makes everyone around him who suspected inappropriate behavior and said nothing complicit. The patriarchy is built on women being taught to ignore their gut feelings and be “nice.” Gloria Steinem recently said, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, and you think it’s a pig, it’s a pig.” If I can look at a photo of a man I’ve never met and get an icky feeling in my stomach, there is a reason.

Women have been speaking up about him for years, it seems. And it appears that powerful men have been killing the story for years. Why do people do this? Primarily because it threatens some part of them - their identity, their business, their social standing, or because they just don’t think women matter that much.

I am so sick of men becoming woke only once the monster comes to their house. Matt Damon is upset because now he has daughters? I have startling news, Matt: we were humans long before you had children. Our value is not proportional to how many you know and care about in your own personal life. And don’t even get me started on his bff, Ben Affleck. Not only was he silent during the entire time his own brother was making the awards show rounds amidst allegations of similar behavior, but multiple videos have now surfaced of him engaging in groping and other predatory behavior over the years. Sit down, Ben.

That said, if you truly want to be an ally, here are some steps to take:

  1. Men, ask a woman you know about her experiences. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women reports being sexually assaulted in her lifetime, which means the number is likely much higher. You know more women than that. Do the math and actually ask them about what it’s like to live in their skin. They will share with you what they feel comfortable sharing, but when you’re in a room with more than 5 women, keep this statistic in mind.

  2. Women, talk to your friends about their experiences. This group of women created a Google spreadsheet entitled “SHITTY MEDIA MEN” which was distributed among women in journalism and publishing. Others have formed monthly groups with those in their industries to talk about the most notorious offenders, their specific actions, and are brainstorming ways to change behaviors. There is great strength in numbers.

  3. Everyone, start believing people (not just women) when they tell you their experiences. There is such little reward for coming forward, and even with plenty of evidence beyond “he said/she said,” the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. Reports are surfacing that women have been speaking up for years about this man’s behavior, yet were silenced and ignored by people who would prefer not to believe the accusations. Courtney Love called it out explicitly 12 years ago and even in her statement, acknowledged that she would likely receive legal blowback for her honesty.

  4. Don’t just believe women. Do what you can about it. If you are in a position of power or influence at work, use that to speak up. Create policies and structures that go beyond boilerplate sexual harassment language and identify subtle sexism as well as overt harassment, and enforce them. If you are not one of the women who is young and vulnerable and most likely to be preyed upon, do something with that security. Enlist the men in your organization to be allies and upstanders. Men, be better than needing to be enlisted. Be proactive and realize you have the least to lose and the most power in this game. It is not women’s sole responsibility to protect themselves from predators. Too many men stayed quiet or pleaded obliviousness to Harvey Weinstein’s behaviors. Both Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie reported predatory experiences with Harvey Weinstein, so where was Brad Pitt wielding his considerable status to speak up? Look around the room. If it’s a sausage fest, call it out. Bring more women into boardrooms, onto panels, and to the upper levels of management.

  5. And finally, start raising boys to be the kind of men who speak up. Women should not have to reveal their own personal traumas for men to believe that their experiences are real and widespread. To change that, we need boys to grow into men who know when a joke is misogynistic, who know what coercive behavior looks like in themselves and others, who don’t dismiss a woman for being sensitive or a prude, who don’t make certain expectations and assumptions based on gender, who enter into true partnerships, who aren’t afraid to call out bad behavior, and who are willing to self-examine.