By Ann Friedman
For the Los Angeles Times
It’s been more than two weeks since the “open secret” about Harvey Weinstein landed in The New York Times and then the New Yorker and then just about every media outlet in the country. Two exhausting weeks for women.
We’ve been publicly sharing our experiences of harassment or assault — some of us for the first time — using the #MeToo hashtag. Privately, we’ve been communicating with other women in our industries, comparing names of men to watch out for. We’ve been having nightmares, wincing as we open Twitter, crying on each other’s shoulders. We’ve been texting our friends who are assault survivors to make sure they’re OK, especially those we know who couldn’t bring themselves to use the hashtag.
We see their public reactions. They’re liking those #MeToo posts. Some are posting about what a creep Weinstein is or sharing essays by women who are calling out bad behavior in other industries. A few have even begun using the hashtag #IHave or #ItWasMe to take responsibility for harassing or assaulting someone. “Used to be, when I got drunk, I’d get HANDSY,” an actor in Los Angeles posted, along with an apology. An architect in St. Louis wrote, “I have come on to them aggressively, I have pressed when I should have accepted, I have been part of the problem.”
Some men are among the survivors. Actor Terry Crews shared a story on Twitter about the time he was groped at a Hollywood event.
But mostly, it’s women speaking up about their demeaning, infuriating and painful experiences at the hands of men whose reputations have yet to suffer. And, mostly, the perpetrators’ names have remained private.
After the flood of #MeToo posts, critics charged that the hashtag continues to put the onus on victims to speak up while letting men off the hook. In response, some shared lists of tips on how men can stop this behavior from flourishing. The lists have a similar theme: It’s what you do when women aren’t around that really counts. How you speak about women matters, especially when you’re around other men. Talk less and listen more.
But I’d start with something even simpler. For things to change, men have to want to know the truth. Not just about strangers, but about their friends. Not just about men whose careers are waning, but about those at the top of their industries.
It’s possible to be in close proximity to harassment or abuse without knowing about it, even in “open-secret” cases. The burden is on men to build trust with the women in their lives. They have to want to know about women’s experiences with harassment and abuse, and they have to believe what those women tell them. For every woman posting a #MeToo experience, there is a man reading it who has not offered her his direct support and solidarity.
And once they’re no longer willfully blind to the specifics of what’s happening to the women in their lives, men have to act.
This can mean cutting an offending man off from professional opportunities. It can mean privately warning other men and women about his behavior. It might mean ending a friendship with him.
The men who perpetrate these crimes don’t exist in a vacuum. They are a part of our communities. A woman can see exactly how many mutual acquaintances she has with a man who has assaulted her, just by looking at his Facebook page. She’s very aware of who feels comfortable continuing to associate with him. It haunts me to think that I have given social approval to serial harassers or worse because of what I didn’t know. Men should feel the same way.
These crimes shouldn’t stay private. Perpetrators should have their careers hurt and their reputations damaged. But first and foremost, survivors should be supported by everyone in their community. For men, that means doing what women have been doing privately for a long time: reaching out, offering support and taking women’s words to heart.
Ann Friedman is a contributing writer to the Los Angeles Times’ opinion section. She lives in Los Angeles.