Yes, We Need Men to Change For The MeToo Movement to Work

Yes, We Need Men to Change

For The MeToo Movement to Work

The Mad Men mentality in the workplace is dying, and so is the on-the-prowl-style of dating, where men are the hunters and women the prey. Despite the rise of the #MeToo movement, many women still aren’t prepared to voice their objections to men’s conduct, fearing that they will hurt men’s feelings or worse, hurt their own careers. Because of this reluctance, women find themselves the target of blame when they come forward about sexual harassment. Women are asked, Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you come forward sooner? The real question is: Are women always expected to be on the defense?

“Men are always told that you have to work for it,” says Dr. Rancine Henry, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Sankofa Marriage and Family Therapy in New York City. A man can’t assume that a woman doesn’t want something just because she doesn’t say so. Dr. Henry says that we can no longer rely on those implicit assumptions. “The #MeToo movement should compel men and women to have open conversations about consent and the boundaries of their relationship,” says Dr. Henry. “We have to stop assuming that we can inherently tell what the other person wants or is comfortable with doing sexually.”

These assumptions have always played in to the 50s mentality for men: their pleasure takes precedence over someone else’s pain. Of course, they could say they didn’t know about that pain. Now that women are speaking up, all bets are off, and men who use blasé assumptions to get what they want now do so at their own peril.

When it comes to intimate relationships, dialogues need to be created between partners in order to foster openness and make sure no one feels accused or blamed.

“There needs to be more training around consent and what it looks like,” Dr. Henry added. There needs to be training for men and women on what consent means. Men aren’t socialized to talk about it.”

Even in the workplace, men may not know how to treat women. But that isn’t just coming from small social interactions. It’s the aggregate of attitudes and practices ingrained in many organizations.

“Study after study shows persistent gender inequality in nearly every area of the workplace,” says Dr. Lauren Appio, psychologist, career coach, and head of Appio Psychological Consulting, PLLC. “Inequity can be found in hiring and promotion practices, an organization’s policies and procedures, project assignments, and pay and allocation of other benefits. Informally, inequity also plays out in the degree of access people have to close professional relationships with mentors and other role models.”

For many traditional, long-standing companies, the culture is decidedly male, because they are rooted in a time when women were barred from entering graduate schools en masse or working outside the home in many positions.

Christina Hendricks as the feisty Joan Harris in Mad Men

“Even though women have entered the workforce in greater numbers and the 1950’s seem pretty far behind us, the negative stereotypes about women’s capabilities and work performance continue to affect how women are viewed at work,” says Dr. Appio. “And we’ve all gotten so many messages, our whole life, about what men’s and women’s roles are. Men are expected to be dominant and in charge, and women are expected to be accommodating and nurturing.”

Those roles often don’t create environments where women can advance their careers. In fact, women often end up filling the same roles in the workplace that they’re expected to at home. According to leadership development consultant Matt Dubin, women often lose time at work taking care of “non-promotable tasks” like planning office parties and cleaning up after others. Because of this, says Dubin, men often have more time to do functions related to their jobs, and that helps them get promoted faster.

Managers can combat this phenomenon by actively giving women leadership responsibilities, suggests Dubin. These responsibilities can range from sitting leading a conference call to actively mentoring a woman for future leadership.

With women beginning to take part in advantages like leadership roles in the workplace, many men have begun to feel left out. Others worry that the #MeToo movement, and women’s empowerment in general, seeks to diminish men rather than raising women up to a place of equitable opportunity. Some men have even voiced concerns that their thoughts and actions are being policed.

Tarana Burke, founder of the #metoo movement. Photo courtesy of Just Be Inc

“For men who feel like they’re walking through a minefield every day now, they need to stop being fragile,” says Jerin Arifa, women’s rights activist and consultant. “Remember that sexism exists in a wide spectrum. It’s not enough to focus on only the most serious forms of misogyny. We need to point out and remove seemingly small infractions, like sexist “jokes,” or assuming that a doctor is male. These smaller infractions, over time, contribute to a culture that devalues women and girls.”

Arifa is quick to point out that kind of devaluation is dangerous: “The physical, psychological and financial burden of gender-based violence is overwhelming…Three women are killed by people they love each day in America. Not in a war zone, but within the borders of the U.S.”

At its root, casual workplace sexism is connected to the same system of dominance as domestic violence. Microagressions like being talked over or interrupted are linked to American culture’s devaluation of women and what Dubin called the “implicit biases” about gender roles that men and women have absorbed over their lives.

“For men who feel like they’re walking through a minefield every day now, they need to “Men need to recognize this in others and call it out,” says Dubin. “The environment needs to change, to set a tone where these sexist things can be solved. We need to create an environment where everyone is comfortable and heard.”

Dubin’s consulting firm assesses companies and holds seminars to help them create better, more equitable work cultures. For Dubin, this means that women can’t just be included, they need to be treated like the valuable team members they are.

For this, men have to become women’s allies, and they have to be, “very open that they are part of this movement,” says Dubin. Not only should men ask how they can be better allies, Dubin’s firm also teaches them how to sit back and “authentically listen,” even when the answers they receive are difficult to stomach.

Companies can help by setting up situations where men are comfortable mentoring women and women are comfortable being mentored by men. “Mentoring has been often gender segregated,” says Dubin. When male leaders learn how to treat a female protégé the same was they would treat a male, they take a step in the direction of equity.

Women, however, can’t just sit by and wait for change. Women have to learn tactics to deal with the toxic cultural structures that are still in place. When a woman is spoken over, she can verbally take back the conversation. Dr. Appio suggests these phrases:

“‘I wasn’t finished speaking and you changed the subject. I’d like to continue.’

“‘You started talking before I was finished speaking.’

“A colleague of mine would repeat, “Just hear me out, hear me out,” to regain the focus on the conversation.”

Women can also build alliances with each other, and colleagues can learn to step in when they notice something is amiss.

Even as steps are being taken toward equality in the workplace, Dr. Rancine Henry is seeing a large influx of couples coming to therapy, surprisingly, for infidelity. In the last 18 months, Dr. Henry has seen more cases than ever before where the wife has cheated on her husband. In these cases, the husbands seem “stuck on” what happened to them. In comparison, Dr. Henry has found that in cases where the man is the unfaithful partner, they insist on their wife “has to let this go.”

Women are taught to be caregivers. “We are fed this lie that if we put up with enough crap from our partners, they’ll stay,” says Dr. Henry. “Our needs don’t even exist.”

Empowering women is a big part of how Dr. Henry approaches therapy. “Across cultures,” she says, “we’re taught almost the same ideas about what our reactions should be as women.” But partnership implies reciprocation.

“I have seen a lot more men speaking out against sexual assault,” says Dr. Henry. “A lot more men are aware of these things. But they don’t necessarily know what to do. It’s going to take more than just this movement and more than just men talking about it.”

It will have to be a changing of attitudes in both the workplace and the dating world, too. Every revelation, whether it’s the story about Aziz Ansari or the sentencing of Larry Nassar, is a step in the right direction.

Things are changing slowly by the conversations we are having,” says Dr. Henry. “Women are banding together to publicly support one another and to call men to task. Men are speaking out against one another, and we’re seeing powerful men fall from grace. True change will come when a woman can be in any job, at any level, wearing whatever she wants and/or on any street by herself and unafraid of what a man might do. Current survivors will not be re-traumatized when they speak out, and perpetrators will be brought to justice and unable to hide behind money or power.”

Rebecca Renner

Rebecca Renner is a journalist based in Boca Raton, FL. Her work has appeared or is upcoming in New York Magazine, the Washington Post, and Glamour.

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