I’m a straight man and the #MeToo movement has made me self-conscious. I want to support women, help them feel safe and make sure I’m being respectful. What are some ways I can do this?
Well, first of all, you’re doing right by asking a woman for her take. If there’s one thing we don’t need, it’s men explaining and litigating #MeToo among themselves without any insight from women.
And thank you for being honest about your self-consciousness. We’re coming up on the anniversary of the movement, and let’s be real: There have been far too many media takes about how uncomfortable men are with the movement, which has forced them to — *gasp* — evaluate how their words and actions may make women feel. But your self-consciousness is the good kind. You’ve become more self-aware and want to do better by the women in your life, and that’s awesome.
For starters, #MeToo shouldn’t center around and prioritize the male experience and male fears and insecurities. We should care about and pay attention to how the movement has helped change women and survivors’ lives for the better, despite how, of course, there’s still much progress to be made.
Anyway, to answer your question, let’s start with some very, very low-hanging fruit. First, no matter what you think you know and no matter your relationship status, you should absolutely review the fundamentals of consent. For example, drunk people can’t consent; consent is a case-by-case, one-time exchange; and consent must be freely given without coercion and exploitation of power dynamics, or it isn’t consent at all. Far too many sexual assaults or other encounters that harm or cause women to feel unsafe are the product of dangerous ignorance about consent. You can do your part to help women feel safe just by making sure you understand consent.
You can also try to make affirmative consent language a part of your sexual encounters. Ask your partner(s) what they want, what feels good and certainly be respectful of their comfort and experience.
Of course, #MeToo encompasses more than rape culture. It also explores related issues of gendered power dynamics and exploitation, and generally speaking, the disregard for and erasure of women’s experiences. From crass, sexist jokes male co-workers may make in the office to any day-to-day language that could be demeaning or upsetting to women in your life, start to think generally about how your behavior could make those around you feel.
That said, reach out to the women you feel close to and open up honest dialogues with them. Tell them you’re there to listen to their experiences and want to support them in any way they need. Ask them about any comments you’ve made, or anything you’ve done that’s made them uncomfortable before. If they’ve taken issue with anything, promise them it won’t happen again and to be more cognizant going forward.
When it comes to #MeToo, it’s important to realize the behaviors that we’re finally starting to take seriously and hold perpetrators accountable for have always been wrong. If you know you’ve been a part of this culture, recognize that there’s no good excuse. Take responsibility. And going forward, take real steps to listen to women, respect women, and adapt your behavior.