For hundreds of years, our society has collectively devalued the lives and wellbeing of women and girls, and maintained deeply held habits of discrediting and dismissing the discomfort, degradation, and violence women and girls face every day. Now, a “new normal” of believing and supporting women and girls is beginning to emerge – largely due to the courageous leadership of women of color, including #MeToo founder Tarana Burke. Women and girls are increasingly and collectively utilizing #MeToo to share the violence and harassment they have experienced, and expose the men who committed that harm.
Though this collective amplification of voices has a long way to go to fully include the most marginalized women, girls, transgender, and nonbinary folks, #MeToo represents an opportunity to launch our society toward a future of equality, where the next generation of young people in our communities are no longer limited by the threat and experience of violence, harassment, and abuse. It will take all of us, though, to fulfill the potential of this moment in time. It is a moment that displays the essential truth that the wellbeing of all women and girls is linked to the wellbeing of all men, boys, and people of all gender identities.
So what does this mean for those who identify as men? Right now, it seems that we are largely remaining quiet as the list of people who are being publicly held accountable for their violence and harm grows by the day. Men in power are facing unprecedented penalties for the harm they have caused, and it seems possible that, in a way never seen before, sexual violence, abuse, and sexism could increasingly produce very real community consequences.
This moment, though, calls on men to do more than simply avoid consequences. The harm and pain we hear about on a daily basis requires us to do more than talk about how bad other men’s behavior is. These responses alone may establish our reputations as men who support equality and safety, but who aren’t actually doing much to change the status quo. This behavior is a direct violation of the wellbeing of women, girls, transgender, and nonbinary folks, and it is a violation of our own full human potential.
For over 15 years, A CALL TO MEN has embraced and promoted the full human potential of all men. Despite all the harm caused by men, we believe that no child, regardless of gender identity, is born into this world to be violent or abusive. We are born with the ability to support the wellbeing of one another, but the conditioning and socialization of folks who identify as men goes against that essential truth.
A CALL TO MEN’s vision is to create the “Next Generation of Manhood”- men and boys who will create a world where all people are valued, safe, and able to reach their full human potential. #MeToo is the moment for those of us committed to this vision to show up in a big way. We are called to do more than get used to hearing about the harm women face on a daily basis. We are called to work with the women, transgender, and nonbinary folks who experience harm in order to create the conditions where #MeToo moments do not happen in the first place.
So what would men have to do to transform our communities so there were no more #MeToo moments? As men we often want an immediate, one-time thing we can do to solve the problem, rather than focusing on how we need to practice being different to create the conditions where harm stops. There isn’t a procedural manual for this, but there are some initial steps we can take to get our footing.
First, we must recognize that women, girls, transgender, and nonbinary folks who have experienced harm are the primary experts. Listening carefully, offering support, and showing up is the path to a deeper understanding of the harmful conditions, and opportunities we have to change those conditions.
Men also need to orient ourselves toward radical hope, love, and authenticity for ourselves and others. Living in this way with others makes it possible to reshape our homes, neighborhoods, institutions, and communities for safety and equality. As men, we should be asking ourselves on a daily basis: What would have to be changed in order to create the conditions where violence, harassment, and abuse were unimaginable? What do I need to do to make sure everyone in our house is supported and safe? What would our neighborhood need to do to ensure women, girls, and people of all gender identities are respected and safe outside their homes? What could my friends or teammates do to help make sure no one tries to set up one of our classmates for sexual assault? What if we succeeded at creating work environments where everyone truly built each other up for collective wellbeing? In every part of our community, what would it look, feel like, and sound like to make safety, support, and gender equity normal?
#MeToo is not a call to isolated action. It requires men to support one another in reaching our full potential. Cisgender men, in particular, have been collectively socialized to view women as property, objects and as having less value than men. Men have been taught to think and behave in ways that can cause harm to women and girls, and anyone who is not a cisgender man. We need each other to help challenge and change that socialization so that there is no longer any justification for cisgender male dominance, harassment, violence, or harm.
Finally, #MeToo calls on men to recognize that their own human potential is interconnected with the value and human potential of all other people. It calls on men to value the lives and voices of women and girls in poverty as much as the voices of movie stars. It calls for an intense commitment to the wellbeing of Native people, folks of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and all people facing oppression. The people powering the #MeToo movement have given us a tremendous gift. It is a launching platform to end violence against all women and girls while orienting ourselves to the freedom, safety, and interconnected wellbeing of ALL people.
By Ed Heisler, A CALL TO MEN Core Trainer