#MeToo - the reputation crisis facing men

23 Oct


Me too

Has there ever have been a bigger PR crisis to have hit a larger group of people as the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations?

I'm not talking about the impact on one or two high-profile business moguls - I'm referring to the #Metoo campaign that is asking women to go public and state that they too have been the target of sexual harassment or assault. Weinstein;'s actions may have been the ones that ignited his reputation crisis firestorm, but the #Metoo campaign is now asking questions of a much bigger audience - men, and I mean all men.

Like me, you will no doubt have seen a huge amount of women using Twitter and Facebook to declare that they have suffered unwanted attention and much worse at the hands of men. I have one friend who calculates that nearly 90% of her female friends have stood up and said "#Metoo and yet she has only seen a very tiny minority of men stand up and admit that they have been complicit in the power game that relegates women to objects of unwanted sexual attention in a world where they feel they cannot speak out. How can this be? The maths simply do not stack up do they? What's more, when some men have spoken up about actions they regret, they seem to get support in Facebook debates - so long as they are started by men. If the debate is sparked by women, it seems that some men feel aggrieved at such open condemnation of these acts. They claim it is #Notallmen or even #NotMe and that all men are now being demonized for the actions of the very few. While I can appreciate that some men will feel indignant at being associated with Weinstein and his ilk, all men have to face up to their complicity and actions in bringing about this tidal wave of wives, mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters, friends, colleagues and associates shouting #METOO!

We are all victims of this crisis - and when I say all, I mean all men and all women.

This crisis of reputation for men has been brought about by the construction of a society that pours pressure on men and women to conform to roles defined within power structures designed to relegate women to being less equal than men. As men, we have to stand up and accept our part in this reputation downfall. It is not good enough to say, it is the monsters, the Weinsteins of this world that are at fault and #Notme. I've been seriously disturbed by the number of women that are standing up and talking about events at school, in the home, at work, on the street, at the cinema and in the park, events that happened when they were young girls, teenagers and working women.

And let's not forget, a large part of this impacted-on audience will still remain silent. It simply does not add up that only a small number of men are engaged in these acts that are undermining our reputations as respectful sons, husbands and fathers. We have to be brave, we have to look ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves, what have I done that could have left a girl or woman silent about actions that hurt her or made her feel ashamed, denigrated and unequal?

As I mentioned above, we are all victims of this issue. We are all constructed and molded by the society we grow up in. We respond to the "norms" that are validated by others, impressed on us by the media and reinforced by the collectives to which we belong.

If, as men, we are to tackle this reputation crisis, we cannot brush it under the carpet, pretend it never happened, that it is the fault of others - that is an abrogation of responsibility, the antithesis of good reputation management. We need to listen to what is being said, take it on board, look at the truths being said and take appropriate action - this is not the time for spin doctoring or saying "yes, that's fine but it happens to me too as a man". Yes, some men will suffer harassment, abuse and assault, and that is wrong too - but in comparison to what women are saying they are putting up with in silence, it is a very small issue.

I've suffered sexual harassment in the office - it scared me; it scared me a lot. I often wear a kilt when out socialising - and I can guarantee that there will be at least one occasion during the night when a woman will lift it and another when a female hand will be forced up to rummage around my groin, a hand that belongs to a woman standing in a group of women laughing and approving of her actions. What am I supposed to do in this public situation? Shout abuse at her, report her to the police for assault? No, I'm a man, I'm supposed to take it on the chin and see it all as "banter" or "just a bit of fun". And yet ladies and gentlemen reading this, imagine if that was your wife, daughter or sister in the pub being assaulted in that way - how would you react? Are you seeing the hypocrisy of our society yet?

At times when that has happened, I've laughed it off, I've got quite thick skin, but at others, I ask myself, why? Why does she think it's OK to ask if I'm wearing pants? Why does she think it's OK to stroke her hand on my backside to see if she can detect them and why, yes why, does she think it's acceptable to grab hold of my genitals in public?

I'm left wondering is this is normal behaviour, if this is what I should come to expect when I go out because of the way I'm dressed; I guess I must be asking for it.

As a young man I was ridiculously awkward around girls. When it came to the courting game I was terribly shy and had no idea on how to approach the golden goal of getting a girlfriend. I remember my disastrous attempts at making contact with girls. The awkward grabbing and groping as we chased each other around, but what else did I know, it was the way things were, it's how boys and girls moved things up the relationship ladder and no one really got hurt - or did they?

That awkwardness carried on into my late teens when I started dating proper. Looking back now, I see things that I didn't then, things that were "part of the game", things that I now see could have made those girls feel bad about themselves - but none of them spoke out so it must have been OK - mustn't it?

The whole #Metoo declaration has made me look back at my relationship and relationships with females - it should do that to all men. We have to feel much more than sorry for the women involved, we have to feel discomfort and responsibility if we are to address this issue that affects virtually every aspect of our society and certainly every female on the planet in one way or another. This is not about demonising men - it is about having a society that is based in equality in all aspects of life.

It does not mean admitting to being a rapist - although if that's you, then you certainly bloody well should - it means owning up to all parts of your involvement in making women and girls feel less powerful, respected and equal to you.

And we cannot totally apportion blame to the media, peer pressure or anything else - I honestly believe if we take this opportunity with both hands, that we are "men enough" to face the elephant in the room, then we could be at a watershed in bringing about far greater equality in society - and who among us does not want that?

So, I asked myself a few questions. Have I ever talked a woman into having sex when she initially seemed disinterested? Yes I have. Did she complain afterwards or tell me she felt unduly pressured into it? No she didn't. Will I ever know if she did feel that way? No I won't - but she may have, and to put it down to "playing the game" is not really good enough is it? I recall as a young man at a gig and finding my hand pressed into a girl's breast as she crowd-surfed above me. It was not intentional, but I do recall the thrill of the crafty feel and thought nothing more of it - I doubt she felt the same way.

Does this make me a bad person? Without wishing to apply ratios of severity on the subject, I hope not. Does it make me complicit in the whole thing - yes it does. Like many men reading this, I consider myself respectful of women and would hate to be associated with Weinstein; but I was born into the system that keeps women silent.

At the end of the day, this is all down to power. The power the schoolboy has to pull the bra of the girl in front, the power of a teenager to push his hand down the jeans of the girl he's taken out for the first time, the power of the "banter" and innuendo in the pub, the power of the office junior to follow a woman up the stairs so he can look up her skirt, the power of the manager to suggest his PA should wear something more "suitable" to the office, the power of the Executive who feels that sexual favours are part of his pay deal, the power of a man to assume he can have sex with a woman because he can help her up the career ladder - the power of a man to think he can rape a woman and she will stay silent because that's the way the industry is and always has been.

If #Metoo has shown us anything, it is that our society is riven with behaviours that reinforce in men in particular, that having power means you can get sexual satisfaction in one way or another, and that it is normal and acceptable - it is not and it has to stop. The only way it can stop is if those doing it see it for what it is and change. Men and women have to stop bringing up boys to think that these acts, at all levels, are unacceptable to everyone in society. If we men, as the main protagonists in this crisis of reputation, don't stop and evaluate our attitudes and actions, if we are not big enough to have this conversation with ourselves to start with, then nothing will change.

This is not just a reputation crisis facing men - it is a reputation crisis facing our society and it's down to us all to sort it, and it will start when men start standing up and saying #Ididtoo.

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