Why do we expect total self-flagellation from men in the wake of sexual assault scandals?
Even if you're doing nothing wrong, the message is you're still responsible for the behaviour of other men
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, thinkpiece after thinkpiece has been circulating instructing men of ways they can "help" women dismantle the parts of our culture in which sexual violence pervades.
These lists of tips and guidelines vary in terms of specific recommendations, but the idea they all share is that even if you, male reader, are not harassing or assaulting women, you are still responsible for the way women are treated by men everywhere. Indeed, even when you're doing nothing at all to harm women, you're still doing something wrong.
Fixing men, in five steps
From the Chicago Tribune's article "Men's response to the #MeToo campaign must be more than hashtags" to Chatelaine's "Rape Culture For Dummies: How Men Can Be Allies, In 5 Easy Steps," it's obvious that the only appropriate response to sexual harassment from the average man is total self-flagellation; a masochistic exercise in service of moral purity and enlightenment.
In a display of condescension so self-assured it's nearly inspiring, The Guardian published "Men, you want to treat women better? Here's a list to start with" — a crash course in elevating all women of the world to a pedestal so tall they're less like persons and more like angels from whom every thought, every word, and every experience is unquestionably and inherently valuable.
GQ weighed in with "A good man knows he has to do more," an article that outlined exactly what the behaviour of "a good man" ought to be in every imaginable scenario even mildly pertaining to women.
These examples all seem to suggest that if only men (like you!) were snapping at their male coworkers for making sexist jokes, then Hollywood powerhouse Harvey Weinstein wouldn't have been luring actresses to his hotel rooms to proposition them for sex.
But to argue that telling a colleague she looks nice today will encourage a culture in which men think it's permissible to grope or grab women sets the bar offensively low as far as men's understanding of boundaries.
The vast majority of men recognize that harassing women for sex or touching them without consent is a line that should never be crossed. Of course all of us – male and female – should do our part to reinforce that sexual assault and sexual harassment are never okay, but combing through every innocuous interaction between colleagues in search of potential implicit sexism has nothing to do with the predatory crimes of guys like Harvey Weinstein.
What's more, plenty of women working in Hollywood knew about Weinstein's reputation, and had decades to speak up but decided against it. While these articles have no problem demanding men risk their careers to stand up for women, there seems to be a double standard when it comes to expecting women to stand up for other women, or themselves. Especially since many actresses continue to withhold the identities of their harassers – men who are presumably still working in Hollywood. It is not blaming the victim to suggest women are capable of being just as brave as men.
Expectations of allies
The notion that women are fragile and vulnerable and in constant need of the protective, corrective action of men around them is counterproductive and insulting. Suggesting that a female colleague needs you to step in each and every time she is interrupted by a male coworker is patriarchal and patronizing, not virtuous.
Every single guy out there is not responsible for the behaviour of certain criminals just because they happen to share a gender. Nor should they be asked to carry a collective guilt over the actions of people they have never met and crimes they did not know were occurring.
The assumption that the way to be an "ally" is to live every day preoccupied with defending the honour and status of women feeds into the idea that women will always be damsels in perpetual distress. That's not the way we come to recognize men and women as equals.