First of all, I want you to know that I am writing this letter from a place of love and deep respect. I know you are a good man. I know you are saddened and disgusted when you hear about women and girls being abused by sexual predators. I know it frightens you, especially if you are a father of daughters. You worry about her being used or mistreated by callous boys who are incapable of seeing the deep beauty and worth inside of her. Even if you aren’t a dad, you probably still worry …worry about your wife walking to her car late at night, worry about your sister dating ‘bad boys,’ worry about your best female friend taking a solo trip to Asia.
As men, worrying about your loved ones is part of your makeup. Caring for vulnerable people is in your DNA. Men are not either lovers OR fighters, they are one and the same—warriors who fight to protect the ones they love. But, in 2017, it can be tricky to figure out HOW to protect the women you love without coming across as sexist. I see that struggle. I see that confusion. And I appreciate that you care enough to be confused. That you love women enough to want to do the right thing, even when you have no clue what that is.
So where can you start?
Start small. Start in your circle of friends. When you hear a buddy call a woman a “w****” or a “s***,” use your voice and your authority to clearly explain why that is not okay. That when you use words like that, you dehumanize women and girls and contribute to rape culture, to a culture in which some women are ‘asking for it’ and don’t need to be treated with respect.
Similarly, speak up when they make jokes about rape or violence against women. You don’t have to make a huge scene. You can just firmly state, “Bro, that’s not funny,” and move on. When you give off a powerful energy that requires the men around you to behave ethically, they will feel the impact of your influence long after you leave the room. They will want to behave like you, because they will see the strength and character and masculinity inside of you.
Next, be a good ally to the women in your life. For example, if you are in a business meeting and you notice that one of your male coworkers keeps interrupting a female coworker, you could firmly state, “Just a second, I would like to hear what Anna is trying to say.” As sad as it is, the reality is that sometimes men don’t notice when they aren’t listening to women, and they need a guy to point it out to them.
Being a good ally also includes being a shoulder of support to women and girls following sexual assault. The absolute best thing you can do as an ally is LISTEN. I know it is so tempting for you to try and ‘fix’ the pain you see before you. As a man, you are programmed to want to defend your loved ones and correct the injustice you see, but when faced with someone who is hurting, listening is your most powerful tool. ESPECIALLY for victims of sexual assault, who are often either ignored or not believed. Here are some things you can say:
“I am so sorry that happened to you.”
“That is awful. I see how much pain you are in.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“I believe you.”
“I am here for you.”
“You are so strong.”
“That was wrong. You are not to blame.”
The idea is just to let the person know that you SEE their pain, you validate their struggle and you honor their journey.
Lastly, make sure that your own behavior as a man is beyond reproach. Treat the women around you with dignity. Ask if they need your assistance (“Do you want me to walk to your car since it’s dark out?”) and remember that when it comes to consent, it’s not “No means No” but “Yes means Yes.”
In other words, look for enthusiastic, engaged and sober consent, rather than the absence of a “No!” Teach your sons to do the same. As the mom of 3 boys, I try to instill these lessons all the time. I want my sons to respect women as equals, and to realize that as men, they have a sacred duty to protect, honor and cherish the female beings around them.
Finally, I just want to say: Thank you. Thank you for your effort. Thank you for your concern. Thank you for being a good man.