It started off with good intentions, and the movement has certainly had a resounding impact. There are the well publicized stories of highly paid celebrities and decision makers being ousted from their coveted jobs. Our hearts broke as we watched the female gymnasts come forward en masse to testify against the deranged doctor who stole the innocence from these young girls while their parents sat by, sometimes in the same room, dreaming of Olympic gold medals.
Executives and upper level management started to panic over who would be called out next. And they should have been worried. Because the truth was bigger than a hashtag. The truth was that we, as a society, have tolerated, accepted, even participated in what some tried to call frat boy talk. And this behavior toward women and girls was so pervasive that we were almost lulled into believing it was a societal norm.
I remember as a teen wondering why PG movies would show topless women, but they would never show nude men. Were women’s bodies valued less? Was a woman only useful if she was a sexual object? The addition of the PG-13 rating in 1984 helped to remove most nude scenes from movies children could watch, but what about the less obvious innuendos and all those movies we grew up watching that clearly failed the Bechdel Test? Songs, magazine covers, TV shows - constantly bombarding us with messages and images that shaped our collective beliefs on how men behave, why some women were “asking for it”, the sacrifices it takes for women to get ahead, and how women should compete with each other for attention, jobs, and positions of power as if only one spot was available.
Let’s be honest - when it comes to unwanted sexual advances, graphic gestures and inappropriate innuendos, #metoo could be used by EVERY WOMAN YOU KNOW. Because there isn’t a girl older than 13 that hasn’t had boys whistle at her or make obscene comments about her body or her looks when she walks by. Any young woman in college can tell you dozens of stories of guys staring too long, following too close, trying to work her over at a party, copping a cheap feel, or giving her too much alcohol to take advantage of her. Sexual misconduct, harassment and assault occur in grades K-12, at after school jobs, on buses, trains and sidewalks, in colleges, and in our careers so frequently, many women have had to develop their own ways of deflecting the unwanted attention.
So it’s not surprising that the #metoo movement went viral in October 2017. What was surprising was the way news reporters acted as though they were shocked to hear the stories of people IN THEIR INDUSTRY being called out. What was surprising was seeing how many companies had ignored complaints, fired whistleblowers, and protected perpetrators FOR YEARS! Through public scrutiny and social media pressure, many of these big companies have finally been forced to dump their repeat offenders, change policies, and retrain employees on how to treat people with respect.
Yet for all the positive media attention that has come with the #metoo movement, the flaw with #metoo is that the women who chose to speak out - not the celebrities, but the real women in your community who work at schools, restaurants and local businesses - were often branded, deemed un-hire-able and labeled as troublemakers you wouldn't want to work with. Like Hester Prynne standing on the scaffold in the center of town for 3 hours, these women exposed their darkest secrets on social media pages that were shared, sometimes mocked, often read by twisted people who were amused by the stories of harassment and assault. While the #metoo movement was intended to empower women by showing strength in numbers, the question I kept asking is “why isn’t it #himtoo?” Why do WOMEN need to brand themselves with the modern day Scarlet Letter as if they should continue to carry the hurt, shame, pain of someone else’s actions? Does the sheer fact that a woman wore a mini skirt or a pair of shorts - or heaven forbid a bikini - signal to the entire male population that her body is up for grabs - literally? Do the budding breasts of a pubescent young girl make her fair game for sexual comments from boys and men of all ages - comments she is most likely too young to even understand? And if she wears makeup, dresses herself up and acts flirty because that’s what she sees on tv, on the cover of just about every magazine, on YouTube and on social media as examples of how she’s supposed to behave to get ahead in our society, does that really mean she’s asking for it? That would be like saying an obese person was asking to be ridiculed, poked, prodded or treated disrespectfully simply because of their food choices. Ridiculous - right?
Sexual misconduct is considered by most to be a women's problem, when in fact it is a human problem. Whether you call it a bro culture, frat boy talk, locker room antics or just boys being boys, let’s face reality - there is a cultural bias. Some call it a lack of respect, others explain that “sex sells”, many call it a man’s world - this bias spans generations. Without trying to diminish or take anything away from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, you must see the parallels between then and now. Back then, in many public settings, including schools, buses, businesses, and theaters, segregation, discrimination and racist words were considered socially acceptable. Until they weren’t. Until Rosa Parks, and the Montgomery bus boycott, the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, Dr. Martin Luther King and all the people who worked to create change. Up until this past October, in many public settings, including schools, buses, businesses and yes even in theaters, sexist remarks were openly made, sexual misconduct and harassment was tolerated, and sexual assault went under-reported. Keeping a job you desperately need while trying to steer clear from inappropriate co-workers is real. Selling your soul to get out of an awful situation is real. Victim blaming is real. Having to keep an eye on your 5 year old daughter as she plays with male cousins and neighbors is real. Being passed over for promotions, board positions and jobs because you are a woman is real. Gender discrimination is real. The wage gap is real. Feeling like the only person who has ever dealt with this can be very real, too - until now.
So yes, the #metoo movement is bringing awareness and has breathed new life into other organizations focused on empowering women and girls, such as
But to truly create lasting, generational change, we - women and men - need to have more in depth conversations that involve our leaders, politicians, executives, teachers, parents, and young girls AND boys. From the simple “don’t call little girls bossy for the same behavior that would cause you to praise a boy as assertive”, to teaching our children that it’s ok to not hug someone if they don’t want to because they are in control of their own bodies, to calling people out on the spot for what you deem to be inappropriate or unacceptable behavior. Like the lawn chemical guy 10 years ago who stood in our front driveway talking with me and my husband, stressing that he would come back as often as we needed to maintain a great lawn, who then shook our hands but did that stupid little finger wiggle thing in my palm as he winked at me. I called him out so fast he turned 14 shades of red as he stuttered out a bunch of excuses and apologies, and then I promptly fired him on the spot. Not acceptable. Not tolerated. So yeah, #himtoo
Men and women are starting to have better conversations about what is and is not acceptable. Discussing how to recognize and change long standing habits and beliefs. As one of my guy friends recently said “it’s tough to know what’s deemed chivalrous versus sexist - holding the door open, buying someone a drink, flirting, telling a joke - you have to be cautious now.” That wasn’t a complaint, by the way, just a simple observation. And there’s a lot more interest now from male colleagues and event organizers I speak with who are open to sharing different perspectives and women’s voices. Much respect to the men who are actively helping create positive change and recognize they could have been the #himtoo in many #metoo stories. Acknowledge what's right. Identify the inappropriate. Take a moment to listen and understand before judging. Find the courage to speak up. Stand together against injustice. To all the girls, young ladies and mature women out there - we must also learn what it really means to support and empower each other. Because if we truly want to create a better future for our children, we must become better role models today.
About the Author - Cathy Wendland-Colby has spent her lifetime empowering others to create the lives they desire for themselves. All too often, she has been the only female speaker on all-male panels and platforms; for more than a decade serving as the only woman on several community and professional boards. Never afraid to speak her mind, she has been instrumental in creating opportunities for women across multiple industries through mentoring, opening doors, and building connected networks.
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