I admit I was overwhelmed yesterday as I began to see a string of #MeToo posts on Facebook — from women I know, women I’m related to, and a few other women that I don’t know in real life but who have befriended me on social media. I was simultaneously proud of them for speaking up and devastated to learn the sheer number who have suffered.
In case you’re living off the grid and haven’t yet heard of this, here’s a bit of background. Popularized by Alyssa Milano’s tweet Sunday afternoon, posting “me too” or #MeToo to social media has spread like wildfire. Milano’s tweet contained this text:
Tens of thousands responded to her tweet with the requested two words. Others posted on their own accounts. This all came about as a response to the sexual misconduct allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the resulting conversations.
And then I began seeing the #ItWasMe hashtag. First, from women who posted things like: “Just remember, for every #MeToo you see, there is a corresponding #ItWasMe story that needs to be told” (example). And then guys began posting #ItWasMe stories (example).
It’s an interesting social phenomenon, which I find far more helpful than most social phenomena. Are some people posting purely to seek attention? Possibly. Are a bunch of people going to misunderstand in some way? Sure. Is it going to reach the people it needs to reach? I don’t know.
As a natural pessimist, I really want to be optimistic about social media trends like this. At least it’s not a dog sprawled on a sofa with his junk clearly in the photo. At least it’s not a poorly spelled/punctuated meme about an untrue historical fact. At least it’s not a complaint about some inane part of every day life (“Mondays! Amirite?”) At least it’s not another story about some racist cop in Verdigris, Okla., who doesn’t understand he’s the reason NFL players are kneeling during the national anthem.
Will it change anything? We might be surprised. Things are already changing. Weinstein was fired almost immediately after the allegations became public and his former company is struggling because of it. Public figures like Ben Affleck, who initially condemned Weinstein publicly, ended up having to apologize for their own past behavior.
Initially, conservatives squealed with glee that most of the affected were liberals and they began posting all manner of haughty condemnations. Some of them have quickly shut back up after it became obvious that: (1) Liberals have long condemned the behavior, (2) Liberals called for Weinstein to be fired, (3) Conservatives elected Donald Trump president, despite more than a dozen such allegations against him.
But, as a man, I would be remiss to simply recount these tales from the news and social media if I didn’t bring up my own behavior. And I will do that now.
* I have behaved wrongly toward women, both in social situations and in the work place.
* I have said things to women that fit many definitions of sexual harassment.
* I did not always understand consent.
* I rarely spoke up when I witnessed others harassing women.
* I hesitated to believe women who told me it happened to them.
I was wrong and I am sorry. I am sorry for what I did and said on multiple occasions, and I am sorry that I was silent when I should have spoken up.
I won’t make excuses about the culture of toxic masculinity, or the way my former religion devalues women, or about being young and hormonal. Those might all have contributed, but they can never excuse. I alone bear the responsibility for my words and my actions.
We men can be better. I can be better. I think I am better now, but I’m under no illusions that I’m perfect in this regard. Getting better is a process that doesn’t end.
A year ago, I took the pledge, and I reaffirm that pledge today: