Many years ago, Tarana Burke launched a movement to resist male dominance, abuse and harassment. Her voice was not given the dignity it deserved until recently, when a prominent white actress used her exact words, #MeToo. The complexities surrounding this movement are endless, but one thread remains remarkably simple: “Men can and must do better.”
As a man full of his own flaws and complexities, I met #MeToo with many emotions but have arrived at gratitude. #MeToo is an opportunity to raise the bar for all men, including myself. We must do better.
We must do better in our relationships with women and people of all genders. We must listen to women, especially women of color like Tarana Burke, who have spoken up and been ignored or blamed. In other arenas, men are able to reflect on their successes and identify areas of improvement. We can and do strive for excellence and we must value women as we do our careers and “achievements.”
Many men, including myself, have responded to #MeToo with defensiveness and hesitance. We have frequently responded to the voices, making assumptions about the stories and the motivations of the women telling them. We have blamed women for speaking up, stating that “women are violent too.” We have made excuses for men’s behavior, affirming that they really do have “respect” for women.
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I invite all of us to interrupt these reactions and simply take this opportunity to reflect on our individual and collective behaviors as men — and embrace that “respect” is also a verb. Women make mistakes too. This does not exempt us from our responsibility in this moment to own our mistakes and expect more from each other as fellow men.
Let us move this conversation beyond what is illegal and what is not. We are capable of doing better without demonizing ourselves and other men. The complexities of #MeToo also include an opportunity to breathe, reflect and challenge ourselves into a new way of being as men.
Recently, we have tried to label some behaviors as just “bad,” others as criminal, and excuse some altogether. To accept that we can do better does not mean that we must condemn ourselves. I hear men speak of accountability every day. We are long overdue in expecting this of ourselves. I hope we learn to listen to the voices of #MeToo with love and gratitude, rather than defensiveness and contempt. Is this perfect? No. And neither are we.
My beautiful, precious nephew is 2 years old. I don’t know if he will choose to date women in his life. If he does, I will expect his standard of respect to be much higher than criminal behavior and his motivation for that respect to be genuine. I will expect him to reflect on his own attitudes and behaviors. I invite all my fellow men to hold him, themselves — and most certainly me — to that standard. #WeCanDoBetter.
Bryan Lyda is a program specialist with Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence.