Chaos, Anarchy, and Empathy

There is an explosion of issues erupting in various communities both online and in the real world. Without getting into specifics (because, honestly, there are too many individual stories to discuss and I don’t have all the facts in most cases to be making judgements one way or the other), I just want to share some random thoughts.

When we say “Believe Women” that doesn’t mean “Guilty until proven innocent.” It means take the victim as seriously as you would the victim of any other crime. If someone reports a car theft, the first response is generally not “He probably gave them the car and now regrets it” or “I bet the car wasn’t even stolen he probably let him borrow it and got mad at him later.” If someone reports that their wallet was stolen, we don’t think, “Well, he might have gave it away” or “He is just trying to ruin that person’s life with a false accusation!”

When a woman comes forward with a claim of sexual harassment or sexual assault, before you open your mouth, ask yourself, “Would I have the same knee-jerk response if she was reporting embezzlement in the workplace? Would I have the same knee-jerk response if she was reporting someone not wearing their seat belt on a forklift? Would I have the same knee-jerk response if she was reporting seeing a rodent in the company kitchen? WHY, if I would accept this woman’s report as credible under any other circumstance, do I have this compulsion to discredit or dismiss her when she is reporting harassment?”

THAT is what we mean by “Believe Women.” That’s all.

Not all bad behavior is created equal. It is, however, important to call out all bad behavior. Just like we don’t treat jaywalking the same way we treat a hit-and-run, we don’t HAVE to respond to all bad behavior in the same way. One of the common refrains is “Well, you (collective you) forgave (fill in the blank) so why is (fill in the blank) being cancelled?”

Maybe it is because (fill in the blank) ten years ago posted inappropriate jokes on Twitter but has since changed his behavior, while (fill in the blank) threatened a subordinate with being fired if she didn’t give him a blow job and then and his only defense was “it was consensual even though I was going to fire her if she refused me.” These two actions are both bad, but they are not remotely in the same league, and it makes no rational sense to treat them the same.

We need to offer forgiveness where it is deserved, but withhold it where it is not. If we do not forgive those who genuinely want to do better, we create an environment where there is no point in people trying to be better. But if we give forgiveness to those who just want to “move on”: without doing better in the future, we just enable more bad behavior.

Men are also victims of the patriarchy, as many of them have been conditioned by society to think that certain behaviors are acceptable. There is not a man alive who has not said or done something completely inappropriate in the presence of a woman. And guess what? He was never told, because until recently most women were also conditioned to just smile nervously and ignore it as a survival tactic. So as a society, we are trying to break ingrained behaviors that have been a lifetime in the making. Before you pull up something that someone said or did twenty years ago, ask yourself if that action reflects who this person is TODAY? Note: I’m not talking about actual criminal actions like rape and assault. That crap needs to be known.

But there are behaviors that my husband had when we first met that I had to break him out of, because he genuinely had never been confronted with why they were wrong. And once I explained it to him, he was HORRIFIED and he worked on changing those behaviors. And he isn’t the person today that he was twenty years ago.

So when someone is confronted with their actions, and they take real steps to change their behavior, we need to encourage that. Because that also encourages others who have not been publicly “shamed” yet but who might recognize their own behaviors in what is being called out. We all love a good redemption story.

Guys, instead of getting defensive, become perceptive. A lot of men are terrified of being “falsely” accused of bad behavior. I keep seeing posts decrying “political correctness” and “witch hunts” and “So I guess I won’t talk to women anymore.” First: GROW THE FUCK UP.

Second, stop feeling sorry for yourself and consider the other side.

If you argue, “Well, why didn’t she say something to me when it happened instead of posting it on Twitter three years later? That isn’t fair?”

Life isn’t fair, which is probably why she didn’t say anything to you when it first happened. Because she might have been the only woman in the room and she didn’t want to be labeled a “troublemaker.” Or she was worried that if she said something to you in front of others you would get angry. Or she was afraid that she would get blacklisted and not invited back for future events. Because THAT is what happens to women too often when they speak up for themselves. We get accused of being “too sensitive” or “can’t take a joke” or “uptight.” So three years ago, when she was in a position where she had no power and no protection, she stayed silent.

Men also need to understand that what you did at that moment may not seem like a big deal to you, because you are viewing that bad behavior in a void. In your mind, it was “just one stupid joke” and no big deal. You are viewing this situation through the lens of a single incident.

But to the woman, she’s viewing it as a continuum of her life. Because when she stopped for coffee that morning the guy behind her in line told her to “Smile” for no reason. Then as she walked from the packing lot to the office, she had a random guy shout out an obscenity about her ass. Then she opened up her emails and her manager sent her a “mild” reprimand about her “tone” in the last meeting. Then in the meeting before lunch her input was completely ignored, but when a male colleague said THE SAME THING he was told that was a great idea. Then she comes across you in the lunchroom making your off-color joke and it was the proverbial last straw.

Because THAT is our lives. A million “single incidents” that mean nothing to the individual men who perpetuate them, but pile on us all day long. This is where empathy becomes so important. You as the man feel attacked because she is offended by your “single joke.” But your single joke is not the only incident in her life. Hell, I doubt it was the only incident in her DAY.

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