Alyssa Milano asked, and thousands upon thousands responded. At the centre of a hashtag and a Hollywood scandal, we see underlined a problem that endures today: the issue of how men should treat women.
Mature written content warning.
For the past week and a bit, I had been thinking it’s time I wrote another article looking at men’s attitudes towards women in modern society. Then enters this week, with the litany of allegations towards Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and a growing awareness of how truly apathetic people have been towards his actions over the years, whereby acts of harrassment and assault have been brushed over. Discontent with the overall response and what seems to be a prevailing culture of chauvinism, celebrity Alyssa Milano put out a simple campaign idea asking women to simply retweet or repost “Me too” if they have also been victims of assault or harassment.
And what a response it has been.
The response seems to confirm what statistics on the issue have long told us – that this really is an epidemic in society. In my country, which has comparable statistics to other similar nations, 17% of women and 4% of men have been assaulted. That’s reported, at least – the #MeToo campaign and some simple conversation highlight how many more cases go unreported. Add to this the amount of cat calling and sexual jokes targeting women, and you’ve got an issue that affects all of us. Now, men certainly suffer in this mix too, don’t get me wrong. But over and above, the predominant abuse case is male to female, and as the above statistics point out, 93% of the perpetrators are male. We don’t diminish their suffering by failing to acknowledge the elephant in the room here.
So, let’s have a look at an unpopular topic in the shifting landscape of our modern world. Let’s talk about how men should treat women.
Justice must be served
First and foremost it has to be said what true remorse and sorrow fills my heart seeing how many of my female friends, coworkers, and loved ones have been affected by the issues of sexual harassment and assault. Even well before #MeToo, I have had several close friends affected by such issues and have been glad to see where justice has been served – where perpetrators have rightly been imprisoned and cut off from the lives they are content to destroy.
I am also thinking there are too many truly evil hearted people getting off scot free, and they are very very lucky that charges have not been pressed. To see Harvey lynched by the greater Hollywood community following the push towards ensuring justice is done is something I am very glad to see. This sort of behaviour should never be tolerated, and, as it is rightly so in a majority of the world, is illegal, immoral, and abhorrent.
I have been involved firsthand in many cases where such pasts have left their mark on future relationships, and have had many friends and acquaintances who have had to work through the devastation of past abuse and the insecurity left by harassment. It’s never easy for the victims, or for the ones who love the victims.
Abusing the gender equality argument
I think of how many times in my corporate or education life where I have been left out of important company chatrooms, group lunches or even certain important meetings simply because I have been unwilling to participate in the boy talk: the lewd remarks about coworkers, the endless babble about celebrity proportions, the videos you watched on the weekend. I remember being unable to present accurately during a key presentation simply because key project details had only been shared amidst constant sexist joking, and so I had been excluded from the information. If you’re a man reading this, you probably know the remarks and the stares that you’ve gotten when you don’t laugh along or add to the ongoing jokes and slander.
A line I hear too often used is that, “Well, if women want to be equal to men, we’re just treating them equally. Women talk about men like this too”. Unfortunately, on the one hand, they are right – there are so many times I’ve heard small and large groups of women objectify men, comment on male appendages and body shapes during movies, and berate and insinuate towards male colleagues and friends. Even in churches!
On the other hand, two wrongs don’t make a right, and perpetuating the crass talk about the opposite sex is only serving, fueling, and encouraging the attitudes that lead towards harassment and more violent and physical acts.
“Boys will be boys” is oversimplifying the problem
“What’s wrong with you?” is the question a male often receives for failure to participate in womanizing misogyny. Not only is sexual slander recommended behaviour: it is often expected and demanded.
“Oh, men are just horny”. Women are horny, too. Granted, they don’t have 290 million sperm being generated in their body every day trying to find a way out, but active sex drives exist on both sides of the fence.
Our tendency with the above arguments is to react one of two ways. The first is to become apathetic and accepting that this is just the way it is and men are just like that, let them be. The other is to hate men, to pull away from them, to paint them all with the same brush.
I would argue both responses are entirely unhealthy and incomplete.
Can we go further than the typical excuses we make for men?
I’ve spoken with hundreds, maybe thousands of men, on the issues of sexuality and relationships. It is very typical of men to feel like their sex drive is driving many of their decisions – how they date, what they watch, how they live their lives. Many men feel like they’re simply not in control of what’s going on between their legs or the thoughts that enter their minds.
However, every man is completely taken back when they tell me they’re horny and I ask them one simple question: Why? What are you looking for?
Flabbergasted, many men and women don’t know how to handle this question of “typical male behaviour”.
When men, and the women who love them, are honest enough, they find that men are looking for the same thing women are, the same thing every person is looking for.
We’re looking for love, and a place where we can express it and receive it.
The root of objectification
Does the pursuit of love justify a man’s deviant behaviour? The answer is: never. I actually believe men who continue unrepentant behaviour should be locked up. If you’re not faithful with what you have, you should lose it. Why should a woman, a female friend, a girlfriend, a wife, a daughter, an employee, a sister, or a cousin have to live their lives in the shadow of uncontrolled and destructive behaviour? They shouldn’t. The right thing is to get out of harm’s way, and where appropriate, see the perpetrator disciplined. Complain about the sexist manager, call the police on the unwanted physical contact, tell someone else about the comments or the actions. I am aware that for many, a lot of embarrassment and shame exists that prevents us from sometimes speaking up, but you are worth protecting. You are. At the very least, get out of there.
But I think the extremes of harassment and violence start in the heart of men, and by understanding ourselves and the men around us, we can better address the issue.
I’ve asked a number of married men why they make jokes about sex with other women – they say it’s because they don’t get it from their wife at home. Pushing further, as you also find with a man in any of these harassment categories, you find a man who is scared, feeling overlooked, frustrated, unloved, and who hates himself.
Unfortunately, the way a man feels about himself becomes the way he treats the people around him. As a Christian, I see this sentiment echoed throughout the words of Jesus and throughout Scripture. As a man in 21st century life, I see this echoed throughout psychology and in the lives of the men I meet.
As one counselor explained very well to me, anger is a secondary response to hurt. Many men are angry because they are in deep pain. A love unrequited, an abuse dealt to themselves, a feeling of failure from never hearing they’re any good.
And what does society do? Tells men to jump on Tinder and get laid. Any hole’s a goal! You just need a good night in the sack to feel like you’re a man. You just need to get your sexual fix. If you’re not getting it from your partner, go somewhere else! Promiscuity isn’t a dirty word! Take what you want!
Wrong, my friend. You don’t need to get laid – you need to get loved. You need to find yourself. You need to work out where all this pain and resentment is coming from. You need to see that what you’re looking for in your movies, your relationships, your interactions with the opposite sex, is love. To be valued. To have your dream believed in. To be truly accepted and to know that in your own heart.
A man who feels unloved is dangerous. These are the men who repeat the cycle of oppressing women and taking what they want. And I think it’s a real shame that we as men, and society at large, do not seek to address these heart issues until it’s too late, and we’ve decided we will respond by belittling and taking from women.
Once again, am I saying how men should treat women is justified by how he feels? Not at all. Like I said, if he’s done the crime, lock him up. Castrate if necessary (seriously). But what I am saying is, let’s understand the deeper drivers of the problems on the surface.
I have had the great joy of seeing men who have been perpetrators of this behaviour turn their lives completely around and become the most loving of husbands and fathers, by addressing these bigger issues and finding love and acceptance in the place they need it. A man who is truly aware of how loved he is doesn’t need to go looking for it in illegitimate ways, and he won’t even joke about it because he knows the value of what he has and doesn’t want to do anything to lose it.
So, how should men treat women? With the utmost respect. If you have a wife or a special lady, recognize and treat her like the finest prize in your home. Speak to her with love and affection. Lead your life together with understanding. Give love, not fixes. Listen without jumping in every time. Be a hero by not always being a hero. Give her the best of who you are. Share your heart with her. Like Christ.
For any other woman in your life, I love the advice of Scripture, as it is a simple go to any time you’re unsure of how you should behave: treat older women like your mother, and younger women like your sister. That means you protect their interests, you listen, you don’t speak down to them, you definitely don’t tell the boys about what you’re going to do to them, you’re definitely not making crass jokes about them, you uplift their lives and make their world a better place. You do so with your best effort, your greatest enthusiasm, and the truest part of your heart.
So, come on men, let’s do better.
I really hope and pray that in whatever case you’ve experienced or seen that you see justice realised. That the innocent find freedom and the guilty receive the fullest consequences for their actions. But through that, I also hope that as a society, we can stop being so flippant with our views on sex and start realizing that there’s a human heart crying out for love and home at the centre of it all, and that it needs to be found in the right ways and arenas.
If you’re a man reading this, I encourage you to address those things in your own heart. If you don’t, you will become part of the problem. And as men, let us do what we can to protect the women in our lives and to refuse to participate in sexist jest. Lovers, mothers and sisters. If you’re not treating her like one of those, you need to change. Address the issues that lead to pain in the lives of others.
What’s your response to #MeToo? How has it made you feel?