Men — especially dads — have to change what we frown upon. We have to accept that sexual misconduct hurts us all, much like secondhand smoke affects the air we all breathe.
It has been said that when women discuss a problem with men, they are often looking for emotional support, not help with a solution. But when it comes to the sexual misconduct issue ricocheting through our culture, that notion is mistaken. Women are doing their share to fix the issue by courageously raising more awareness, reporting more abuses, and demanding more consequences. It is time for more men to join the fight and actively help shift the culture’s attitudes about sexual harassment.
Fathers of both daughters and sons are key to this revolution in awareness since the problem is pervasive and intergenerational. Even if I didn’t have two teen daughters close to entering the adult world (and probably male-dominated professions), I would find the recent news cycle alarming. We obviously need a sea change of understanding when it comes to sexual misconduct. In our homes, we can start by making extra efforts with our sons and daughters to discuss personal boundaries, consent, responsibility, and the differences between acceptable courtship and sexual harassment. We can also model healthy relationships with the women in our lives — both privately and publicly.
Given the breathless pace of new allegations, the sexual misconduct issue could almost be called a public health emergency. Such a crisis calls for society-wide change through a combination of awareness-raising, law creation and enforcement, and most importantly, a shift in our moral thinking. The analogies are flawed, but in my desperation I think back to the times when smoking was cool and seat belt use was frowned upon. Thanks to decades of social change, those ideas are no longer part of most people’s consciousness.
We need similar but even more soul-shaking, cross-generational work to gradually shift the norms of our thinking when it comes to sexual misconduct. Men — especially dads — have to change what we frown upon. We need to police each other, even when that becomes uncomfortable. We have to keep talking and not let the issue fade into a different media cycle. We have to accept that sexual misconduct hurts us all, much like secondhand smoke affects the air we all breathe.
Share the burden of fixing ‘toxic masculinity’
We also have to admit it’s not fair to sit back and listen to women’s accounts of sexual misconduct without helping fix the problem now and in the future. Although many men are not guilty of “toxic masculinity,” it is not fair to place all the burden for fixing it on superheroic femininity.
Avoiding harassment should not be considered only a “female” issue. Girls and women should not be blamed if they do not wear the right clothes, say the right things, report the right offenses promptly and with detailed supporting evidence, etc. While false accusations and due process are components of this issue, the burden of avoiding harassment should be shared by boys and men.
Granted, some generations of men grew up with different norms that are now problematic. Whatever our past, however, we need to be part of the solution. Fortunately, many men and boys are already practicing a much healthier masculinity, but we need to keep the pressure on each other. Keep talking to your children, especially your sons; I’ll keep talking to my daughters. Let’s be the last generation that hears (or tells) the joke about a dad needing a bat to protect his daughters once they become teenagers. Let’s make the bat unnecessary. Better yet, let’s make it unthinkable.