Believe it or not, there are honorable, decent men everywhere. I was brought up by one. I married one. I work with several. And I am, I hope, raising two. Some of them are petrified right now, anxious and uncomfortable in the current environment of daily revelations of systemic abuse by powerful men over vulnerable women. One told me he felt under attack, another admitted he was scared, and a friend confessed he worried it was inappropriate for him to be alone in his office with a woman ever again (this despite his office having glass walls).
Part of me—the younger, feisty, indignant part—wants to say, “And how does that feel? Being uncomfortable in your own skin, not knowing if what you say or do could be misconstrued, not understanding the line between friendly and inappropriate, scared you might be judged, or worst of all, worrying something you did unknowingly might harm your career or your personal life forever? You’ve experienced this for what, a couple weeks? Imagine what it’s like to feel like that for a couple of decades.”
But the other part of me—the older, calmer, solution-oriented part—wants to stop talking and reading about the problem, and solve the problem. This part of me believes in the power of decent, honest men to do the right thing, even if they need our help (and honestly, when haven’t they needed our help?) I want to tell them, “Let’s work together so you don’t have to feel that way, and so no woman does either.”
When the Harvey Weinstein scandal first began to unfold, then explode, at first I thought how fortunate I was to have never experienced sexual harassment, assault, or rape. My entire career, now spanning over two decades, has been in movies, television, and advertising, industries where sexism and worse have been exposed. As the news of the last several weeks brought back memories (I had known some of the players), it got me thinking about what I had experienced. And it was harassment. I just didn’t know it then.
Horny, older men making inappropriate comments that I laughed off. I dug deeper and remembered: the aging movie star who squeezed my leg and suggested I accompany him back to his apartment after I’d spent the evening working for him at a promotional event (I was 24; he was over 50); the client who insisted I accompany him to a trade show across the country and have dinner at the most famous restaurant in Seattle (just me and him), and aiming straight for the lips when I tried to say goodnight; the film executive who suddenly cupped my face and kissed the top of my head while I was stocking videotapes in a closet; the famous television mogul I worked for whom I was so nervous to meet who said by way of introduction, “Well if you’re as good at your job as you are good looking, I guess I’m in luck.” Again, I was 26. He was 56.
This is nothing compared to what other women have endured. But this, too, is harassment. It involved shame, humiliation, and powerlessness. I didn’t know that language. I knew what felt wrong, and what made me feel uncomfortable. I know now that my privilege provided me the tools (a supportive family, friends I could turn to, a home with financial stability, a college degree that would enable me to get another job) to protect myself. These men knew exactly what they were doing: preying upon someone weaker, and relishing the power of it. I never told any of the good men I worked with, because I was embarrassed. I wonder if I had, what they could have done.
If those things happened to me, how bad is it for women who have no advantages? Single moms depending on that paycheck at any personal cost. Young girls without a support system or trusted authority figure in their lives. Minimum-wage workers and minority women, who may have no voice, trying to get ahead in a world whose odds are stacked against them from the start. We need safe solutions for all women—in every industry and every socioeconomic level. Honorable men, let’s call out the entitled pigs and narcissistic brutes together, and declare their reign over.
Honorable men can stand up and speak out. Some of them have. Some have apologized for not doing so earlier (albeit decades after they achieved fame and fortune by not speaking up), and many are now realizing they can make a difference.
Honorable men could start their own movement. Decent men can let it be known that they have never, and would never, behave in predatory, depraved ways toward women. They can offer safety and support to women who need help in a harassment situation. They can be mentors for young women and men to help guide their behavior. They can incorporate a zero-tolerance policy in their business and personal networks when it comes to sexual harassment and inappropriate, degrading behavior toward women. They can publicly support the revolutionary idea that this age of opportunistic sexism is finally over.
When you see a man behaving or even talking like a creepy, sexist jerk, say something. You can tell him it’s unethical, or you could let him know he’s putting himself at risk (probably more effective). Talk to your sons about how to treat women with dignity and respect. Teach your daughters how to stand up for themselves. Ask them, “What if?” Listen to your women colleagues, your sisters, your wives. Ask them what a “micro-aggression” is. They’d be happy to tell you. Most importantly, you can imagine, really imagine, what the bro culture would feel like to you, personally, if you were not a bro.
Men, we need you. Brothers, stand up and speak out. Declare #NoMore, and let’s stop ranting, and start solving. You can be part of a revolution on the right side of history. Or you can continue to watch colleagues and other bros you thought were winners suffer a hideous public fall, lose everything, and go to jail. Choose. We’re waiting.
Tracy Brady is VP of agency communications at Hill Holliday.