The Weinstein allegations and settlements have arguably brought to the forefront how endemic and pervasive sexual harassment is ― not just in Hollywood but also in basically any environment in which power plays can occur between and among men and women. And while we arguably elected a sexual predator as president, thanks in large part to, perplexingly, white women (which is an altogether separate but related phenomenon) we are engaging ― for now at least ― in a long overdue and crucial conversation about one of humanity’s biggest social scourges. Maybe it’s because celebrities have de facto platforms, or because the lives of actors and actresses – especially white ones – are more interesting to the populace? Who can say?
If you are not proud of and sympathetic to the many women (and men) who have spoken out thus far, then you are missing more than just the point. While violating another sexually is, in its very nature, “sexual,” what occurs is almost always not just about the sex stuff. The sex stuff matters, of course, but it’s the locus of the violating behavior that results in shame, guilt, fear, embarrassment, consternation, self-hatred, and other damaging effects endured, often for a lifetime, by the survivor (I know this from personal experience).
The locus ― which countless survivors, health workers, sex workers, writers, artists and others have articulated far better than I ― is centered around the assailant’s abuse of power, his predation, control, bullying, terrorization, retaliation, hostility and protection.
This is not to downplay the physical circumstances, which too many outsiders seem to get hung up on (including law enforcement and the judicial system). But the psychological implications are far more complex, insidious, and detrimental. They can infect your mind; they can challenge your concept of reality; they can dredge up old demons and baggage; and they can make you doubt almost everything and everyone (including, especially, yourself).
This is the point at which many, particularly men, prescriptively cast some form of blame onto the violated because the blamers “put themselves” in clunkily conjured-up situations in which they’ve never been; situations in which they don’t (and could never) fully understand; situations about which they don’t know all the details (and, even if they did know every last detail, the conjurers should never, ever deign to comprehend what happened inside another’s mind). There are 7.6 billion people living in the world today, yet not one of us will ever know what occurs in any one person’s mind but our own. We are truly separate and autonomous and unequivocally alone in this respect. And that’s a fact.
So instead of casting judgment, as much as society and the judicial system are wont to do, we must approach sexual misconduct in a far more humane and a far more logical way. Yes, believe it or not, the two can go hand in hand in this context. Which is why I created a very rudimentary guide to addressing and, perhaps naively, mitigating the epidemic of sexual misconduct. This is by no means comprehensive or omni-applicable, but I hope it might serve as a starting point, particularly for those of us bros who genuinely want to effect change but don’t quite know how. As for those of us bros who wish to remain unaware or uninterested ― despite the facts that, according to the Department of Justice, one in four women, and one in six men, are sexually assaulted in their lifetime ― please know that the odds are stacked squarely against a good many of your loved ones. Therefore, your silence and inaction make you, at best, complicit. At worst? Well, I invite you to think on it.
The acronym I devised is “ALIGN.” As in, “to align with women and girls over the right thing to do, over the appropriate ways to behave.” To be honest, I had to give it some thought in order to make each letter an active verb, so bear with me. Nevertheless, the succession of the verbs remains, surprisingly, intact. Here goes:
A for acquaint. Acquaint yourself by making concerted efforts to be more aware ― just aware (also an A verb). When over fifty women present almost identical cases regarding Bill Cosby’s actions over the past three decades, give it some airtime in your mind. Or when one woman, let alone multiple women, complains about Trump, Weinstein or whomever, simply give it some additional airtime in your mind. When your buddy boasts of all the ass he’s been getting as of late, sit with his delivery and intent. Do they make him more of a man/human being or more of a loser? Since it’s likely the latter, consider saying something to him; if not now, then next time.
L for listen. Listen actively to the experiences of victims and survivors. Don’t presume, interrogate, or judge ― just listen. As in acquainting, you’re merely absorbing information. Acquainting is a bit more meta, though, while listening is more personal because you’ll want to listen to the women (and men) in your life. Ask them about their experiences and allow them to share if they’re comfortable sharing. You might not fully grasp what you hear. I don’t say this to be right, I say this to be real. And, trust me, the reality is disturbing, sometimes devastating.
I for interact. “Interact” (or “involve”) is a trickier one. I chose “interact” because it’s important to act but to act while following the lead of victims and survivors, as opposed to commandeering (e.g., “initiating” or “igniting”) the cause, no matter how dedicated you are to effecting change (and, if you genuinely “acquainted” and “listened,” you’ll want to do anything possible to contribute). This is where you have a voice, but it’s ancillary in its message. It doesn’t matter how moneyed, resourced, connected, influential, respected, etc. you are; you are the copilot and not the driver. Trust in the drivers, however. Your trust alone is what will empower them, perhaps in ways you might not ever know; but you need not know. And you must accept this as a very likely possibility. So, accept it now.
G for galvanize. Galvanize is where you’ll have the most latitude. Yes, you will still follow the leads of victims of survivors, but this is when you, as a bro with all of the privilege that comes with being one (and if you don’t know what this means, “acquaint” yourself here for starters), can interpret, articulate and communicate what you’ve learned to the various people in your life who require more nuanced narratives – whether they are your old, surprisingly still-single fraternity buddies or your redneck uncle who drives a pickup with a pair of truck nuts. You may not change a single mind, at least not in one conversation, but when you tell family or friends not to speak a certain way or not to say certain things in your presence, they *will* hear you. In the moment, they might downplay, challenge or dismiss you. And they might even subsequently estrange you from their lives (should you not first estrange them from yours), but your message will almost certainly remain with them. In many cases, this will be adequate. Caution: do not get distracted by suffering fools longer than you must.
N for nurture. Nurture, not in a patriarchal or patronizing sense ― and if you made it this far in the ALIGN strategy, it wouldn’t even occur to you to think this way ― but more in a nourishing sense. Do this by simply being physically (and emotionally) there for your loved ones; and by helping to advance the bigger cause, either by repeating or concurrently engaging in “acquainting,” “listening,” “interacting” and “galvanizing.” Movements require many things; perhaps, most of all, legs and voices: the more, the better. For out of the millions of experiences will emerge a crystal clear directive. That directive? When you ALIGN, change will happen.
But it won’t happen without bros.