I'll never forget the moment I went from thinking feminism should be "a human issue, not a gender issue" to "it's definitely a gender issue."
It was during the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings for Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court, when Anita Hill was forced to make her accusations against Clarence Thomas' sexual harassment, with absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose. She was not only ignored, she was blatantly accused of lying and publicly humiliated.
And therein lies the rub. My so-called representatives, wealthy white men of privilege, found it impossible to believe that Anita Hill's story was true, when every single woman I knew back then, no matter their color or job, had experienced exactly that kind of harassment or worse, including me.
When I was a young waitress at a hugely successful restaurant in the very politically correct area of Santa Monica, CA, the owner whispered in my ear "let's go suck and fuck." We had never dated, flirted or socialized. He had a girlfriend.
I can't explain why I had a visceral reaction of fear. I knew he wouldn't attack me or fire me. But the fact that he had the sense of entitlement and power to make such an unsolicited, crude remark to me, made me feel ashamed and humiliated, as if I had done something to make him behave this way. I gave him a sickly smile and detached myself from him as graciously and quickly as possible.
Every woman I know has at least one story like that, whether wealthy white men in their insular worlds want to believe it or not. And that is why sexual harassment is about gender inequality and not generic human rights, and why every man who witnesses it should call out the harasser, as if the remark were directed at their mother, sister, daughter or friend and let them know this behavior is unacceptable.
It is important for men to support gender equality and speak up when they witness sexism.
It is important for boys to have examples of men not tolerating sexist remarks and actions, so they can learn to speak up against them. By remaining silent, men are tacitly endorsing sexism and sexual harassment in all it permutations.
When men speak out against sexism they are giving other men permission to do the same. And that is their true power.
The first draft of this piece appeared in "Sobremesa: Conversation" in Medium.com