06/20/2013 03:14 pm ET Updated Aug 20, 2013

How We Can All 'Help Nigella'

The shocking snapshots making the rounds this week have prompted at least two important questions: (1) What special kind of arrogance does it take to allegedly choke a famous person in a paparazzi-ringed restaurant and think you'll get away with it? and (2) Why didn't anyone help Nigella?

These are good questions. Mary Beth Williams of Salon is among those who have thoughtfullly addressed the second one. Truth is, there are plenty of reasons why someone might, when witnessing violence, step back rather than up. It's not my business. That guy could hurt me. I don't know how to intervene. No one else is helping, so who am I... ? All understandable, if not defensible. But that's exactly why we have to take the "Why didn't anyone help Nigella?" question even farther. It's not all, or only, about who's going to barge in to a fancy restaurant and be some sort of hero. How often, after all, do visibly violent incidents emerge from behind closed doors? How often do we even have the chance to make that in-the-moment choice? The real question is: why didn't I step up yesterday, the day before, the day before that, to challenge the everyday moments that collectively threaten to choke women's safety and equality? Why didn't I call out that sexist comment? Why didn't I say anything to my kid about that violent-to-women video game? Why don't I -- especially as a guy -- make myself part of the solution?

If we agree that someone should have helped Nigella, then we've got to hold ourselves to the same standard the rest of the time -- to respond to, reduce and prevent the everyday acts of sexism and discrimination that add up to or excuse violence. It's about raising our voices against inequality and injustice in the same way we might call out a violent attack. If we really want to "help Nigella," we need to walk the anti-sexism, anti-violence talk 24/7, 365 days a year.

So, let's look not at what people didn't do. Let's look at what people can do.

We need to see, understand, identify -- and challenge -- all the puzzle pieces of culture that add up to this. These include, but are hardy limited to, the limiting and damaging constructs of masculinity that might prompt someone, someone powerful, to choke someone with perceived impunity and then shrug it off as a "tiff." Or might prompt someone to think it's acceptable, even hilarious, to make light of abuse (and sexualize the victim while he's at it).

Intervening may be our collective responsibility, but so is our responsibility to mold culture so that these incidents become unconscionable, unacceptable. And individual acts add up to collective change. You can be the dad who vows to be aware of and undo the tiny ways he has -- until now -- given sexism a pass. You can be the comedian -- or regular guy -- who finally says "rape jokes: not so funny." You can join the thousands of men, including Sir Patrick Stewart, who have already joined Breakthrough's Ring the Bell campaign by making concrete promises -- promises within their power -- to help end violence against women.

If you think about it, this incident -- through the power of the Internet and social media -- was not ignored. Ultimately, it did provoke a response. So, we must continue to ask the right questions, of ourselves and others, and to take the right actions. If we do, we can create a world where such incidents are rare. And where if they do, there's no question at all about how we respond.