We’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks.
We’ve seen and heard an outpouring of haunting stories about sexual harassment and assault. Since the revelation that Harvey Weinstein had established a pattern of abuse over decades, women from every walk of life are bravely saying yes, #MeToo.
These stories have been whispered and hushed up for years. Data showing shameful rates of sexual harassment and assault have been staring us in the face, and we’ve looked away until now. So it’s better to say we’ve been reminded of some tough truths. Do we now have the courage to confront and address them?
First, we were reminded that some men use their power and privilege to make unwelcome advances on women or to demand sexual favors. Weinstein threatened the careers of young actresses if they refused his advances or went public. And we know it wasn’t just Weinstein. We’ve heard about Louis C.K., Mark Halperin, Roy Moore, and many others who have preyed on women with less power. And it happens right here at Princeton, too. Just last week, the Huffington Post reported that Princeton’s Title IX office has found Prof. Sergio Verdu responsible for sexually harassing one of his graduate students.
Second, we were reminded how terribly common sexual harassment and assault are. It’s no surprise that the #MeToo campaign went viral: a recent ABC News–Washington Post poll found that 30% of American women have experienced “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances” in the workplace. Many do not report their harassment or assault because they fear that they won’t be believed or fear that they might face overt retaliation: 25% of all women surveyed said that their harasser was a male colleague who had power to advance or derail their careers.
Weinstein’s long history of harassment and assault was an “open secret” in Hollywood. People knew something was deeply wrong, yet did nothing. It’s a case study in the long, slow failure of bystander intervention. That’s the third tough truth: in a situation where women feared speaking out, men in particular found it easy to keep quiet and look away while Weinstein kept on. Quentin Tarantino has admitted he knew about Weinstein from firsthand accounts: he’s ashamed he did nothing, and has called on other men of power and influence to “do better by our sisters.”
What would it mean for men to “do better by our sisters” here at Princeton? Too often, the work for justice and equality is classified as a “women’s issue” — a problem for women to solve. That allows men to look away just like Tarantino did, hoping that someone else will speak up. But sexual harassment and assault are men’s issues, too. Men can be victims; moreover, the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault are men. These perpetrators are taking their cues from other men around them, who are standing back and implicitly condoning their behavior.
If sexual harassment and assault are men’s issues, what can men do to stop it?
First, men can stand in solidarity with victims and survivors. We can stand up against a culture that protects male perpetrators by ignoring women who speak up—and worse, by attacking them. Women are often blamed for their abuse (i.e. “she was asking for it”), and women who tell a painful truth are simply called liars (which, for the record, is the official White House position on the 16 women who have alleged that our president sexually harassed or assaulted them: they are all just lying). Let your friends know that people who report harassment or assault are bravely risking humiliation and retaliation — someone risking so much should be taken seriously.
Second, men need to talk about the more subtle inequalities of power and privilege on the Street and across Princeton’s campus, where 10% of Princeton students experienced “nonconsensual sexual contact” (aka sexual assault) just last year. Harvey Weinstein carefully chose targets he could exploit and used his power to get away with terrible things. Here at Princeton, where are men pushing the boundaries of what’s right? Where are women pressured to keep quiet?
Third, as men, we can use our own power and privilege to effect positive change. Ask yourself where you have power and influence: are you a leader in a club, on a team, in an organization? Where and with whom does your voice carry weight? How are you going to use your voice and your actions to build communities where we stand up for one another?
More and more men are recognizing that their lives and relationships are diminished by sexism in all its forms. More and more men see that the “bro code” of standing by while another man receives gratification by any means should be a source of shame to all of us. It is our responsibility to take action when we know other men are abusing their power for sex. It’s not because we’re heroes or because women need our protection. It’s because we strive to be men of compassion, solidarity, and integrity, and these values are not just to be spoken, but lived.
– Princeton MAVRIC Project (Men’s Allied Voices for a Respectful and Inclusive Community)
Carl Adair GS
Chris Shin ‘18
Corry Short ‘19