The #MeToo movement continues to expose widespread issues of men using their power and privilege to harass, abuse and assault women. Since the seemingly earth-shattering allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced publicly just over one year ago, there has been a steady cadence of courageous revelations. With each new story, there is a familiar public response. Sadness and anger looms as we learn that yet another man has abused or assaulted others. There’s a familiar disappointment that nobody spoke up sooner, and an outpouring of empathy toward survivors. And, of course, there remains a disheartening level of victim blaming and denial by so many who choose not to believe credible allegations.
As we all absorb the realities of harm and violence in our current culture, it’s time for us to come together with an aim toward making our communities, homes, schools and workplaces safe for the generations that will follow. Our children deserve better.
Gender-based violence prevention is not just about the power we instill in our girls. Of course, they must know that they are equal to boys and be taught that prevailing gender norms that position them as less smart, less athletic, and less able to say “no” depending on their outfit, are simply not the reality. It’s not just about telling our girls that their bodies are theirs, and they have the power, right, and responsibility to give permission and to deny or revoke it at any time.
Girls and women have been shouldering this work for decades, and it’s time for men and boys to join them as equals in this work. It’s time for men to listen to the realities that have been presented to them, reflect on what they’ve heard, and hold themselves and other men to higher standards.
It’s time for this to be modeled for our boys. Together, men and women have an opportunity to create a society where inexcusable behavior is simply not excused. A world where “boys will be boys” doesn’t enter our vocabulary. A world where we stand together to confront sexist attitudes and behaviors that continue to prop up this culture of inequality, harm and violence.
We need to help all of our children reach their potential by countering the many social pressures and cultural norms that limit them. We need to encourage emotional connectedness in boys and girls, so they all feel safe expressing their full range of human feelings.
We need to talk openly with all of our children about the realities of power and privilege, with empathy toward those that have been oppressed. We need to increase our willingness to listen, learn and trust when those who have been marginalized whenever they become ready to share their experiences.
It’s time for us to work together as allies and to help our youth develop the tools and the courage to disrupt sexist, disrespectful and abusive behaviors long before they become violent.
Matt Theodores of Cumberland Foreside is executive director of Maine Boys to Men, an organization that engages communities to shift attitudes and actions to end male violence against women and girls. Megan Hannan is executive director of The Maine Women’s Fund, a public foundation that transforms the lives of Maine women and girls through strategic grantmaking, community engagement and support to nonprofit organizations dedicated to social change.