How Men Can Fight Toxic Masculinity and Rape Culture

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If you’ve been following social media, chances are you’ve seen many of your friends posting #MeToo in recent days. Women have been posting this phrase to signal that they, too, have been a victim of sexual harassment and assault at some point in their lives.

It’s so well-intentioned, but it makes me angry at the same time. Why must we publicly share our own personal trauma in order to get men to notice how widespread this is? Rape culture and toxic masculinity are forces that affect all of us, even the most privileged women.

Many of my male friends have been shocked at the revelations of the past few days and have been asking what they can do to be an ally. Here’s what I’ve got:

We can’t win this battle without men’s support.

Just as white supremacy cannot be dismantled without the help of white people, and LGBT equality cannot be achieved without the help of straight cis people, we need men’s help in achieving gender equality.

That doesn’t mean you should take over the movement and be front and center — it means you should be a beacon of support, helping women however you can. Use your male privilege to call out behavior in a way that will draw much more notice than if a woman did the same thing. Bring women the resources they need to take this fight further.

Stop saying that you’re shocked.

We get it — you had no idea that so many of your female friends experienced sexual harassment and assault.

I assume that you feel shocked because you consider yourself a good guy. You want to express your solidarity. But to us, your female friends, you’re shocked because you haven’t been paying attention. This is part of our lives. Women live this every minute of every day. You see it in front of you, from misogynistic jokes to street harassment to women being overlooked at work. It’s too late to be surprised about it.

Hell, a guy was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women and he was elected President of the United States! How much more proof do you need?!

And along the same lines, strike, “As a father of daughters” or “as someone with sisters” from your vocabulary. You should be repulsed that women are being treated this way because women are human beings — not because you happen to be related to one.

Believe women.

When a woman tells you she was sexually harassed or assaulted, listen to her tell you what happened — and believe her.

Don’t think that she made a mistake wearing that short skirt — believe her.

Don’t think that she shouldn’t have gotten that drunk that night — believe her.

Don’t think that only an idiot wouldn’t have stopped the guy — believe her.

Don’t think she said this because she wants to ruin the guy’s career — believe her.

Believe her. Please, just believe her.

Be there for the women in your life.

If a woman brings an issue to you, listen to her. Don’t try to solve her problem while she’s talking. Just start by listening.

After you’ve listened, ask what you can do to help. Maybe she’ll want you to take action. Maybe she’ll want you to back her up at work, or to run interference with a sexist relative during family gatherings. Maybe she’ll want you to walk her home at the end of the night. Maybe she’ll want you to speak up about an important upcoming election.

The important thing to do is listen to her and ask what you can do. Don’t try to be Superman.

Know that sexual abuse takes many different forms and varies widely.

There’s a stereotype that rape is a man jumping out of the bushes and attacking a woman they don’t know. That is extremely rare.

Most sexual assaults are by people the victim knows. More typical? Say, waking up naked and sore next to that guy you were talking to after being blackout drunk the night before. Going out with a guy and telling him over and over that you don’t want to do anything that night, but he doesn’t stop, and it’s late, and you’ll probably have to stay over his place anyway, and you reluctantly agree even though it’s the last thing you want to do.

And that’s on top of having your ass being groped by a stranger on a subway, having graphic phrases yelled at you while you walk down the street, or having a boss “accidentally” rub himself against you a few drinks in at the office Christmas party.

And rapists? They’re not all cartoon-like monsters like Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump. They look normal on the outside and they feel like they’re normal on the inside. They’re a lot like you’re friends. They’re a lot like you.

Stop bringing up false equivalences.

“Men can be sexually abused, too!” Technically true, yes. But with women the level of constant abuse is on another level.

“Women can be sexist against men, too!” No. They can be prejudiced. Sexism is a system of power and the power is very much in the hands of men.

“Well, I wasn’t accepted to that college but this girl who had a lower GPA than me did!” Do not even. Do not even. Maybe that college read your essay and thought you came off like a jerk.

Also, let me know when American men are having laws passed telling them what they can do with their bodies.

Hire, lift up, and mentor women — and women of color — at work.

Women already have an uphill battle in the workplace. Not being taken seriously, being passed over for a lesser-qualified male applicants, constantly being talked over, being disliked more if they’re more successful. It’s even more difficult for women of color.

For that reason, make an effort to hire women. Not to hire in a more gender-blind manner — to hire women, specifically.

It goes beyond hiring, though. Choose women for positions of authority. Choose them to head up major projects. Choose them to represent the company publicly. Promote them from within.

If you run a conference, make a bigger effort to select women to be speakers. Choose them for big roles, like giving the keynote or spearheading a discussion on a subject like tech or photography that is dominated by men.

The systems aren’t always in place — so create them. One example of this is how Transparent director Jill Solloway wanted to hire trans writers but had trouble finding them, so she created a training program and hired directly from there.

There are lots of changes I’d like to see in the travel blogging industry. While the industry is heavily dominated by women, you wouldn’t know it by looking at conference speaking schedules, round-ups of top bloggers, or features on travel bloggers in traditional media.

I’d like to see women speak more often at conferences, particularly as keynotes on subjects like photography. I’d like to see more brands intentionally seek out diverse brand ambassadors so we don’t have a cringeworthy situation like when Allianz showed up at the New York Times Travel Show last year with only straight white male travel bloggers representing them, when straight white males constitute a tiny minority of travel bloggers. I’d like to see female travel bloggers more often quoted in traditional media as an individual — not jointly with their husband.

And for me? I’d like to be mentioned more often as a top travel blogger without the omnipresent qualifier “but for women.” You don’t see other top travel bloggers constantly qualified with “but for adventure” or “but for families” or “but for budget travel.” Why does “but for women” always get mentioned?

Help your female partners feel sexually safe with you.

You might think, “This doesn’t apply to me — I’m not a rapist.” That may be the case, but it’s possible that you’ve made a female partner uncomfortable at some point. Whether you’ve been with your partner a decade or you’re finding a new one, it’s always good to have a discussion.

Women often tend to agree to sex even when they’re not enthusiastic about it, feeling like they don’t want to make waves or they don’t want to disappoint their partner. This is why it’s important that the male partner take initiative and let the female partner know that she has just as much control and agency as he does.

Here are some good phrases that I recommend:

  • “Just because I came over, it doesn’t mean we need to have sex today. I’m happy just to spend time with you.”
  • “If you don’t feel like being sexual with me at any time, I won’t make you feel bad or guilty about it.”
  • “Your comfort level is my comfort level.”

It sounds basic, but trust me — those words will be so appreciated and will help you build a stronger relationship with your partner. And while you’re at it, ban the phrase “blue balls” from your vocabulary.

Take responsibility for birth control on your end.

Yeah, you might hate how condoms feel, but that’s not an excuse. If your female partner is happy to take birth control, that’s great — but not all women want to take birth control.

Did you know that birth control can cause weight gain, mood swings, and in some cases, can completely zap a woman’s sex drive? Not to mention that some women just don’t want to put hormones into their body.

And if you want to go nonhormonal with the copper IUD, did you know that it makes some women bleed nonstop? And did you know that IUDs can expel from the woman’s uterus and get stuck in her cervix? That’s uncomfortable enough if you’re at home and can get to a doctor, but what if it happens when you’re traveling through Guatemala or Laos or Malawi?

You should be an equal partner in birth control. If your female partner doesn’t want to deal with the side effects of birth control, it’s up to you to wear condoms without complaint.

Truth — condoms alone are not as effective as condoms combined with birth control, but when condoms are used correctly they are 98% effective.

Take a look at your media consumption and observe who you recommend to others.

This is a big one in the travel blogging community. I can’t tell you how often I see men writing posts recommending their favorite travel books or travel photographers and surprise! It’s a list of all men! Or maybe twelve men and two women. Usually all white.

“But I shouldn’t have to choose my favorite photographers based on their gender or skin color! Are you going to tell me I need to have favorite Muslim and trans photographers, too?”

Ugh. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Take a look at the content you consume. Before you hit publish or send on that list of recommended artists that happen to be all or mostly men, take a look at the list and think about who you’re recommending. Think about who’s missing.

Then ask yourself. “Why is it that all my favorite travel photographers are men? Is it that there aren’t any women travel photographers? No. Is it that most women travel photographers are Instagram models posing in front of pretty landscapes? No, that’s not true either. Is it that it’s harder to find them? Maybe it is because photography has traditionally been seen as a male pursuit. What I’ve been doing so far has not led me to follow enough women, so I need to make more of an effort to seek out women photographers specifically.”

And then you take action. Maybe you look up a female travel photographer on Instagram and go through the list of people she follows. Maybe you find several women photographers whose photos you enjoy and you follow them. You get to know their work over time, you communicate with them, and when it’s time to promote your favorite photographers, you have a list that is no longer just men.

Maybe you post on Facebook saying, “Hey, I just realized that I haven’t read many travel books written by women. I’d like to change that. I’d love to hear your recommendations!” Or maybe you reach out to an avid reader you know and ask her privately. You read the books; you become a fan; you recommend these new female authors to your friends.

The last few years I’ve been making more of an effort to read books by authors of color. Why? Because if I hadn’t made the effort, I would have read mostly books by white authors. The publishing business, like most businesses, overlooks people of color. I’ve read 21 books by authors of color so far this year and that’s 21 different perspectives I never would have seen otherwise.

Vote wisely.

This is particularly important for Americans. There are constantly measures on the table that undermine women’s reproductive rights. Republicans in particular are fighting for the right of companies to deny their female employees birth control.

Fight for reproductive rights, universal healthcare, and paid maternity leave.

Additionally, I encourage you to support Planned Parenthood. They provide everything from birth control to STI testing and treatment, HIV services, hormone therapy for trans patients, prenatal care, and yes, abortion services and referrals.

For some women, Planned Parenthood is the only reliable healthcare they can get. Providing women with effective healthcare is one of the greatest ways to mobilize toward economic equality.

Don’t financially support the work of predators.

Stop going to see Roman Polanski movies, remove R. Kelly from your Spotify account, and don’t stream anything by Woody Allen. And for God’s sake, don’t do anything to financially support the career of Donald Trump.

This is particularly hard and may take you some time. I cut Chris Brown’s music out of my life the day after he assaulted Rihanna, but it took me a much longer time to stop listening to R. Kelly. Make the effort. You’ll get there. And definitely don’t buy any concert tickets in the meantime.

Raise your sons to respect women.

This topic could be a lengthy post on its own; as someone who isn’t a parent, it’s not my subject of expertise. But there are things that all parents should be doing:

Teach your kids bodily autonomy. If they say, “Stop!” when you’re showering them with kisses, don’t make it a game. Just stop. Teach them that they are the boss of their own body and everyone else is the boss of theirs. And yeah, that means that if they’re not in the mood to hug Grandma, they don’t have to hug Grandma. Most importantly, teach them that no means no.

Let boys express their emotions. Boys have always been encouraged to hide their emotions, told that being stoic is the only way to “be a man.” Let them cry. Let them play.

Don’t segregate boys and girls. Have them play together from a young age; don’t differentiate between activities for boys and activities for girls. Let your boys play with dinosaurs and dolls, let them play superheroes and dress up in tutus. It’s all kids’ stuff.

Encourage your kids to stand up for others. It’s not okay to make someone feel bad. If someone is being bullied or teased, your role is to call it out and let the person know that it’s not okay. Do role-playing scenarios with your kids so they’ll know what to do.

It will be uncomfortable. You will not always feel like a hero.

I bet you have images dancing in your mind — you, telling off a brutally sexist coworker with wit and aplomb in the board room, humiliating him as everyone gives you high fives. You, on the street in a city, telling a street harasser to shut the hell up and ask the woman if she’s okay.

It’s not going to be like that.

Your coworkers might roll their eyes at you. You might be laughed at. You might be threatened. And there will come a time when the offender is your best friend, or your boss, or someone important in your career field. Harvey Weinstein was protected for decades because he was so powerful. Stop it from happening in your industry.

Will you put yourself at risk? You very well may. But social change is uncomfortable. If it were easy, we would all be doing it already.

What are you going to do to fight toxic masculinity and rape culture?