How Men Can Fight Toxic Masculinity and Rape Culture

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?

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Oneika the Traveller
Guest

*GIVES A STANDING OVATION* Yes, yes, and more yes to this post. Thank you.

Sylvia
Guest
Sylvia

Dear Kate,
Thank you so much for writing this. You’ve put a lot of my thoughts into words and hopefully I will be able to use them constructively in the future instead of spluttering with outrage.
Well done on a post that, as usual, goes above and beyond the sphere of “travel blogging”. You are indeed an adventurous person.
All the best,
Sylvia

Todd
Guest
Todd

I couldn’t agree with you more!

I’m a straight white male, and I’m a feminist and was raised this way. I think it is so important that people in my position recognize the influence they have and use it for the greater good.

I view it as a civic and moral duty anyway, and one certainly doesn’t need to be an outspoken activist to make a difference either. Every day we make choices that can contribute to positive change. Right now I’m also trying to make sure I read an equal number of books by women as men a year.

Shelby Morrison
Guest

THIS!!! Thank you for so eloquently putting what soooo many of us women are thinking into words. I can tell you put a lot of time into this post, and any post even remotely resembling the F-word risks getting hate. Thank you for being brave and putting this out there. An awesome guide for men, and the world in general. It’s inspiring to so many women bloggers standing up and speaking out. Pinned and shared!

Liz
Guest
Liz

Thank you! My biggest issue with the #metoo campaign is that it was putting the onus on those who have been violated to fix the issue- we aren’t going to fix this without the support of men. I want a viral movement of #Ipromisetodobetter.

Elina
Guest

I actually saw some of my FB friends (guys) posting something about this with the hashtag #iwill. Don’t know if it’s gonna take off, but it seems like it could be a great start.

Debbie
Guest
Debbie

Eloquent, informative Post! Yes, me too! I cannot count the times I have been harassed and had to change plans, my life, or direction due to male dominant attitudes. Some super ideas for men to help with the Equality Movement. Keep educating the masses Kate! Brava!

monsoonmiss
Guest
monsoonmiss

Well done, Kate. Thank you for putting this out there. Even as an outspoken woman and feminist, there are things I can do better, too.

April Hope
Guest

Oh, Kate, once again you have written something so powerful that eloquently describes exactly what so many of us have not been able to express. Thank you.

Adejoke
Guest

Thank you for putting together so eloquently what we have been trying to say to men. I also learned things I can do as a woman to continue to protect my fellow women. I appreciate this post

Mary
Guest

Thank you Kate, as always, for your strong voice. I look forward to your posts whether they’re about a place I want to visit or not, but this was simply wonderful and necessary.

Melissa
Guest

This is so great. Thank you. Everyone focuses so much on the problem without talking about real solutions.

Isie
Guest

This is wonderfully written. Thank you for sharing. This is SO important.

Katie
Guest

Thank you! Now that I’m – gulp – a parent, I constantly think about how I will address this issue when my daughter gets older. How will I teach her about rape culture, about protecting herself while not being afraid to be who she is, about understanding her privilege, and about respecting herself and others and speaking out against wrongs, etc.? I found out I was pregnant just prior to the election, and of course right after I cried. How would I explain this to my daughter? How can I account for the past year? Her baby book asks for… Read more »

Laura Oganowski
Guest
Laura Oganowski

“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.”

This is an amazing line, and something I wish more men took seriously and thought about. Amazing piece, Kate.

Jay
Guest
Jay

Kate, you can’t simply believe EVERYONE. There are Tons of documented cases where people lied. Including the whole Vhong Navarro cases in Philippines. Where people accused him for personal Gain.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3967628/ – Or that pretty well documented episode where the woman blamed FOUR Ex’s of those things, and got 3 of them to pay her off. Finally the 4th fought back, and after a huge investigation it turned out she had lied about ALL FOUR cases…….

Brent
Guest

Jay:

Thanks for once again reminding every man reading this that yes, there ARE women who lie about being raped, so let’s just bring that up again because it’s SO important.

It’s very “All Lives Matter” is what it is. Instead of worrying about (researching?) the exceptions, try focusing on the women you know and interact with. Listen to THEM. Believe THEM. These exceptions you mention are very rare and only serve to undermine the vast, vast majority of stories that ARE true.

alton
Guest
alton

Kate, I’m a guy. And I agree that the support of men is needed to combat sexism. But I think that your post is not going to do much good for that cause. ‘But to us, your female friends, you’re shocked because you haven’t been paying attention. It’s too late to be surprised by it’. – I think you’re already starting off with a narrow viewpoint here. Many men simply don’t realise how widespread this problem is. We see people like Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein as caricatures, it’s hard to believe that so many women are affected by this… Read more »

alton
Guest
alton

I guess I messed up the formatting in the previous message and cannot edit. – ‘Believe her. Please, just believe her.’ I tend to – ‘If a woman brings an issue to you, listen to her. Just start by listening. After you’ve listened, ask what you can do to help.’ This is good advice. It can be hard to know how to react to someone’s issue if you’ve not experienced harassment yourself. – ‘For that reason, make an effort to hire women. Not to hire in a more gender-blind manner — to hire women, specifically.’ Here is where you really… Read more »

alton
Guest
alton

Man, another screw up in my comment. What I meant to say:

– ‘Believe her. Please, just believe her.’

I tend to err on the side of the woman in this kind of situation because 95% of women wouldn’t lie about something like this. But I think it’s unhealthy to not even consider that there could be another side to the story. Assuming one side of the story is correct and true without considering the other is unwise and dangerous in a situation this serious.

Lalitha Raghavan
Guest
Lalitha Raghavan

Hi Kate, on the whole I certainly agree with what you say except for one thing. As a woman in a highly competitive corporate job, I can say that hiring women ‘because’ they are women has backfired in many cases with mediocre performers ruining good team output. A person should be hired for what he/she brings to the table. One shouldn’t care if they are black, white, pink with a tail etc. You are good, you get hired and that is the best way to make people feel equal. Look at it the other way. No one wants to be… Read more »

Rosie
Guest

Hi Kate,

This article is so powerful, thank you for articulating these words on behalf of all of us. I have nominated you for an Awesome blogger award. I am sure you have a million other things to do than passing it on, but just thought I’d let you know all the same. Thanks again.
http://thebeachbell.com/awesome-blogger-award/

Rosie
TheBeachBell.com

Penny Cooper
Guest
Penny Cooper

And please, for the love of all that is good and holy, stop using the word “pussy” when you want to put someone down. It implies that a “pussy” is weak, or that a weakling has a “pussy”. This is the worst pet peeve EVER!!

Kaitie
Guest
Kaitie

Completely disagree with the vast majority of this, but two things in particular stand out. Firstly, believe every woman who accuses a man of assault, no questions asked? What ever happened to the right to a fair trial and be presumed innocent? Do you know anything about US law? A second point that only further underscores your lack of knowledge about the American legal system. As an HR professional, I can tell you it is not only ILLEGAL to hire women because they’re women (or men simply because they’re men), it’s terrible for company morale and output. Hire the best… Read more »

Esp
Guest
Esp

The first point is not a legal point but A human one. A friend, colleague or other woman confides in you or reaches out for support or help. Do you really say ‘innocent till proven guilty’. Come on. As a fellow HR professional but based in the UK I would disagree with your second point. The global bank i work for are trying to better balance our gender diversity at all levels. It’s not about hiring, promoting or elevating a person because they’re a woman per se, it’s about thinking about customer base and how to best serve it. With… Read more »

Lalitha Raghavan
Guest
Lalitha Raghavan

Hi, I think the key is ‘all things being equal’ we might prefer a woman but the original point of contention is whether we consciously look to hire a woman. As mentioned previously, I have seen it in my organisation that it has backfired too. If we have two candidates who are equally good and one is a female, it is ok to give a preference but by consciously providing a platform ‘only’ for women, we are doing a grave injustice to the other sex. The idea is to provide a level playing field. Atleast for me it is very… Read more »

Esp
Guest
Esp

Kate, this is excellent. Thank you.

terra @ terragoes.com
Guest

Very well said! When Trump was elected I was like, ok, can anyone seriously still deny that we live in a world that objectifies and debases women? Half the country voted in favor of this bullshit and, for me, it’s made the issues that face our country that much more obvious.

chris
Guest
chris

wait, wait–and the other half of the country voted for a woman who trashed, tore down and belittled a variety of females who accused her husband of rape, sexual assault and generally taking advantage of his position of power (remember the intern?).

hillary clinton debased herself by sticking with her scumbag husband.

but hey, it’s different when the shoe is on the other foot, politically, isn’t it?

the issue is on both sides and always has been.

Natalia
Guest

One of the best websites I’ve read in a long time. WELL SAID.

Dee
Guest

Such a powerful post! Well said.

Melissa
Guest

Great post Kate – I am glad I am not the only one that didn’t gel with the #metoo campaign. I mean I get the intention and I agree with it – but I just wasn’t up for sharing.

Kate - Travel for Difference
Guest

Women sure are stronger together, but we sure as hell couldn’t fight this without men ??

Sarah
Guest

It’s nice to see a post from someone who “get’s it”. I’m fortunate to work at an amazing place where I can travel but talking to even some family members, it’s sad how many people with no information want to blame women first in 2017. So frustrating.

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

Nope. ‘Believe her. Just believe her.’ Not a hope in hell. I personally know a few women, in one case been friends with, been confided in and supported them when they’ve needed it, who’ve turned out to be calling ‘rape’ when they weren’t assulted. They have come out and admitted it, one of those was over 2 years later when the guys life was effectively crushed already. I support logic. I support fact. I support evidence. I support intelligence and rational thoughts. And you should too. You should never blindly believe anyone. Ever. Listen to them, yes, but don’t believe… Read more »

ottavio
Guest
ottavio

sorry kate, may I ask you why you removed my comments since they weren’t in any way offensive or unconvenient in any way? That’s not kind of you

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Thinking that decent men have any control over criminal behaviour is bizarre.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Kate i think you’re doing victims a huge disservice categorising a criminal issue in this way. It’s not a women vs men issue. It’s a rapist vs Police issue. Report these ppl to the police instead of telling innocent ppl, men or women, to get involved. we have a system. i think men are hugely supportive of this but it’s how it’s presented…. For example…it’ll take feminism…feel free to disagree but just what i believe to be widely true. I think at it’s core, more men than women are feminists. But it’s presented in such an aggressive way to most… Read more »

Emily
Guest
Emily

Sexual harassment laws were written to protect women in the work place. I know I’m not the only person who has seen this play out. Some women use sexuality to gain advancement. The forgotten victim is the woman who didn’t get promoted because she did not behave that way. Some of the Hollywood me too are perpetrators of the same crime. They traded sex for employment or rolls in weinsteins movies has it occurred to anyone that someone else delivered a better audition but did not enjoy a life of fame because they held to their principles and did not… Read more »

Jamie
Guest

Yes, so important! When this campaign was first happening, it did cause me some pain. I hated to have to be reminded of my own painful memories just because I was on Facebook trying to have conversations with my friends. I suppose, in the end, it’s better than none of this movement happening at all, especially with a few well-known men coming forward as allies. One step at a time, I suppose!