Men knowing sexism is wrong means nothing if they aren't willing to fight alongside women

Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

According to Twitter, the #MeToo hashtag campaign has reached 85 countries and driven about 1.7 million tweets. As more and more victims share stories of sexual harassment and abuse, more and more men have jumped in to join the conversation. Unfortunately, a lot of those men have chimed in to make sure that women and victims are aware that all men aren’t abusers or “bad.” The thing is, women already know this, and it’s not the point. Men knowing sexism is wrong means absolutely nothing if they’re aren’t willing to fight alongside women, and yes, possibly put themselves in uncomfortable situations sometimes — just like women do every single day.

While obviously not all men are actively, consciously choosing to be sexist, a terrifyingly large number of them keep quiet when they see sexist things happening, and they all straight-up benefit from living as men in a society that favors men and undermines (or outright oppresses) women at every turn.

A companion hashtag campaign, #HowIWillChange, popped up alongside #MeToo, which men used to share how they planned to combat sexism. If you’re easily triggered, don’t browse that hashtag, because along with some well intentioned and genuine declarations from men about changing their behavior in their every day life,  you’ll see just as many tweets from men declaring that they don’t “have to” change, since they already don’t harass, rape, or otherwise abuse women.

Oh, also, they have daughters, wives, and moms. Well, we have some bad news for those guys.

These men might be even worse when it comes to perpetuating sexism and rape culture.

Because they’re the ones who are allowing it to happen. Although the actual harassers and abusers are committing illegal, sometimes violent crimes against women, the culture of silence and ambivalence about how men treat women is what enables those culprits.

For example, Harvey Weinstein, if guilty of all the alleged crimes and abuses of power women have accused him of, was the one who hurt his victims. But others, like so many other men and women in Hollywood who continued to work with him, make profits through him, and laugh it off (sometimes literally as a joke), enabled a culture that made it okay to not trust, protect, or empower women.

Sexist harassers and abusers do what they do because they know they can get away with it. They know that even their male peers will let things slide. So the men who know in their hearts that sexism is wrong but don’t speak up or change their behavior in the name of ending sexism can cause just as much harm as the guys actually abusing their power, assaulting women, or even making a “harmless” sexist joke.

Silence is a huge problem, and it’s the biggest (and hardest) challenge ahead of us.

Step one: It’s time to call out the men in your life, if you can.

The unfortunate truth is that women are always doing the work when it comes to fighting sexism. Not only are women somehow expected to live with the trauma every day of being harassed and abused by men, they often are also tasked with making sure that everyone else feels comfortable about it. Women learn to giggle and shrink away from a guy at the bar who throws his arm around them so as not to make a scene or make the creep feel uncomfortable or like he had done something wrong. We are essentially trained to protect the feelings (and livelihoods) of the very people who make us feel unsafe.

Women often don’t report the blatantly sexist things their bosses say to HR so that they don’t cause a whole *thing* in the office. And that’s just the beginning: According to RAINN, just over 300 rapes are reported for every 1,000 perpetrated. In the worst cases, there are women who feel “lucky” that they haven’t been harassed or assaulted, because that’s just how the world works, as if it’s a woman’s responsibility to keep herself safe.

Men have to get on board and fight alongside women.

Just on a very basic empathy level, if a man really does know that sexism is wrong and actually trusts and believes women when they share their experiences, shouldn’t that make them upset enough to say something about it, like the countless badass women out there who report and call out sexism all the time?

Since males, especially white males, enjoy and benefit from privileges the rest of us don’t have, it’s time for them to lighten our load and do some of the labor in dismantling the sexist and racist systems we’re all stuck in, since women (and especially women of color) can’t always stand up for themselves without some sort of retribution, whether it’s not getting a job or simply being blamed for the abuse in some way. Men can act in the name of ending sexism. It’s actually not as hard as it sounds.

A man doesn’t have harass, assault, or make sexist comments to be guilty of perpetuating sexism and misogyny. If he’s not calling out their male co-worker every time he interrupts you at the weekly meeting, he’s not a feminist. If he only stops asking you out once he learns you have a boyfriend, he doesn’t see you as an equal. If he lets his friends victim-blame when you’re all discussing a sexual assault case that’s made national headlines over brunch, that dude is not your ally. If a man claims he thinks rape jokes are wrong only because they have women they love and adore in their lives, they don’t get a Feminist Ally sticker.

Men, it’s not enough to just know that sexism is a real thing, just like you don’t have to march at a white supremacist rally to participate in, benefit from, and perpetuate racism. It’s not enough to be “shocked” at certain male behaviors. Men only get to be shocked once, like the first time they hear about it happening. Now it’s time for them to actually do something about it.