I woke up this morning to literally every woman in my social media feeds posting #MeToo, a response to actress Alyssa Milano tweeting:
Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
The sheer volume of responses might be eye-opening for some men, but I don't think women were particularly surprised about the Harvey Weinstein allegations, and I don't think women are particularly surprised at the number of women affirming they have been assaulted and harassed. It is common knowledge, among some groups of people, that harassment and assault are standard operating practice in schools, at work, at social events, on public transportation... pretty much everywhere in everyday life.
It's possible that one reason men don't speak up is that they don't understand the gravity of the problem: They don't think it really happens, or that it's not a big deal, or that women are somehow actually unfairly benefitting from this kind of attention. Or even if they are confronted with crystal-clear evidence of sexual harassment — they see their boss grope their colleague, for example — they either don't know what to do, assume she can handle it herself, or don't care to risk their own relationships by intervening.
Last night, Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote:
I'd love to see a hashtag in which people name a specific action they now commit to take to to combat sexual harassment/assault. #IWill
— Tamara Cofman Wittes (@tcwittes) October 16, 2017
She's since been retweeting the replies. It's an encouraging series of tweets, even if the only real-world consequences are that a few more people will be alert to signs of sexual harassment in their industries and social circles.
#IWill help younger women understand their rights, and that they don't have to accept the power equation in macho societies.
— Naomi Paiss (@NaomiPaiss) October 16, 2017
— Judy Nadler (@JudyNadler) October 16, 2017
The only discouraging thing about #IWill? The responses are mostly from women.
Fortunately, if you, a man, need a little help, a lot has been published lately on how to intervene in an icky situation or stand up for someone who's being harassed. Here are a bunch of good, specific, tips from Teen Vogue, such as "step up, speak up" and "bring others in."
And it's helpful to simply read up on the power structures that enable sexual harassment — the glorification of powerful men, for example, or that standard NDAs and confidentiality agreements in US workplaces make reporting or going public with sexual harassment a breach of contract. At the very least, you can say #IWill read and believe the many millions of women who have experienced this kind of treatment.