A Facebook post recently read, “If we throw out all that have sexually harassed or assaulted, how many men would be left?”
That sentence implies, “Not many.”
It’s easy to understand peoples’ frustration, and even anger, in the wake of the uncovering of sexual violence and harassment committed by so many of those in the public eye these last several months.
And yet, the implication of this Facebook post is harmful, because, reactionary statements implying that ALL men are guilty diminishes the stories of women who have been abused and victimized by the acts of people like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Roy Moore. Furthermore, it is in line with making false accusations.
Let us be clear: we understand the existing problem in the culture and think we all of us – men and women – need to take steps to prevent these crimes.
According to the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1 in 6 women will be the victim of sexual violence or attempted sexual violence in her lifetime. And almost 97 percent of sexual crimes – against women or men – have a male perpetrator.
We know that too often, the phrase “not all men” is used to invalidate women’s claims about gender inequality or make men feel less uncomfortable about their privilege. In that case, it silences women.
But the true conversation should revolve around the men who have assaulted and harassed women, not those whose behavior, though it may be frustrating, doesn’t constitute harassment or worse.
After all, there is a difference between the case of Alabama’s Roy Moore, running for U.S. Senate, who is accused of child molestation and sexual misconduct, and the New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush who hit on younger, of-age women.
One case is dealing with something plainly illegal; the other is more of a case of a boorish, insensitive older man who made advances on younger women, none of whom worked for or reported to him.
There IS a difference between the two.
Throwing every man in that mix is not only unfair – it’s a dangerous narrative for women.
The backlash against this could mean an expansion of the “Pence Rule,” the Vice President’s informal rule that doesn’t allow him to meet with a woman alone.
If a woman can no longer go to lunch with her male colleague or a man can no longer mentor a woman in a new workplace, opportunities for women in business shrink. Currently, women only represent 10 percent of Fortune 500 boardrooms (according to Catalyst.org). Women in the workplace need more chances to enter boardrooms, not excuses to leave them out.
Don’t get us wrong – there is no excuse for boorish, lascivious behavior. There is no excuse for someone to constantly put his or her hands on other people in an unwanted fashion or to brush up against another employee in a provocative manner. Serial acts of aggression should never be allowed. Not in the workplace. Not anywhere.
But pretending every man engages in this behavior distracts from the seriousness of the crimes of sexual violence, harassment, and coercion.
It is also simply untrue, and it is an unfair accusation. Not all men are guilty of violence and sexism, but all of us – men and women – have a responsibility to stop these crimes. Let’s start by talking about the men who are actually guilty.