Monday 30 October 2017

Good People, Good Men and #metoo [trigger warning likely necessary]

To start, #metoo, but while that experience, and the reaction to my talking publicly about it earlier this year have made me feel I have to write this and put it out there, I'm not writing here about that experience.

This is about how I think I, and men especially, have to respond to the sea of #metoo disclosures from our friends, colleagues, family and acquaintances.  If your response to the words "men especially" above is to point out that women can be perpetrators too, don't worry, you are right, this is not disputed, and I have personal experience confirming that to be the case, but I hope that you will acknowledge that the statistics do mean that "men especially" is not disproportionate.

In summary:*I* (a good person in my head) need to recognise that *I* have very possibly been responsible for some of the #metoo hashtags that I have seen.  And anybody reading this needs to run that thought through their heads in the first person.

We have to resist the temptation to say how awful Harvey Weinstein was, how awful all those other bad apples are, to think something has to be done about them, and to recognise that if people in our lives are saying that they have been the victims of harassment, assault, intimidation, rape or sexual abuse, it may be that we, who think of ourselves as good men, have been the perpetrators.

We need to recognise that what we think of as our youthful idiocy, our saucy "banter"*, our chatting up, our seduction routine, our assertion of our carnal desires, may not be thought of that way by somebody that is statistically likely to be physically smaller than us, physically weaker than us, and in a position of markedly less social and economic power than us.

We need not to instil a hierarchy of bad that puts what we personally have done into a box labelled "soft" or "minor" but what is done by others into "hard" or "serious"

Cognitive dissonance is a thing - we have an idea of the world and how we relate to it, an image of the best of ourselves that we don't always live up to, but when faced with something like #metoo, it is too easy to assume that because we think of ourselves as good people, it must have been the bad men, the other that are responsible, rather than us ourselves.  The thought process is, effectively, "Good men do good things. Bad men do bad things. I am not a bad man, I am a good man, therefore everything I have done is good, or not really bad. I feel sorry for all of the women I know that have said #metoo, that everybody in their life was not, like me, a good man.  If only they were."

But here's the thing - the bad men, the other - they think the same thing.  Harvey Weinstein likely doesn't think of himself as a rapist or a serial sex pest, but a massive number of women clearly believe him to be so on the basis of their direct experience of their interactions with him.

#metoo will ultimately be meaningless if good men don't actively try to scrutinise what they have done and how it may have been felt by others, don't own the fact that they have almost certainly done at least one bad thing, and work to get their friends, their brothers, their sons to recognise what is wrong, and not to do it.

Not having been reported to the police does not mean that you have not done something bad.

Not having faced a grievance or disciplinary at work does not mean that your colleague is happy being touched gently, or massaged, or finds your sexual "banter"* hilarious or flirty.

Somebody that you in your darkest and most private of thoughts know that you were probably "a bit close to the line with one drunken night" still talking to you does not mean that you did not cross that line in their perception.

We have to recognise that never having felt negative consequences of our actions does not constitute proof that everything we have done has been fine - We have to consider our own actions, hold them up to the highest standard, recognise where we have not lived up to that standard and own that.  We need then to incorporate that critical reflection upon our past into our decision making processes in the future.

We need to stop excusing our failings prior to acknowledging them.  And this is where things have to get dark. 

I've thought a lot before writing the below, whether to  put my name to it or not when publishing it, and what the consequences could be for me of doing so. This is selfish thinking, of which we are all guilty, but ultimately I think it best to own what I have to say publicly. 

The paragraph below is not an easy thing to write, let alone publish to be potentially read by someone that may not know me, that will offer me no benefit of the doubt, and that do not have any of the context around the events that I refer to that enables me to at all live with myself.  I present it like this, without context, in the hope that some people out there, especially men, may read it, be willing to reflect on the extent to which it is true of them, and may look to change their behaviour as a result.

I have done things in the past that I deeply regret, that I recognise could well have hurt others, and that could potentially have legitimately led to criminal charges being pressed against me, because my interpretation of what was appropriate or welcome was mine alone, and directed by my belief that *I*, as a good person, could not be doing something actually wrong.  The fact that I have felt no negative consequences of what I have done does not mean that what I have done was OK, and I am sorry to anybody that I have hurt, that has never felt confident to tell me I hurt them.  

If anybody reading this does feel that I have wronged them and wants to tell me now, wants to discuss it, wants a direct apology, I will believe them, I will discuss it, and I will apologise directly, publicly or privately as they wish, whether it has been something that I have thought of in writing this or had previously not even realised, because if I am to learn to be a better person, I have to own the impact of my actions on others.  

I hope that my future behaviour, which I control and must take responsibility for, is such that the statement above need not be made for future events.  I don't assume, though, that having thought this through and written it out will automatically make it the case that I will live up to the standard I want to hold myself to - that cosy complacency is the foundation for a society in which #metoo means nothing.

*I fucking hate that word, which I think is far too often used to describe what is better characterised as hate speech with a wink and a smile.

No comments:

Post a Comment