Hearing the news about Matt Lauer being fired by NBC for inappropriate sexual behavior made me feel sad, angry, and confused in many ways. Over the past few months with everything that came out about Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo campaign that exploded on social media, and the men who have been singled out for their harassment, abuse, and even assault of women like Charlie Rose, Roy Moore, Al Franken, Louis CK, Matt Lauer, and many others…in addition to the prominent stories over the past year or two about Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump, and even going back to Clarence Thomas, Bill Clinton, and others from many years ago…it has been overwhelming, disgusting, and hard to understand for me.
I thought I was aware of some of the issues and challenges women face both in the workplace and in our culture, but these past few months have taught me that I really have no idea. I’ve been with my wife Michelle for 17 years, we have two daughters who are 11 and 9, I was raised by a strong single mom and in a house with a strong older sister. I interact with women personally and professionally every day…doing the best I can to respect and honor them as women and as fellow, equal human beings.
And, as all of this has been unfolding in the media and our culture over the past few months (and over the past year or two), I’ve been trying to pay more attention to my own male entitlement and some of the unconscious gender bias I have…especially as a straight, white, man who has so much privilege on so many levels. It’s hard for me to see this and is also painful to fully acknowledge.
Additionally, I have spent time thinking about some situations, relationships, and interactions I’ve had with girls and women in my life since I was an adolescent. Although I don’t think I’ve done or said things that would fall into the category of harassment, abuse, and especially not assault, there are definitely a few situations from college and my early twenties that I regret. I’m also sure I’ve made a whole host of comments over the course of my life that I may have thought were “funny” or “benign,” which probably hurt, offended, or scared some of the girls or women around me.
The word “reckoning” has been used quite a bit in recent weeks and months to describe what is happening in our culture with respect to how women are treated by men. I think that is definitely something that is going on. I’m finding it incredibly painful and difficult to see…but I think it’s important on so many levels that it is coming out.
I notice that it’s often harder for me to process and make sense of some of what I read and hear about when the men involved are ones whose work and talents I like, respect, and admire – like Bill Cosby, Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, John Conyers, Charlie Rose, Al Franken, and now Matt Lauer. When it’s people like Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Roy Moore, and Donald Trump…whom I don’t like, respect, or admire…my feelings are, unfortunately, a bit different.
I wish this weren’t the case, although I recognize this is part of being human and also part of the divided and polarized world in which we currently live. Clearly, however, we’re seeing that harassment and abuse of women is something that cuts across all political, social, business, racial, status, and economic lines. And, for all of these high-profile stories we’re reading about on a regular basis, there must be literally millions of other stories like these happening all over the country and the world – in workplaces and everywhere.
Men – we have to do better! We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and at each other as brothers and ask what it truly means to be a good, strong man in our culture. How do we honor the positions of privilege, power, and influence some of us find ourselves in specifically and most of us men hold within our families, places of business, and communities? How can we take our support and respect of the women and girls around us to a deeper and more real level? It’s truly a time reckoning – not simply for the victims of abuse and those who perpetrate it, but for all of us as a society and especially for us men.
Even with all of this, I believe that the vast majority of us men are not preying on women and abusing our power…there are a lot of good, kind, caring, aware men in the world. And at the same time, we all have work to do and blind spots to pay attention to. I know this post itself is filled with my own bias and many blind spots (most of which I can’t even see).
We also have to do more listening and to have more awareness, empathy, and curiosity…to pay more attention to what life and work are like for the girls and women around us.
I want our girls – the ones growing up in my house and the ones growing up throughout our world, as well as all women – to know they are safe, loved, supported, respected, celebrated, and honored for who they are, what they do, and the talents they have – not just as sex objects and for the pleasure of us men.