Why Men Need To Talk About Sexual Harassment

How Men’s Silence on the Issue of Sexual Harassment Is Perpetrating the Problem

Recently the #METOO movement has started to shed light on the role that men need to play in the conversation about sexual harassment. For decades now, author and educator Jackson Katz has been encouraging men to do just that. As president of MVP Strategies, he has conducted sexual harassment and violence training seminars for sports teams and the military for the past few decades. Last year he gave a TED Talk entitled: “Violence Against Women- It’s a Men’s Issue” (TED.com). Katz recently spoke out on CBS This Morning about why he thinks now it is even more important than ever that men join the growing conversation taking place on the issue of violence against women.

Last Sunday, January 7th, The Golden Globe Awards made a very bold and hard to miss statement about the state of sexual harassment in America. The awards brought the issue front and center to the nation’s attention by highlighting both the #METOO and the TIME’S UP campaigns. It was a strong and pivotal moment in the movement to end violence against women. Some said it was just the push that the issue needed to start making a real difference in this country. Yet Katz saw the night very differently. He could not help but notice that while men dressed in all black and wore TIME’S UP pins to show solidarity with women around the issue of sexual harassment, not one man all night spoke out about the issue all night. Not one man made any attempt to join in the conversation. “It was an incredible historical and cultural moment…. Yet all the men who came up to get awards and present didn’t say anything,” Katz said. “I think a lot of men don’t know what to say. I think a lot of men haven’t ever heard other men say this, so they haven’t seen it modeled. I think a lot of men are afraid of stepping in it” (CBS News).

For Katz, the night was a lost opportunity for men to join in the conversation of sexual harassment and other violence against women. So just why is it so important for men to speak up? Well, according to Katz, “Until men stand with women as their partners and allies in this work, we’re only going to be cleaning up after the fact. If we can change the social norms in male culture that allow this behavior to go on, you’re going to see a significant diminution” (CBS News). For Katz, the issue of continued sexual harassment in America is not just about the harassers. It is about how we educate men, and especially boys, to treat women in all aspects of life. According to Katz, “It’s not just crazy individuals but actually much broader than that. Then it implicates the various institutions of the society that shape what we expect from men and boys” (CBS News).

Katz believes that this education of how men and boys should treat women should take place through something he calls “Bystander Training.” This training teaches men and boys to speak up when they see another man acting inappropriately. Said Katz, “It’s giving people tools to challenge and interrupt abusive behavior when they see it. And not just at the point of attack…You’re a guy and you’re hanging out with a group of guys and there are no women in the room and one or two of the guys start making sexist and degrading comments about girls or women. Instead of laughing along or being silent in the face of that, it’s interrupting that by saying, ‘Hey, that’s not funny, man'” (CBS News). For Katz, silence is the enemy. He feels that to not speak up is to be complicit in the act of violence. An old poem about the Holocaust would agree (Know Your Meme):

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”