I was surprised but not really to discover that those most affronted by my #YesAllMen comments were the kind of guys you’d generally think of as “the good ones,” the sort of men who’d never dream of catcalling a random female stranger or asking a woman musician which member of the band is her boyfriend.
"I’m not like that," they protested, "and neither are my friends." That may be true. But the fact that some men have ameliorated their behavior, even if to the point of near-perfection, is no cause for celebration if it then seduces them into believing that the problem of violence, abuse, and oppression of women is not as big a deal as it once was.
I’m not saying there hasn’t been improvement. Everywhere I look there are women accomplishing things, entering professions, and assuming leadership roles in society that just wouldn’t have been available to them when I was a kid. Most normal people no longer express surprise or even notice when they encounter a female cop, professor, scientist, or presidential candidate.
But women, regardless of their accomplishments and status, still don’t enjoy anywhere near the degree of safety or security that men do in the workplace, in the streets, in their homes or their relationships. There is only one gender responsible for that outrageous reality, and that gender is male.
That’s why I made the point that is the responsibility of men - ALL men - to put a stop to it. If we individual men have evolved as human beings, that’s great, but I can virtually guarantee that further self-examination will reveal areas in which our thinking is still constrained by unconscious sexism. This shouldn’t be surprising, or anything to be ashamed of; after all, we have thousands of years of conditioning to undo, and it’s not going to happen instantly or even overnight. The only thing to be ashamed of is if we allow things that shouldn’t be to continue because “that’s the way it’s always been.”
At the same, it’s our job not just to set a good example, but to speak up when those “other” men engage in offensive or oppressive conduct. When we’re with someone who speaks about women in an objectifying or disparaging or just plain hostile way, if we don’t speak up and say that’s not all right, we’re essentially participating in it. Yeah, sometimes we’ll get ridiculed or challenged, or maybe even threatened, but if nothing changes, nothing changes. That includes ourselves.