In the wake of the flood of recent outings of high profile men for sexual misconduct, I have begun to ask myself if all men are bad. The truth is, I truly wonder if there is a man alive who has not, at some point in time, committed some transgression, either in word or deed, towards a woman. So how do we, as a society, grapple with this without becoming completely cynical and repulsed by all men? I for one am struggling with this – because I personally know men who have transgressed against women, and there are men whom I don’t know personally but admire from afar who have transgressed against women, but whom I believe to be fundamentally decent and good human beings. And I find myself struggling to make sense of it all, and to figure out how I, as a feminist, am supposed to feel about them.
I make no excuses or justifications for sexual misconduct in any form, but it seems that we should at least try to understand why men are so likely to behave inappropriately towards women. I don’t believe that males, merely by virtue of their hormones or gender, are wired to demean, harass, and assault females. It’s learned behavior, and it comes from the culture that has been constructed and is perpetuated by human beings. The messages males and females get about gender roles begin at birth, and they are both subtle and blatant – and too many to list here. Pop culture plays a role, parental role models play a role, religion plays a role – pretty much everywhere you turn, there are messages about the roles males are supposed to play in society, and the roles females are supposed to play. Boys are taught that certain things are harmless (which actually aren’t), that certain things are funny (which actually aren’t), that certain behaviors are manly, and therefore admirable. Boys and girls are taught that men are the pursuers and women the pursued. The entire system of gender roles we’ve constructed is absolutely conducive to men harming women.
So, in light of this inescapable culture (inescapable because it is the way things are, but hopefully we are beginning to change it), how do we parse the good men from the bad men? Because the fact is, if we crucify every man who has ever committed a misdeed against a woman, I fear that the pool of good men will be virtually empty.
It seems to me that there are a few things that should be taken into consideration:
- Shades of offense. Harm is definitely subjective, but not all offenses are equal.
- Patterns of behavior. Has the person committed the same transgression multiple times, or just once? (And I’m not talking about rape; again, there are shades of offense.)
- Accountability and remorse. Has the person acknowledged their wrongdoing and expressed genuine remorse? Has that person shown by word and deed that they have grown and evolved and become enlightened as to their role in propping up a culture that demeans and mistreats women?
It seems to me that those are the factors that separate good men who genuinely do want to work towards creating a kinder and more equal society from bad men who just don’t give a shit about anything except their own sense of entitlement.
So if a man has committed a transgression, has acknowledged it and expressed remorse, and has shown that he no longer believes that such behavior is okay, shouldn’t we give him the benefit of the doubt? Isn’t growth and enlightenment what we want?