In last week’s post, I talked briefly about the role “homosociality” (men’s need for other men’s approval) plays in enabling a culture of harassment. But homosociality can work in positive ways, particularly when it comes to combating that same culture.
It’s not easy. Of all of the rules of male homosocial culture, one stands above all others: the importance of silence. Men are raised not to call each other on their treatment of women, no matter how offensive or abusive it may be. To speak out, to “stand up”, is to risk being thrown out of the brotherhood. (Brotherhood is an important subtext in the film.) To stand up against sexual harassment is to risk ostracism from a community of men whose acceptance is vital to most men’s self-concept.
The key goal of sexual harassment prevention, at least as I’ve been involved with it, is never just about reaching potential harassers. It’s about creating a climate where men feel emboldened to challenge each other. It’s about identifying the “alpha males” (not always the bosses or the presidents, just the guys with the highest degree of homosocial credibility) in the office, the fraternity, the factory, and getting them to “buy in” to the idea that men can and should hold each other accountable for how they treat the women with whom they share public and private space.
Effective sexual harassment prevention is about reaching young men, and empowering them to speak up when they see other boys or men engaging in abusive behavior. Above all, effective harassment prevention is about undermining a culture of silence that allows so many men to imagine that they are “good guys”, even as they are complicit in the abuse and mistreatment of their coworkers, sisters, daughters, and female friends.
Let me be honest: in my work, I’ve found that nothing is more difficult than getting men to hold each other accountable for how they treat women. And yet, I’ve seen many guys start to do just that. The key, as always, is offering them role models whose masculinity is unimpeachable, but whose commitment to standing up against a culture that encourages harassment is unquestionable.
I’ve got no qualms about using the language and rhetoric of masculine culture to try and undermine the conspiracy of silence. Though some of my feminist allies cringe when I use the phrase “real men”, I’ve found that the most successful way to reach guys is to make use of familiar concepts and ideals. My friends at Men Can Stop Rape and the Good Men Project offer an alternative vision of what it means to be a powerful, authentically masculine man.
And what is the number one thing a man can do to be an ally? What is the number one thing, perhaps, that separates a man from “one of the guys”? The willingness to speak up and hold other men accountable. Nothing matters more.
Hugo B. Schwyzer, Ph.D
Pasadena City College
This post is part of the weekly blog series by male allies. We need men involved in the work to end the social acceptability of street harassment and to stop the practice, period. If you’d like to contribute to this weekly series, please contact me.