Men and boys have a critical role to play in responding to the #MeToo movement. For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, JWI asked men how they can be leaders in supporting survivors and the fight against sexual assault.
JWI believes engaging men and boys is a key component to ending gender-based violence. Our programs Boy to Mentsch, Green Light Go, Safe Smart Dating, #ChangeTheCulture, Ladies and Gentlemen, and Good Guys provide tools to promote healthy masculinity and facilitate discussions around sexual assault and harassment.
#MeToo on my Mind
Since last fall, when the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, it has become impossible to count the number of women who have bravely come forward to share their experiences of workplace sexual harassment and abuse. The speed at which abusive men in power disappeared from our TV screens, newsfeeds and consciousness has been both appropriate and dizzying.
As I watched this movement unfold, I began to think about how this issue should be addressed in Jewish organizations and our JCC in particular. So many people interact with each other at the Bender JCC every day – staff members, fitness members, program participants, guests and vendors. We have well over a half million visits into our building every year.
We have a strong anti-harassment and anti-bullying policy the covers both employees and non-employees. But having policies is different from having a culture in which every individual is accorded dignity and respect. I believe that the incidents of sexual harassment being exposed through #MeToo are based on the disrespect and devaluation of others, women, in particular; but as we’ve seen, it has impacted men as well. Our JCC has a core value of Kavod Ha-briot, respect for one another. This stems from the concept that we are all created in the divine image - B’tzelem Elohim.
I believe that it is our culture of mutual respect that makes our JCC a healthy workplace. Still, we have on occasion had to address complaints between JCC members and am aware of situations in which members of our staff have been made to feel uncomfortable by JCC members or donors. It is clear to me that this issue that calls for ongoing education, conversation and vigilance with our staff, board and program participants. Everyone needs to understand how to prevent and address harassment, and that it won’t be tolerated. For that reason, our board has decided to further educate itself on the issue in order to better understand the role that board members can play in maintaining a healthy JCC environment for everyone. And, we are offering opportunities for community members to come together to learn and discuss how to prevent sexual harassment.
The more we strengthen culture of respect and dignity, the more we will see the divine image in each other and value each other. When we live those values, harassment becomes impossible, gender bias will disappear and devaluing “the other” may finally melt away. As a JCC, this is our opportunity to model dignity, respect and inclusion, and to show how communities thrive when every voice is heard and every individual is valued.
Michael Feinstein is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bender JCC of Greater Washington.
For many (would that it were all) men of the baby boom generation, the flood of revelations about sexual assaults perpetrated by many of our male peers, particularly visible in but not limited to the entertainment-celebrity nexus, has been a source both of despair and of discouragement. Having come of age under the impact of feminism, and the coordinate rethinking of assumptions about gender, power, and autonomy with which we were raised, it was a reasonable hope that the women in our lives -- mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, aunts, cousins -- would not continue to be subject to, among other things, sexual assault. Sadly, as #metoo demonstrates, we know that has not been, and is not, the case. If there is any glimmer of hope in these recent revelations, it is the spreading awareness of just how systemic and pervasive and embedded in our culture abusive and assaulting behavior remains. Real change cannot be episodic or circumstantial, but can only emerge from a permeable social shift in what is acceptable, expected, and non-negotiable regarding relationships, sexuality, control and power.
One way that men of the boomer generation might contribute to this correction is to serve as mentors to younger men, helping them to cultivate a thoughtful and reflective awareness of their own male identity. (It is important to acknowledge that this is a complex and sensitive topic in an era of increasing awareness of gender fluidity.) We can do this from a personal perspective; as an example, those of us who have sons who are or soon to be come married can include discussion of healthy romantic partner relationships in our conversations with them. And we can do this from a professional perspective; an an example, encouraging younger men with whom we work to understand and advocate for abuse awareness in the workplace, and to assure that procedures for reporting and dealing with allegations of sexual abuse are in place.
Rabbi Richard Hirsh is a member of Jewish Women International’s Clergy Task Force to End Domestic Violence in the Jewish Community. He is the assistant rabbi at Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Men have an important part to play in the #MeToo movement, especially as the largest demographic of perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence. We need to come together to unlearn toxic masculinity and support each other through this process. It cannot be on survivors to do this labor. We need to educate each other, and take the work off of survivors so that we may allow them to seek justice and healing in their own way and in their own time. Reach out to your communities, and make yourself known as an ally to survivors so that they may feel safe and supported in your community. Even if you don’t think that your world has been touched by sexual violence, there is a high chance that someone close to you has. By being proactive in undoing toxic behavior, and calling it out when you see it, you will be helping those close to you, even if you don’t know it.
David Kohanski, Former GW Students Against Sexual Assault Peer Educator and Gender and Sexuality Related Violence Research Coordinator at Lafayette College
How do I want men to respond to #MeToo? We live in a world where we often spend more time talking than we do listening. As men, we need to make an effort to listen to and learn from survivors of sexual, intimate partner, and gender-based violence. This requires realizing that our voices aren’t the most important in the discussion. One resource I would offer to men and anyone wishing to learn a little more about the sexual assault advocacy space is a series from my project 180° of Impact at www.lets.care/speakup. It features unedited conversations with 5 women who are activists doing the work. Most identify as survivors and use their stories, experiences, and voices in the fight to end sexual violence. Whether it’s listening to them or to others in the conversation, I’d encourage men and all people to proactively seek out opportunities to listen to, believe, support, and learn from those closest to and most affected by the issue. Once we do listen and learn, we’re better equipped to use our own voices to educate and activate others in the work to end the violence.
Matt Scott, Former President of GW Students Against Sexual Assault and Manager of Digital Storytelling and Engagement at SecondMuse
A Message to My Fellow Men: How to Support the #MeToo Movement
CW: sexual violence, sexual harassment
I don't want to live in a world of #metoo's and "how many girls can you get for me this month?" But I also want to feel comfortable choosing to help, not harm, others. To survivors of sexual violence and advocates of respect: I hear you, I applaud you, and I support you. To guys: we have some work to do. Here is some advice I learned through experience on being respectful. Happy to hear any comments or suggestions.
In a society where men have historically escaped accountability when abusing their power, you are not always taught that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. You have to deliberately un-learn much of what you were taught. It takes time, energy, and persistence. You will make mistakes, no doubt. There are things you have to learn that you didn't learn growing up. You might not have known that you were doing something wrong but reflect on your past actions and ask whether you had put anyone down when you said or did something. Of course, you can't be egotistical or arrogant when noting how you will resolve your mistakes.
Pay attention to your language; it's not only four-letter words that hurt people. Add the b-word, the c-word, and the p-word to the list. You have to become more conscience of your language so that you don't inadvertently disrespect others.
Many people experience events that are so disturbing, there are things that cause them to have extreme pain and stress from traumatic events. These are called "triggers". Unfortunately, some people use this word any time someone reacts to a sensitive issue. Not only does this keep us from having necessary conversations, it devalues the word by disrespecting people who have had to deal with very difficult situations. You have to learn when it's appropriate and inappropriate to discuss past traumatic events. If someone looks hurt, ask if they are ok. It's better to let someone share stories when they feel comfortable. You have to be willing to listen to others, empathize with them, and find moments of relatability and connection. You might be surprised what people share and how you react. Abuse comes in many forms and happens too often. Always respect someone's privacy if they choose to share something with you. People may not always feel comfortable sharing their stories with you. And that's ok. They have a right to privacy and you don't have a right to entitlement over their decision.
There is a lot of messaging from media, the government, and people that does not respect privacy or individual rights. You have to acknowledge and critique moments like these. Whenever someone expresses a right to do something that affects someone else without their permission, that is abuse. When it comes to sexual behaviors, always establish consent and ask first. If you want to see more respect in the world, don't expect a pat on your back.
There are social norms that encourage you to feel down if you don't "score chicks". You have to accept rejection, even though the world gives you every reason to fear it. Rejection is normal; you are not entitled to anyone and everyone. Some guys might think they are showing off by talking about their "successes" but could be hiding their insecurity about their rejections. Avoiding rejections is fantasy stuff and does not happen in the real world. Focus your time on meaningful relationships.
Even when you choose to act respectfully, you have to "stand up" for respect. You have to deal with peer pressure that advocates oppression. You have to deal with people who won't leave others alone. You have to confront bullies who use alcohol to mask their lack of self-confidence. Say "(name) doesn't like that that. Stop doing that!" Distract the person getting harassed and ask if they want to go get something to eat with you. Of course it's easier to stay silent and join the bullies so you don't cause any trouble. But then you are showing the world that you believe people have no rights and deserve to be abused. Even if someone is walking naked down the street, you don't have a right to touch them.
Guys, men, dudes: we have to stand up for respect. The world has not made it easy for us to be respectful. But silence helps no one and normalizes more wrongdoing. If you choose to support respect, there are a lot of people who will support your decision and they will happily answer your questions. I am here to help you find those answers. Remember, people never finish learning so it's ok to take your time to find ways to show respect.
You are who you choose to be.
Armin Aflaki, MPH, CHES. is a graduate of the Health Promotion program of the Milken Institute School of Public Health in The George Washington University in Washington D.C.
The topic of sexual assault on college campuses is one that is extremely prevalent. Whether it’s prevalent in your inner circle or not it certainly goes on. As a male who has been raised to be a gentleman of good moral and upstanding character, I have chosen to take a stand against sexual assault on my college campus.
My path to involvement may be similar to some but different than others. I wanted to get more involved in my schools community by giving back. I took an opportunity given through a friend, and the rest was history. I have since planned or helped coordinate a workshop on sexual assault in sports, the University of Maryland’s Occupy Mckeldin event, a Shabbat on Sexual Assault for over 250 guests, and more is still on the horizon!
After getting involved with this cause, I specifically noticed the lack of male representation. This led me to become even more invested, and dedicated to making a difference in this community. Sexual assault is not only a women’s issue, and needs to be portrayed as such. Therefore, it has really been important to me to get more male representatives involved on University of Maryland’s campus.
Obviously, this is easier said than done but with the help of my fraternity brothers, the Greek community in general, Maryland Hillel, JWI, and other organizations on campus, male representation has risen as well as awareness.
Drew Hein, Junior at the University of Maryland, Social Justice (Tzedek) Fellow at Maryland Hillel, and Sexual Assault Liaison for Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity - University of Maryland
PAVE, the Peers Advocating for Violence Education, is a student group of peer educators that is an extension of the Dean of Students office. We are defined by our commitment to educating the undergraduate population at the University of Dayton on instances of power-based personal violence and how these instances can be avoided. While this is no easy feat, since our beginning in 2013, PAVE has developed several different programs that engage students to consider the effect that sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and stalking can have on our community and the steps that everyone can take to help combat this widespread problem. With 30 active members, 3 interactive presentations, 12 ongoing projects, and opportunities for students to participate in one-on-one dialogue, PAVE this semester has been able to do more than ever before in the fight towards ending power-based personal violence on our campus.
As an organization, we continue to find ways to improve and enhance our understanding around sexual violence related topics. One aspect of sexual violence that is emphasized in every presentation is its universality: sexual violence can occur to anyone across any number of identities including (but not limited to) sex, gender, race, class, and socioeconomic status. With that being said, however, it would be incomplete to discuss sexual violence without also discussing the role of masculinity. In reality, the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence are men. Thus, being able to deconstruct the ways in which men and boys are taught about sexuality becomes integral in lowering the number of assaults that take place. But It starts with awareness and having an open mind. A conversation about how the culture influences every aspect of our lives cannot happen with a close mind. PAVE is currently developing new programs with the focus on healthy and unhealthy masculinity with the goal to incorporate everybody including men. This issue requires a collective solution, even if it takes one conversation at a time.
Caleb Negron, Senior at the University of Dayton, Peer Educator with Peers Advocating for Violence Education