I listened as the #MeToo stories rolled in with self-righteous frustration and anger. Anger at the people and systems that hurt women. Anger at the famous men who turned out to be monsters.
As a “progressive” man in middle management, I was sure of my moral high-ground, secure in thinking I’d done a good job with women in the workplace.
But deep in the pit of my stomach, I got more and more uncomfortable with the topic. I was grappling with something I didn’t expect — and that I didn’t want to accept.
The #MeToo stories began to fit into two categories. In one category were those that were easy to classify as horrible. These were the stories of rape and assault. I objectively have nothing in common with these monstrous actions.
The second category flew under the radar at first. These were the stories that came to light because of the headlines, stories of harassment and demeaning, of aggression in the workplace, or of one night stands that were not totally consensual. They were terrible too, but somehow they seemed distant.
Maybe I didn’t want to look too close.
Then something else jumped out at me. Literally every woman I knew and cared about said they had experienced this second type of harassment. A 2017 poll by ABC News and The Washington Post also found that 54% of American women report receiving “unwanted and inappropriate” sexual advances.
While I knew that there were horrible men doing terrible things to women, it was impossible to believe that they were the only ones harming their colleagues.
What if they were the men assuming they had never made a woman uncomfortable, and never would? What if they were the allies, the conscientious ones, if only in their own minds?
Which bring us back to the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach….
Shit, I’ve made women feel uncomfortable, too.
I was guilty of these more passive and unintentional methods of harassment, too, of unwanted flirting, of hugs that should have been high-fives, of “mansplaining.”
I was not an “us” in some of these #MeToo stories. I was a “them.”
Like every man in a relative position of power, I needed to come to terms with the role I have played and would continue to play if I did not wake up. I don’t think I’m unique. If you are reading this and you are a man in position of power professionally, chances are, you have harassed, too.
So what am I, and what are we, going to do about it? I’ll start, by recognizing: the problem is with me, too.