Ladies and gentlemen: Let’s make this movement count.
It’s the topic that’s been on everyone’s mind for months: The #MeToo movement and what it means for women and men in the workplace, in the bedroom and in basically every other area of their lives. It has united women more than any other cultural event since the second wave of feminism and, if we want to see systemic change, we can’t let it fade from public consciousness.
But what can we all do to make sure that #MeToo makes significant strides?
Journalist Elizabeth Renzetti, who’s been reporting on feminist issues her entire career, and feminist activist Judy Rebick—both of whom have books coming out this spring (Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls in March and Heroes in My Head: A Memoir in April, respectively)—have a few ideas.
Here’s what they had to say about the #MeToo movement and how we can push for concrete changes that will improve the day-to-day lives of girls and women:
1. Use common sense, people.
Conversations have been swirling in the news and on social media about #MeToo going too far. Some men have said that the threat of persecution is now so great that they can no longer freely talk to, hug or compliment female colleagues because their actions might be misconstrued as sexual harassment. Renzetti disagrees with this logic. “I feel like you actually do know what you can say to somebody that’s respectful and not sexual in nature,” she says. “If you’d compliment a male colleague on his tie, then you can compliment a woman on her scarf. That’s just being friendly. The difference is when you try to create an atmosphere of sexuality in which people feel uncomfortable or forced into participating in conversation or behaviour that transgresses their boundaries.”
You know who agrees with her? BBC Two’s The Mash Report. Watch their hilarious video How Not to Sexually Harass Someone if you need a laugh (and a little education, too).
2. Speak out when you see harassment or hear inappropriate comments or sexist jokes—especially if you’re a man.
Women can’t do all the heavy lifting, and they can’t fight sexual harassment on their own. It’s up to men, too, to change deeply ingrained ideas about female worth. “I think women have done a lot of marching and banner waving, and they really appreciate the men who have become allies,” says Renzetti. “Like if a man writes an article in support of #MeToo. Or if he sees a woman being harassed at a bus stop or in a bar and comes forward to calm the situation down,” that can make a huge difference.
And if you’re a man who hears a friend make a rude joke, please say something. “After the Montreal Massacre in ’89, a guy got up at the mic at the Ontario Federation of Labour Convention and he said, ‘It’s easy to pass motions against violence against women. What’s hard is to say cut it out when you’re in the cab of a truck and the guy next to you makes a sexist joke.’ That’s what’s really hard: breaking the bonds of brotherhood by calling out someone and explaining to them why what they’re saying or doing is wrong,” says Rebick.
3. If you’re in a position of power, mentor women and support them on their path toward leadership roles.
Change happens from the top, and if we want safer workplaces, we need more female leaders. “We need to have more women in upper management and on boards,” says Renzetti. “Whoever is the leader—whether on the board or in senior management—sets the tone for what kind of behaviour will be acceptable, what the ideology is and what the workplace culture is going to be.” The same is true in government.
4. Push for better, earlier sex education in schools.
If we want men to treat women better, and for women to be able to say no to unwanted sexual advances, we need to train them young. “The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States did a study of the most effective strategies for preventing sexual assault,” says Rebick. “And they found that we need a combination of education around sex (What’s good sex? What’s good practice around sex? What’s sexual assault? What’s consent?) and school-wide campaigns against sexual assault.”
One of the most effective educational programs documented by the CDC was called “Safe Dates,” and it involved role-playing various scenes so girls could learn to stand up for themselves and not freeze in uncomfortable or dangerous situations. “I spoke to a class of high school girls a few months ago and all they wanted to talk about was street harassment. The girls all said the same thing: ‘I know what I’m supposed to say but I can’t do it.’ It’s not enough to have the teacher lecture about what you do if you’re attacked. Most girls have learned already but can’t do it, so that means they’ve got to role-play.”
5. Make social media a safer space for women by stepping in when someone’s being trolled.
All women, but especially women with points of view, large followings and successful careers, face a sinister online underworld of sexist abuse—and many of the best voices end up leaving the online space because it’s so toxic. To keep powerful voices in the public sphere, fight back against the trolls on someone’s feed to show your support. “Some women say, ‘Can you come into my Twitter feed and tell this person why they’re being an idiot?’ Or even ‘Can you come into my Twitter feed and share some pictures of dogs and cats just so I have some support around me?’” says Renzetti. If you can offer a kind word, or tell off a meanie, do it.
If we all band together—women and men alike—maybe one day our future daughters and granddaughters will look back on the #MeToo movement as the start of a whole new world.