“Believe Women”, the mantra of the #MeToo movement, has perhaps become its biggest obstacle. If we are to believe all of the women and men who have said “Me Too”, then we have to face the truth that sexual harassment and violence are rampant in our culture. This is a hard truth to swallow, especially if you are someone who has benefited from the current system.
Many men who could be allies to the movement are instead asking themselves if they could be the next one falsely accused of harassment or worse. Instead of worrying about being accused, these men could be working to help the movement by truly aligning themselves with those who have been harassed and assaulted. The question is: Why are good men who have not harassed and/or assaulted women so afraid of the movement? First, many men with good intentions do not understand on a conscious level how they have benefited from the male-dominated society in which we live. They have a niggling sensation that they might be part of a problem, but they do not know in what way. Second, we must acknowledge that there have been cases where women have falsely accused men of rape, and these rare cases unfortunately support the arguments against the movement.
The majority of men in the United States have grown up in the period after the women’s movement of the 1960’s and 70’s and see women in the workplace advancing. They do not experience on a daily basis the ways in which women still experience harassment, violence, and discrimination within our culture. In fact, many men would refute that argument. However, when men are thrust into a situation where their reputation may possibly be questioned, they become worried. When a system that they have unwittingly benefited from gets upended, they fear losing that privilege, even if on an unconscious level. Instead of focusing on the real issue of rampant sexual harassment and violence, some men focus on themselves and the possibility that they could be falsely accused. It is natural to have self-preservation instincts, but we need to ask why the mind goes there instead of helping with the problem of sexual harassment and violence. Humans have an incredible ability to compartmentalize their thinking, particularly when it comes to those who are different from us either by culture, gender, or race. When we see news about police officers who have planted evidence in order to accuse innocent people, if we do not know the victims, we do not see them as a member of our tribe. It is only when men see other people like themselves being accused and punished that they start to cry foul because they can now imagine themselves being accused.
We also know that there are some women who lie and accuse men of rape when it did not happen. In a perfect world, these women would be found out (as in the Duke Lacrosse and UVA/Rolling Stone cases) and dealt with by the justice system. But often women have not been believed and, in fact, continue to be vilified when bringing accusations. Because women are now demanding to be believed and having some success, men are suddenly realizing the magnitude of the problem. Good men who have nothing to fear, because they have not harassed or violated anyone, are feeling uncomfortable. They rely on the idea that women are falsely accusing men of assault as the source of their discomfort.
So let us dive into this thinking a little. Our justice system is run by people. People can be wonderful and people can be horrible, so it is incredibly imperfect. Those in power call the shots and historically that has been men. If you are not part of the minority that has been ignored by the judicial system and society writ large, it is hard to understand that the decades of being ignored brings baggage. Women want the wrongs to be righted, even if it is 35 years later, because an assault lasts a lifetime in your psyche. So much of the time, there is no physical evidence or it has been destroyed. And the biggest obstacle for victims of sexual assault is that they are not believed. Additionally, thousands of rape kits that have never been tested and others destroyed. Ask yourself, why is that? What does that tell us about the values within our society? So, all we have left is circumstantial evidence. People are convicted of crimes based on circumstantial evidence every day. Sometimes innocent people go to jail. While there is no doubt that this is unconscionable, somehow we, as a society, have been able to look the other way until it came to #MeToo. All of a sudden, very powerful men who have not had to worry about being wrongly accused find themselves concerned about innocent people going to jail. Since the advent of the #MeToo movement, many men who have not worried about being falsely accused of a crime are asking themselves “What if I am falsely accused?” Why are men suddenly so worried about being wrongly accused? If you are someone who falls into this category, ask yourself why this issue is so important to you today when it wasn’t really on your radar until the #MeToo movement came along, although people are incarcerated every day when innocent? Most likely it is because you now feel the vulnerability that minorities have always felt in our country. It is uncomfortable to think about and therefore thoughts like “How can I disprove my accuser without being accused of revictimization?” spring to mind instead of looking at the bigger picture and the magnitude of the number of people who have stepped forward to say “Me Too”. If powerful men are so worried about innocent people being convicted of crimes, why haven’t they taken up this issue until now?
There is no simple answer to the question of what an innocent man is to do if he is accused other than tell the truth. Hopefully, the truth will bear fruit, and it usually does, at least for those with privilege. But, we do not live in a perfect world. When people who are not used to being accused of crimes face that conundrum, they quickly begin to understand what other sectors of society of been dealing with for decades. Just because there is the possibility that someone is innocent does not mean that we stop prosecuting crimes. Imagine if we stopped all murder trials when there is only circumstantial evidence. We do not do that for murders and we certainly should not do so for sexual assault crimes.
All of you good men who have not harassed or violated women, please know that you are not in danger. Please use all that mental energy that you have been putting toward your concern of being falsely accused, and use it to support those who have been harassed and/or assaulted. Listen to those reporting sexual harassment. Talk to other men about gender inequality. Stand up to men who belittle and objectify women. Become an ally to the #MeToo movement. We need you!