Diaries Magazine

Reflecting on #MeToo and How Men Can Help: A Lankan Guide (The F Word: Let's Talk Feminism and Gender)

Posted on the 01 July 2019 by Sharasekaram @sharasekaram
(This piece first appeared as part of a weekly column for The Sunday Morning)
Perhaps one of the hallmarks of the conversations surrounding gender on social media is “#MeToo”. Everyone has heard about it, many have posted using it, people have many opinions on it, and it has even made its way into pop culture and colloquial language in myriad ways.
Many people remember when on 15 October 2017, actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter posting the tweet: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” It is important for us to remember that the movement began with Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist from the Bronx in New York who was its original founder. In 2006, Burke began using the phrase “Me Too” to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault in society, and the phrase developed into a broader movement, following the 2017 use of #MeToo as a hashtag after the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations and Milano’s tweet.
The movement has since gone viral with thousands of women sharing their stories to give people “a sense of the magnitude of the problem”. Every social media platform, including Facebook and Twitter, see more and more stories being shared every day.
The virality of the “Me Too” movement briefly reached Sri Lankan social media spaces with dozens of women using the opportunity to share their experiences, but saw greater success in countries like India where people were named and shamed and as a result, and faced real consequences. If you are a resident in Sri Lanka and would like to speak to someone about sexual harassment or assault you faced or are facing, please reach out to Women In Need via their website or call them on 011 4718585.
Women face disproportionate levels of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Women struggle to share their stories and are too often blamed for what they suffer (how they dress, walk, talk, etc.). Most – if not all – adult women have experiences of harassment, assault, or abuse in some form. We know this. These are facts. What seems to be less clear is how male allies and other men can help. This question being asked in the wake of the Me Too movement inspired a post from Nicole Stamp on Facebook, who prefaced by saying: “Today, my timeline is full of decent men asking ‘how can I help?’ I’m going to take this question as sincere and give a few suggestions.” Inspired by her list, I have adapted it for a more local context to respond to “what can men do to help?”
1. Practise these phrases: “That’s not cool machang” and “that’s a s*itty thing to say”. Say these to other men who say disrespectful things to or about women. This can especially be used on men who refer to women as “sluts”, “tarts”, “baduwa”, or “lassana kalla”.
2. Follow some people and groups on social media that will help you understand the problems, campaigns you can support, and will give you facts that will make a change. Follow writers on social media. Sometimes, what they write may seem “exhausting” or “too angry”. Put aside that discomfort because that feeling is your male privilege allowing you to disengage from an important conversation women don’t get to disengage from. Try the Grassrooted Trust, Women and Media Collective, UNFPA, Bakamoono.lk, and many others. Share their work.
3. Boost female voices. Boost what women say at work. Listen to men dismissing women’s contributions; make a habit of listening and saying things like “hey, Sharanya has a point”. Make sure you are actively listening to their opinions and experiences and not just listening to respond. Make a special effort to speak to women in the kind of person-to-person respectful ways you address male colleagues. Hint: Use their name. If you slip up and call your colleague “young lady” or some other bulls**t like that, it’s cool to say something about it, like “I’m sorry I called you that – it’s disrespectful”.
4. Be mindful of how you introduce women, particularly at work functions. Show extra respect in your introductions. So very often you hear men being introduced with job titles and accolades, and women introduced as “the lovely” or “the beautiful”. Try to only focus on her job title and accomplishments.
5. Reframe how you think of consent. You’re not supposed to just “go for it” until someone yells no, where that’s when you stop. That’s old-fashioned and gross, and she might not be able to explicitly say no because she has very likely been assaulted before. So, she might freeze when stressed – that’s a side effect of this “me too”. Slow down. Make sure she is okay. If there is uncertainty or she seems uncomfortable with your advances, stop. There is no such thing as the friendzone – no woman owes you anything.
6. If there are little boys, teen boys, and young men in your life, set an example of how the feminine is not less-than. Challenge them on their dismissive ideas around what counts as “girl stuff”. Buy them a doll. Paint your nails together. Show up wearing pink. Do something that’s coded as traditionally “feminine” in a way that embraces the feminine as a valid way of being, not in a way that mocks femininity. Buy them books and watch TV and movies that prominently feature female characters. Verbally challenge their stereotypes about what men do and how women are percieved as lesser.
7. Seeing women as people starts at infancy. Be wary of constantly or only telling little girls they’re pretty and cute or commenting on their hairstyle and clothing. I know that little girls often wear fun stuff and it’s easy to comment on. But it tells her, and the little boys nearby, that girls should be valued first and foremost for their looks.
8. Don’t argue so much in conversations around types of oppression that you don’t personally experience. Keep an eye open for our culture’s gross habit of putting the onus on the oppressed persons to dredge up their pain for inspection (only for us to then dismiss it as “just one instance which they probably either caused or misinterpreted anyway”). Don’t say things like “not all men” or question the people sharing their experiences incessantly to prove their point.
9. Remember, you may never be able to understand what they and the women sharing stories in movements like “Me Too” about their experiences are feeling – but it’s not about you. It’s about the reality of these lived experiences; it’s about what happened and keeps happening. It’s not about you and absolving yourself as an individual – yes, not all men but enough men. Too many men. Know when to sit down and don’t always drown out women’s voices.
10. If you feel uncomfortable during conversations about sexism (or racism, or ableism, or cultural appropriation, or whatever because all these systems are related – google “kyriarchy” to learn more), the only correct response is to be quiet and listen and try to focus on the topic at hand rather than centring your own feelings. It’s hard. It’s worthwhile.
Thanks for trying to be decent men. We see you. We hear you. We appreciate you. You are a part of this. We need you to join our hands and support us to move forward. Just let us lead because we know what it feels like.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog