Nearly two weeks ago, the world shifted slightly on its axis. A deluge of allegations against one of media’s most detestable and powerful men caused a global outpouring of rage, confessions and resigned “I told you sos” from women, the kind of which had not been seen since the previous detestable and powerful man to hit the spotlight became the 45th president of the United States.
Now, obviously, all men are not secret Weinsteins in sheep’s clothing just waiting to be revealed and reviled for the sex pests they really are. But in a post-Weinstein world, and in the face of the ever-growing #metoo movement on social, there has never been a better time to take a quick behavioural MOT.
So we asked Amy Grier, associate editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, to give it to us straight. Here are four practical things she thinks men can do to truly make Weinstein-like behaviour a thing of the past.
1. Don’t say anything to a woman that you wouldn’t say to a male colleague who you don’t know well.
This is the test. The litmus test of all correspondence with the opposite sex. The benchmark against which everything that comes tumbling out of your mouth should be measured.
Like a lot of women, I have had my own encounters with predatory sexism, most clustered around my early twenties. While temping as a secretary post-university, the business owner – a squat little man in his late 60s who had his initials monogrammed in gold on his shirt cuffs – called me into his office.
“You look good in short skirts,” was his opening gambit.
“You should wear them more often.”
Dismissed from the room, I went back to work. It is telling that even 10 years ago, I thought little of this. Either I was too naïve to know how inappropriate this was, or already too jaded to think that my saying something about it would change anything – other than get me fired from a job that paid £13.50 an hour. Nearly three times what I was making as a barmaid on weekends.
The next day, I was summoned again to his office. A quick appraisal of the ankle-skimming black trousers I was wearing, and then…
“We’ve got clients coming in tomorrow. Ask Sarah how we set up the boardroom.” Phew.
“Oh, and wear something that’ll impress them, could you?” It was anything but a question.
Considering what came out in the wake of the Weinstein allegations, I got off lightly. However, the 32-year-old me cringes at my lack of action here. In the 32-year-old version of this story, I tell him I’ll wear what I like. That my temping contract said ‘business attire’ and not ‘courtesan-chic’. When he says the thing about my skirt, I ask him if his daughter – a recent graduate like me – wears them too. But I did none of these things. I needed that job.
But, if he’d have played by rule number one, things would have been different. If he’d have said that sentence in his head, then imagined saying it to Paul, the 17-year-old intern who did the post, I hope that he would never have said it aloud. A lot of men I speak to come back at me on this. “But I would say it to a bloke,” they plead. “I was just having a laugh,” they counter.
That’s why the “that you don’t know very well” part of this rule is crucial. Familiarity is not your friend here, chaps. If you wouldn’t say it to an abject (male) stranger, do not say it to us.
2. Be aware of the differences between men and women, without making any presumptions based on them.
I know, I know. Easier said than done. But we should have learned by now. There was the leaked James Damore memo that got the engineer fired from Google (he claimed that the gender bias in tech could in part be explained by the biological differences between men and women). Or the resignation of the chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi last year, after claiming female colleagues lacked “vertical ambition”. The lesson: making sweeping statements about abilities or career aspirations based on gender stereotypes is never a good idea.
This is not the same as pretending men and women are the same. Equal does not necessarily mean the same when we’re talking about gender. I can’t speak for all women, but I’m more than happy to discuss the differences between men and women in the workplace. Difference is good. Great, even.
But in the same way that you don’t want me walking around saying, “All men are bullish; they can’t multitask; there’s always a cockfight for a leader” and taking judgements or actions that affect your entire career path based on those presumptions – we expect the same level of fairness.
3. Don’t be the ‘but’ guy.
In Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, he talks about a certain tribe of people who he finds even more baffling and, yes, irritating than ardent evangelical believers. Who are these people? They are the “I’m an atheist, but…” brigade.
This tribe also exists in relation to feminism. I have repeatedly heard men of all ages (and, actually, a few women) say the phrase “I’m a feminist, but…”
Let’s just call time on this little misnomer, shall we? “Feminist, but” is part of that long list of sayings – including things such as “no offence” or “we’ll see” – where whoever you’re saying it to knows implicitly that the true meaning hovers somewhere peripheral to whatever has just been said out loud. Not said, but there nonetheless.
Saying “I’m a feminist, but” fools no one. The funny thing is: you don’t have to say you’re a feminist to respect women. We’re not asking for that. Just as equality doesn’t have to mean denying any difference between the way men and women behave, being a kind, decent, respectful human to women doesn’t have to come with the F-word label. No buts.
4. Don’t be complicit.
A few years ago I was at a work Christmas party that, by 7pm, had got very out of hand. By 10pm, it was like Takeshi’s Castle, meets The Hunger Games, meets Take Me Out.
A female colleague and I found ourselves in conversation with a couple of guys from a different team. All was going fine, until the chat took a strange nosedive into really fucking weird territory. Suddenly, these complete strangers were asking us how hard we “took it”, where we’d let a guy come, and a litany of other things that were so far away from harmless banter. Even in our “been drinking since lunchtime” state, even with a cheap crown made of tinsel on my head and a Christmas jumper that a) wasn’t mine and b) played ‘Jingle Bells’ when you pressed a button, I muscled up enough dignity to straighten my shoulders, give Dumb and Dumber a scathing eye roll, and totter away.
The next morning, full of self-loathing and stale McDonald’s, I figured I must have exaggerated the entire thing. I was probably egging them on. They were clearly just messing around. We were all drunk. Boys will be boys. Etc. Etc.
I arrived in work to a message from the big boss. He wanted to see me in his office. If my life was a Richard Curtis film, this is where the word ‘SHIIIIIIITTTTTT!!!!!!’ would be typed in white across the screen.
I sat in his corner office, white wine and regret seeping from my pores.
“I heard two of my guys were pretty inappropriate to you last night. I want you to know I’m going to speak to them; I don’t take this stuff lightly. But I want to hear what happened from you first.”
To this day, I do not know who told him. It wasn’t my female colleague, that’s for sure, and the only people around us were blokes. But whoever it was, I applaud them. Not them, him. Because one of the guys standing around us obviously heard what went on, and deemed it inappropriate enough to say something that would stop it happening again.
Keeping quiet is not the same as putting your hand up someone’s skirt, no, it’s not. But complicity is definitely more than half the problem. Sometimes, we (and I mean women here), can be complicit by our own silence – as I was at this party. But somebody else wasn’t. Saying something, acknowledging the presence of offensive behaviour and doing your bit to make it stop is the most important thing you can do with your power.