In evolutionary biology, significant changes are normally thought of as gradual over incredibly lengthy periods. Yet sometimes major changes—according to some biologists like the late Jay Gould—occur quickly though infrequently, called in theory “punctuated equilibrium.” Political and social phenomena can be similar. An example concerns the role and treatment of women, a sensitive topic recently illuminated by instances of sexual abuse by powerful men, followed by the #MeToo crusade in the United States, Canada, and perhaps beyond.
Much has been written about the male-female social differential, of course, but #MeToo just might be a vehicle for real change, ushering in a punctuated equilibrium occurrence. There is a long arc of human improvement of which it is a part, so the progress in treatment of women it promises can as easily be but a small segment that fizzles and adds little, or a turning point that announces the revolution, like Seneca Falls or women’s suffrage. But whatever #MeToo’s eventual contribution to this portion of the human condition, I’m convinced that failure of men (and, in fact, women as well) to seriously consider what #MeToo promotes is to turn our backs on legitimate and overdue progress.
One source of guidance that has impressed me is the essay written by Nicole Stamp, first on her Facebook page, then in a slightly a shortened version published by CNN at http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/21/opinions/what-men-can-do-me-too-stamp-opinion/index.html. Stamp’s article conveys the obvious but easily overlooked point that the #MeToo message is just as much men’s issue as women’s. As the title announces—”What decent men can do in response to #MeToo”—her focus is on offering concrete, uncomplicated tips for men, for example, being prepared to say to other men something like “that’s not cool” when they’ve said disrespectful things about or to women.
She urges care in introducing women at formal occasions, citing as an example the frequency male physicians at a medical conference introduced male physicians with the title “doctor” 95% of the time, but female physicians only 49% of the time. She even advises men how to behave during a sexual encounter: “If your partner hesitates, stops reciprocating, avoids eye contact, becomes quiet, tense or frozen, or otherwise slows the tempo of any sexual encounter, then you should STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING [uppercase in original; JC].
There is more to Stamp’s article than these examples, enough for me to suggest strongly that you follow the link above or read the longer version on her Facebook page. (There are other relevant writers on the topic, of course, though this post was motivated by Stamp.) We are warned that to focus solely on headline-grabbing, high visibility cases like that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, or Donald Trump is to miss the point. This is a more deeply ingrained matter to which men—and some women—have widely contributed, whether in a more odious way or merely by the toleration of behaviors that set the stage for private distress. We can learn to recognize behaviors that in themselves seem minor, but shroud and thereby make possible much worse treatment. We can learn . . . yes, even those of us who like to think—no doubt erroneously—that we are not part of the problem.