To truly ‘man up,’ we, too, must fight sexism with more than outrage

Alex Miller of Tacoma is a professor of gender studies at the University of Washington Tacoma.
Alex Miller of Tacoma is a professor of gender studies at the University of Washington Tacoma. Courtesy photo

Like many men, I have been forced to think about gender a lot lately. This, however, is a luxury that the recent #metoo movement has made obvious is not enjoyed by a shocking number of my friends, colleagues and loved ones.

Women do not have the luxury of deciding when to think about gender. Instead, they are regularly confronted, often violently, with the realities of their place in society.

Witnessing their public proclamations of victimization, what has become clear is that not only do I have the luxury of ignoring gender, but I also have the privilege of deciding when, where, and under what circumstances I can choose to be outraged by violence against women.

For many men, this will be a hard truth to own. In choosing to be outraged, we also need to acknowledge how our historic absence of outrage should be regarded as an act of complicity. We need to acknowledge how, through silence, we have tacitly endorsed a system of oppression that has touched the lives of nearly every woman we know.

Owning this truth means we need to own up to the part we have each played in creating a culture in which #metoo is a necessity.

Although #metoo predates the recent windfall of allegations launched against Harvey Weinstein, it has been hiding in plain sight for years. The target of its protest, however, is nothing new.

The subordination of women is written into the Declaration of Independence, and it echoes today throughout the halls of the Capitol, where men advance legislation seeking to control women’s bodies. Fluency in “locker room talk” is regarded as a sign of masculine authenticity, and Hugh Hefner is eulogized as a defender of First Amendment rights.

The scope of this problem remains shocking. According to the World Health Organization, over a third of women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes. The state Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that, since 1997, over 850 women in Washington have been killed as a result of domestic violence.

It is hard to imagine another category of crime affecting so many people so close to home that receives so little public attention. As our awareness grows, so does the share of responsibility all men must assume for choosing not to allow gender inequality to be daily outrage.

Outrage alone, however, will not solve this problem. Owning up to #metoo means we must dedicate ourselves to dismantling the culture of masculinity we have inherited. We must stand alongside women as allies, and, together, author and embody new models of masculinity that reject the sexism our culture continues to celebrate and condone.

Finally, men must have the courage to engage in difficult conversations, many that will require us to consider how “being a man” often limits our ability to be a better person.

As a lecturer of gender studies, I have had the honor of facilitating these conversations, and I am regularly impressed by the honesty with which students think about gender. My “Introduction to Masculinities” course attracts people from all walks of life, from first-generation college students to veterans; however, my students possess a shared commitment to fighting for social justice.

They see #metoo as something more than an outrage; they see it as an opportunity for all men to surrender their privilege and shoulder the responsibility required for gender equality. Finally, they are interested in knowing if we are “man enough” to own up to #metoo.

Alex Miller of Tacoma is a professor in the University of Washington Tacoma’s division of Ethnic, Gender and Labor Studies. Reach him by email at tam05@uw.edu