The Mess Men Have Made

Everyday another revelation. Yesterday, Matt Lauer and Garrison Kellior were felled by accusations of misconduct and harassment. Both of these men are icons in their respective realms. Surely today will bring more revelations. As I write this at 11am on 11/30/17 we now have Russell Simmons resigning from businesses over sexual misconduct. And it doesn’t appear to be letting up soon. Sometimes these revelations can feel like a never-ending, disheartening onslaught of male failure. And, in reality, that’s pretty much what it is. Men are being called to the carpet in record numbers. As a man, I feel ashamed for my gender but proud of the women who are standing up and calling these men out on their behavior. The reckoning has arrived.

But ask almost any woman and they will tell you, this is nothing new. Women have been enduring this behavior for millennia. At home, at the office, on the street, everywhere.  And when women have come forward in the past the tables were often turned against them which only further enables predatory men. It’s a sick, messed up dynamic and change is overdue. 

In many ways, as a man, I’ve been oblivious to just how systemic the abuse is. I don’t knowingly associate with many men that behave this way. Although I have addressed egregious examples when they are in front of my face, I’ve also been guilty of not calling out friends and associates when they treat women in a derogatory or sexist way. As I’ve woken up to the real situation I’ve also felt called to take a more active role in advocating for and defending women. I won’t deny that living with 4 women has influenced this. I hate to think of my daughters entering a world that offers them less opportunity than it has me.

Some might argue that Weinstein was the tipping point. But I think it was Trump. The fact that Trump succeeded in being elected despite pretty clear evidence that he thought of women as little more than objects to be groped was a huge blow to the cause of equality. Perhaps the most pissed off group was professional women. These are women working in the white collar world where male dominance and abuse has run amok for decades. I think they are officially done tolerating the advances, harassment and out-right assaults by their male colleagues, often their “superiors". The dam was ready to break. If they had to put up with Trump in the White House they weren't going to tolerate that grope-y jerk in the corner office.

So here we are, wading through a national reckoning that is both cleansing and depressing. As a man, I struggle to find my place in it. I cannot claim to understand the experiences that women have had but as a husband, father of three girls, employer and friend to many women, I consider myself an ally in their struggle for true equality.

It would be tempting to stop at sexual offenses but the issue runs much deeper. I’ve been in enough business meetings to know that many men tend to talk to the other men, often leaving women as observers regardless of their title or role. Then we have that horrid “Billy Graham” rule where men (aka Mike Pence) refrain from even having one-on-one meetings with women because they fear losing control, or something. This kind of thinking has quietly held back the careers of countless women. My concern is that this mindset is only going to spread among certain male populations out of the perverse fear that they will be accused wrongly of sexual misconduct after being alone with a woman. Add to this all the ancient biases and beliefs that still exist and you start to see that the deck is heavily stacked against women in almost all situations. 

I believe we are in the middle of a massive transfer of power. Women are finally beginning to demand and receive a seat at the table. But to do that men need to step up as their allies as well as step aside to make room. And the male ego is not historically inclined towards this behavior. It might not be pretty but it needs to happen and, from what we can see, it's well underway.

I believe a female future is a better one for the human race. Whether it’s nature or nurture, I don’t really know, but when you have women in the mix empathy spikes and aggression declines. These are two things we need badly across all sectors of society, business, and government. Giving women an equal seat at the table is critical to our survival as a species. The current one-sided dynamic is not working. Our planet is sick and our nations are constantly at war with each other. We are out of balance and I believe that giving women an equal seat at the table can bring that balance. 

The death of the patriarchy is going to be messy. Men, including myself, will need to stand down at times to make room for women. Transparency and accountability, like we are seeing now, will need to spread like a disinfectant. We need to bring sunlight to bad behavior that has been quietly holding back women’s lives and careers which outputs as suppressing their access to leadership and wealth. More money in the hands of more women would be a very good thing. I can’t imagine a future where money and power aren’t intermingled, even a more women-lead future. So we need women to hold more of the wealth to wield the influence it carries. 

What do we do with all these offending men? Do we put them on an island with no women and let them rot? I think the best option is to go case by case. If they are on the Weinstein side of the scale they probably need to go to jail, if they are on the Franken side of things they probably need to get counseling and treatment. In time, most of these men will need to find their way back into society. And we will need to find a way to welcome them back while holding them accountable for a new standard of behavior. That will require some grace from the women they offended. But I am confident that if men put in the legitimate effort to grow and change then that grace will be extended. Maybe not for Harvey, that guy should go rot on an island.