One bullet point shy of understanding

Shawn Vestal points out that it’s really not a matter of not knowing sexual harassment is not ok.

As a man, on behalf of men, speaking with the full power and authority of the patriarchy at my back, let me just say: We don’t need sexual harassment training.

None of us needs a seminar to learn not to swap a job offer for sex. None of us is just one bullet point shy of understanding he shouldn’t lock the door and start masturbating in front of a woman. No man requires a PowerPoint to get that he shouldn’t ask a subordinate to watch him take a shower or text [her] a nude picture of himself.

Knowing they shouldn’t is part of why they do it. They’re “transgressive,” they’re bad boys, they’re wicked, they’re not pussywhipped, they’re beasts.

It’s not about what men don’t know.

It’s about what men have known too well: That we can get away with it. That it will be excused, hidden, justified and rationalized, and no one will be called to account. This is as true for the unwanted advance as it is for forced physical assault, and the fact that this is changing has nothing whatsoever to do with training.

They can get away with it, and they’ll be seen as lovable scamps, or they think they will. They know it’s not ok but they don’t take the not ok part seriously – they think women are prudes or cock-teases or interlopers or bores, and that it’s fun to make them jump and back away and look nervous.

So much of the sexual harassment tsunami that’s been unleashed shows very well what this is about: Men knowing exactly where the line is drawn and relishing the authority to step over – and other men sustaining that authority by looking the other way. Recall the illustrative example of the moment: the Access Hollywood tape. A serial groper brags about getting away with it, while another man chuckles along.

Billy Bush didn’t exactly chuckle along. It’s interesting what he did – he let out a startled blurt of laughter, that sounded both shocked and impressed. He now realizes what that sounded like to his daughter, because she told him. It would be nice if men could grasp the point even without a daughter to make it clear to them.

I don’t mean to dismiss all training. Organizations must be better about letting people know how to report misbehavior, clearly emphasizing what is not acceptable, making victims feel safe coming forward, and outlining the consequences for breaking the rules. And to the degree that it’s vital for victims to know their employers will protect them – rather than their harassers – such training is important.

But the rush to train arises from organizational butt-covering more than anything else. It is a way to inoculate against liability, to fly a flag of seeming to take the problem seriously, to stand at a podium and perform the appropriate attitudes.

Meanwhile, let’s remember that sexual harassment training has been commonplace for years and years. Workplaces have been marching employees through numbing, sometimes comically ineffective sexual harassment training even as the culture of sexual harassment thrived.

They forgot to start with misogyny.

It’s as though men need a sexual harassment GPS system rather than a simple human conscience, and it’s just more of the same old shedding of responsibility. As is the idea that we must fix the problem through training.

Men don’t need to be taught to be better. I don’t mean there isn’t a lot of learning to be done, but it’s never been the case that the problem was a lack of knowledge.

We have known better, all along, especially those of us who were laughers, not gropers. We have known better and allowed ourselves to go along, to get along, to go to sleep, to be worse than we knew we should be. To snigger and laugh. To hold our tongues. To dismiss and forget. It should have been obvious that this was odious and unjust, that it was widespread and unacceptable.

It wasn’t training that we lacked.

Well said.

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