Based on the #MeToo campaign, many would probably agree that we have a problem when it comes to how some men treat women. However, not all men treat women poorly. In fact, plenty of men are respectful of women and are actively encouraging them, promoting them in organizations and holding their opinion in high esteem.
While many believe the #MeToo campaign has produced some long-overdue constructive conversation and accountability for inappropriate behavior, there is a potential downside. Some experts believe the campaign has created a climate of mistrust between men and women, leaving many guys feeling fearful and anxious that a behavior with good intention could be taken out of context and come back to haunt them. Some guys are choosing to give up even trying to be in relationship with women.
It is unfortunate that many men who actually look out for the best interests of women say they are scared to death that something they do or say might be misconstrued. Opening a door or pulling out a chair is considered common courtesy by many, but some find it offensive. While they may not say anything, when a man other than a loved one calls a woman hon, darlin', sweetie, kiddo or other pet name, it typically doesn't go over well. In fact, many women would call it condescending.
Findings from a survey conducted by LeanIn.org found that since the media reports of sexual harassment emerged last fall, almost half of male managers say they are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity such as mentoring, working alone or socializing with women. Specifically, senior men are 3.5 times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior-level woman than with a junior-level man and five times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior-level woman. Almost 30 percent of male managers are uncomfortable working alone with a woman — more than twice as many as before. The number of male managers who are uncomfortable mentoring women has more than tripled from 5 percent to 16 percent. This means that 1 in 6 male managers may now be hesitant to mentor a woman.
Dr. Richard Weissbourd, director of the Making Caring Common Project at Harvard, along with his team, stumbled upon some troubling findings as they sought to identify young people's challenges and hopes and who influences the way they think about relationships. Of the more than 3,000 young adults and high school students surveyed, at least one-third of respondents said: It is rare to see a woman treated in an inappropriately sexualized manner on television; and that too much attention is being given to the issue of sexual assault.
Surely we can do a better job of teaching relationship skills early on to help girls and boys learn the difference between healthy, respectful behavior between sexes and sexual harassment.
Here's how to start.
' Don't leave it to your child's imagination to figure out what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior in relationships.
' Model respectful and healthy interactions with the opposite sex.
' Talk about sexual harassment — what it is and isn't. Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome, unwanted pressure, verbal, visual or physical contact of a sexual nature. It is any repeated or deliberate action or behavior that is hostile, offensive or degrading to the recipient.
There is a big difference in flirtatious behavior and sexual harassment, but sometimes the line can be blurred. Discuss boundaries and why they are important.
There is no doubt that sexual harassment and assault is a real problem for women and for men, and the #MeToo movement has brought attention to it like never before. In the midst of the conversation, though, it seems like it would be a huge mistake to view all members of the opposite sex as the enemy. Not all men are jerks.
We can take advantage of this moment in time to individually and collectively do our part to make this world a better place — one where we teach and expect men and women to value each other. That will bring about real and lasting change in relationships.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at email@example.com.