An open letter to men scared that women will call out their behavior publicly.

Hey guys,

It's come to my attention that some of you are feeling kind of uncomfortable at the possibility that women in your life -- in your community, in your trusted circle of friends -- might call you out in the event that you engage in behavior that hurts them or someone they care about. Some of you have been telling me that you're especially worried that you'll be called out in front of other people, labeled persuasively as a bad guy, and that this will destroy your good name, your career prospects, your happiness.

I don't doubt that you are anxious here. So, I have a few questions about how you'd like us to proceed.

First, can you provide assurances that, when women bring criticisms of your behavior to you privately, you will take those critiques seriously and change your behavior accordingly?

If so -- and if you make this commitment public, so the women in your world know about it -- you should be fine! You'll address the harm you are doing right away, and everyone will move on.

In the (I'm sure rare or non-existent) event that you don't respond to privately raised critique of your harmful behavior in a way that addresses the harm, can you provide assurances that you will respond promptly and constructively to a gently worded public critique?

If so, you should be fine! You'll address the harm you are doing promptly, and everyone will move on.

In the (purely hypothetical) event that you don't respond to a gently worded public critique of your harmful behavior in a way that addresses the harm, how many free passes on your harmful behavior do you believe you are entitled to?

Give us the number -- is it two? five? ten? -- so we know the point at which you recognize that you deserve a critique that is not private and not gently worded.

Yes, having your behavior criticized makes you feel defensive. We know this. As fellow human beings, we have those feelings, too.

But if you are defaulting to the position that it's never OK for the women in your life to tell you when your behavior is harming them, never OK for them to expect you to address those harms, you know what? The women in your life will be defending themselves against you.

They will not trust you. They will not see your good-guy status shining through your actual behavior. When you proclaim yourself an ally, your best-case reaction will be eye-rolls.

It does not feel good to be told your behavior is hurting others. But it does not feel good for others to be hurt by your behavior.

Prioritizing your own hurt feelings over growth is a sure way never to be trusted as an ally by anyone paying attention.

And we are paying attention. For our own well being, we have to.

Sincerely,

Dr. Free-Ride

_____

Related reading:

On being an ally and being called out on your privilege

On the Fixed State Ally Model vs. Process Model Ally Work

On allies.

On the labor involved in being part of a community.

11 responses so far

  • David Hunter says:

    As a man I am keen on both public calling out and people having a private word because sometimes being publicly called out can be the only way to realise how profoundly there is an issue there.

    I think this is the case because of unconscious bias for example in 2012 I was involved in organising several symposiums for the international association of bioethics congress in Rotterdam - I was dismayed during one of them when Hilde Linderman pointed out that we had no female speakers on our panel on "the future of bioethics" and even more dismayed when Sorcha one of my former colleagues pointed out that this was the case for the three symposiums I had organised - which stunned me because there were good female speakers available on each of these topics, who were in fact in the audience at the time.

    That was eye opening to me, since I hadn't considered gender balance at all when putting them together, and this time round the proposals I've submitted for the IAB in Mexico next year have a far more equal gender balance.

    While bias is less serious an accusation than harrassment I still think it is true that you do a disservice both to others who have been affected in the past or maybe in the future but also to the person being accused as well if you don't speak up, sometimes publicly.

  • Patrick says:

    Some of you have been telling me that you're especially worried that you'll be called out in front of other people, labeled persuasively as a bad guy, and that this will destroy your good name, your career prospects, your happiness.

    I have another question...

    If you screw up... you know, generally... and you work to fix it... do you find in your life that this pattern of behavior leads to the destruction of your good name, or your career prospects, or your happiness?

    I mean, I know that when I screw up and I don't do anything to fix it, I have troubles with my good name, or career prospects, or happiness.

    But, generally, when I screw up and try to fix it, people seem pretty charitable about giving me a second shot. Shoot, they let Robert Downey Jr. back into acting, amirite?

    Do you have a different experience? If so, I can see how one might be gun-shy. But if not, are you perhaps overestimating how dangerous a little haterade actually is?

  • EMoon says:

    Simplest way of all to avoiding being called out: Don't be that guy who does those things. If you don't want the consequences, don't do the behaviors that get the consequences.

    Stop making those jokes. Stop treating colleagues, students, employees, random women as prey. Stop copping a feel. Stop petting pregnant women's bellies. Stop commenting on women's body parts--either admiringly or pejoratively--in front of women (ideally, stop it altogether, but...baby steps...) Stop colluding with your male friends or colleagues who do those things (if you hung out with drug dealers or gun runners, you'd know that was suspicious--so is hanging out with men who routinely disrespect women.) Stop laughing at those jokes. Practice thinking of women as real people, as more than their body parts. Practice talking to female colleagues, students, assistants--to all women--as if their ideas, thoughts, opinions, and yes, feelings, mattered much more than their appearance or their potential in bed.

    When caught out being a boor, a cad, a creep...don't argue, don't "explain", don't make excuses. Admit that you were wrong, apologize (without casting any blame on your target, without whining, without any weaseling, and go away from that person without trying to hang around and hoping to be forgiven so you can do the same thing again. Change your behavior. If work brings you into contact with that person again, be professional, make no reference to the previous incident, and do not expect the relationship to warm up just because you're sure you're different. (She's not sure you're different. Long experience has taught women that a creep at 30 is likely to be a creep at 50. You have to demonstrate change with every woman--yeah, we talk to each other--before we recognize change.) If you choose to stay a boor, a cad, a creep, then don't whine about it when you get called out for it.

    Women are not eager to make these things public. So if you do get publicly called out...you did the crime, and it's now your turn to do the time. Change your behavior now. Or--and it is your choice--keep doing what you're doing and know that you will be called out by more women every year. We've learned--again from hard experience--that not calling you out--including embarrassing you publicly-- accomplishes nothing and leaves you and many other men still comfortable in being what you are, doing what you've done, to more and more women. Nobody changes without a motivation to change.

    • Dan Hicks says:

      EMoon: Simplest way of all to avoiding being called out: Don't be that guy who does those things. If you don't want the consequences, don't do the behaviors that get the consequences.

      It would be nice if we were all so self-conscious that we could never act inappropriately in a thoughtless or careless moment. I think I've tended to think this way about myself. Then, just a few days ago, an acquaintance privately called me out on some inappropriate behavior. I was writing an email and thoughtlessly acted in an offensive way.

      Fortunately, the offense was relatively minor, I was able to accept her criticism and sincerely apologize, and I've followed up with friends to ensure that it was out of character and that they'll call me out if I do this kind of thing again. (Unfortunately, you'll have to take my word that's what happened.) But, until my acquaintance called me out, I assumed that I "wasn't that guy" and didn't have to worry about it. If anything, that assumption meant my guard was down, i.e., I could get away with being thoughtless, and in part this led to my inappropriate behavior.

      Ironically, for quite some time I've been a big proponent of one of John Dewey's major insights in Human Nature and Conduct:

      Recently a friend remarked to me that there was one superstition current among even cultivated persons. They suppose that if one is told what to do, if the right end is pointed to them, all that is required in order to bring about the right act is will or wish on the part of the one who is to act .... One might as well suppose that the man who is a slave of whiskey-drinking is merely one who fails to drink water. Conditions have been formed for producing a bad result, and the bad result will occur as long as those conditions exist. They can no more be dismissed by a direct effort of will than the conditions which create drought can be dispelled by whistling for wind.

      His point isn't that self-control isn't possible, but instead that what he calls a "mere wish" doesn't actually control anything, at least not for longer than a few minutes. Self-control is exercised by changing our environment, because environment canalizes behavior.

      • Isabel says:

        "Then, just a few days ago, an acquaintance privately called me out on some inappropriate behavior. I was writing an email and thoughtlessly acted in an offensive way. "

        I can't help being curious what you did while writing your email? I am having trouble even imagining this.

        Why is everyone being so cryptic??

  • Jim Woodgett says:

    I'm uncomfortable that you had to write this Janet, but thanks for doing so.

    Sunlight is a great sterilizer of problems.

  • Bill says:

    can you provide assurances that, when women bring criticisms of your behavior to you privately, you will take those critiques seriously and change your behavior accordingly?

    No.

    Obviously I want to say yes, but I'm old enough to know better. As a sop to my self-image I'll make it a qualified "no" and ask that if I'm being an asshat, please try the private criticism first. I genuinely want to be, and I hope that I am, a good enough person that this will work, and cause me to quit being whichever flavour of asshat prompted the conversation.

    In the... event that you don't respond to privately raised critique of your harmful behavior in a way that addresses the harm, can you provide assurances that you will respond promptly and constructively to a gently worded public critique?

    Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and it works on me as well as anyone. Again I desperately want to talk about how it won't come to this etc etc, but if you do find yourself having to go public on my ass, I do have a deeply ingrained respect for the good opinion of my peers and so this will probably work. Look for genuine understanding, though -- if it gets this far, and I know I have no right to ask this but I'm asking anyway as a favour -- don't let me off with just an apology. If you're trying to change me and I've been this resistant, you're going to want some evidence that I agree with you that I was wrong, that I'm genuinely sorry I did what I did because I understand why it was wrong, and that I am not still doing it whenever you aren't watching.

    In the... event that you don't respond to a gently worded public critique of your harmful behavior in a way that addresses the harm, how many free passes on your harmful behavior do you believe you are entitled to?

    I don't believe I'm entitled to any, but I'll ask for one more: go fucking nuclear. Name and shame, tell my mother and my wife, do SEO so that the issue is the first 100 google hits on my name. Kick my ass.

    The thing is, if I've genuinely fucked up, I genuinely want to know, to understand, to fix what can be fixed, and to stop the behaviour in question. I hope to hell it will never get beyond step one, the quiet word in the ear, but I can think of examples where it took me years to understand *why* I was wrong to do/say/think the things I did. It could happen again, but I don't want it to -- so I'm asking for yet another favour, if it gets to this stage then do whatever you can think of to get it through my thick skull. What's to lose? You already think I'm a dick, and either you can get me to agree and maybe salvage our relationship, or you can't, and then you don't want me around anyway. It cannot be overemphasized that I know putative-douchenozzle-me has no right to ask this, that it's no one's job to fix me. But I'm asking anyway -- and I promise, I'll do it for you.

  • Isabel says:

    Who the hell are these people and why are they so worried? They must be real assholes from the sound of it, and here you go again protecting them and trying to understand them, to reform them, scold them, civilize them. Like a good, understanding, long-suffering woman.

    These predators and boors do not need educating! It is 2013. They know what they are doing and they know it is wrong. They will stop doing it immediately when we stop being so fucking understanding about it.

  • Isabel says:

    Here's a clue: think about women as people, rather than sexual props.

    So, say you are making a movie about scientists of the past, and your plan is to create humorous situations based on their supposed faults.

    Okay so how do you do this in a way that isn't sexist?

    You do what you set out to do. That's it! Unfortunately Joe Hanson (any relation to Jim Hanson I wonder?) did not do this. Not at all.

    He created situations based on the so-called faults of the male scientists ONLY and made the one female scientist a mere prop in one of the males' scenarios. naturally he used her in the scenario that had a sexual theme. He reduced her from subject to object and he still hasn't even acknowledged this in any of his "apologies".

    Or, say you are a powerful person with a reputation (that you enjoy and encourage) for mentoring young people. Okay, this one is easy also.

    You treat all the young people the same. For example, you do not use the ones that you find sexual attractive to work out your sexual issues if your marriage is going through a rough patch. You definitely don't tell them your darkest sexual secrets, especially if you just met them. Even if they are acting with adoration. Because you are an adult.

    Let me know if you need any more help guys:)

  • Isabel says:

    Just saw this GREAT post on that exact theme (treating women as people and being a responsible adult if you are a mentor). In case anyone else missed it:

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/18/four-ways-to-avoid-becoming-a-leading-sex-pest