Among the various things that have been said over the last couple months, there’s one that hasn’t been and it points to a double standard that so far hasn’t gotten much attention. And of all the double standards that could be discussed, and there are many, its remaining in the shadows is quite troubling, but also telling. Because it allows everything to be framed in a different light from how it might otherwise be.
Those women who’ve come forward if they were one of a few, several or many to be harassed and/or assaulted by a specific man have all faced the same charge. That by not coming forward sooner they allowed other women to be hurt and it is their fault those other women have been hurt. While this is by no means a universal charge, it’s frequency is such as to be deeply troubling and to shed light on how women are viewed differently from men. It shows women held to a standard men are not and that even in the absence of power to effect change women are expected to do things men are not.
While women have been pilloried for not coming forward sooner, not much has been made of the various men who have admitted to knowing something was going on and did nothing. They’ve been allowed to say they wish they did something or spoke up with no consequence. No one has laid at their feet the accusation that by doing nothing, they allowed women to be hurt. They are not held to having any blame for the actions of another man. Meanwhile women, are.
It would be easy to say that the men are just morally soft or lacked an awareness of the severity of things or whatever. But that wouldn’t be accurate or rather wouldn’t be accurate as to the actual cause of things. It’s not that the men don’t care as such, it’s that that lack of care is a byproduct of something else. Something that many wouldn’t even be aware of or admit to but something that’s so prevalent a man not going along with it would be viewed by other men as something of an oddity. Now this wouldn’t be all men of course, but specifically those in various positions of authority and power. The ones who keep this very thing going in the first place.
As for what this thing is, it’s that men don’t risk their necks for women. Certainly not in any sort of corporate or institutional context. It’s not just that he would risk his place for merely trying to do so, it’s that he would risk his place on behalf of a woman. And no woman is worth that. No woman is worth it, because she’s a woman. What happens to her isn’t a man’s problem because, well it’s not his problem, it’s her problem.
Oh sure some men have histories of coming out fists flying when they see a woman being mistreated. When one man wants to demonstrate to another he’s transgressed against a woman he in some way thinks of as “his”. In other words, it’s not that she’s a woman being mistreated, it’s that someone has encroached upon his territory. That the man throwing punches may not treat the woman any better is not even an issue. It’s that some other man dared not respect his possession. Whether his girlfriend, wife or someone else he considers “his”. There’s a good chance that if Harvey Weinstein had ever seen a man grabbing the ass of a woman working on a movie for him, some oral surgeon would’ve had a new patient. That Weinstein might well have treated her horribly himself isn’t even an issue. It’s not that he treats her better, it’s that she’s “his”. Even if only by way of a contract to act in a movie.
Going along with all this is the idea that men need to show other men they’re not stepping out of line. Which can also form a nice feedback loop with the idea that what happens to a woman isn’t their problem. A great example of this, the one basically every woman has experienced, is in getting catcalled. Especially getting catcalled while any number of men are in ear shot and say and do nothing. It doesn’t take much to find men saying they haven’t done anything about a woman being catcalled specifically because “I didn’t know her”. In other words, not his problem, she’s just some random chick getting catcalled. Oh sure it might suck, but not their problem. They’re not about to tell another guy he’s wrong. Not about that. And underneath it is a deep sense of what other men would think. “Why you do that? He was just trying to show her he thought she’s hot”, that sort of thing. Also “Like you wouldn’t do the same thing”.
Meanwhile for women, not saying something about a man mistreating them is seen as facilitating him doing it to others. To the point the woman is as at fault for it as the man is. In other words, she’s responsible for what he did, while a man who knew what was going on, isn’t. Even if he was a position to do something. That the woman may have tried to do something about things, doesn’t change matters. That some media outlets investigation was squashed by the accused? That the police blew it off? None of that matters. A woman is held to be responsible for what happens to other women, because it’s a woman’s responsibility alone to protect other women. Meanwhile a man who knew of what was going on? Not his problem.
So while women have to deal with attempts to blame them for what happened to other women because they didn’t do “enough”, men who knew about the goings on can just say they wish they had said something. And suffer no ill effects. Even when they were in a position to have done something or by virtue of being men could’ve been heard. It’s still the fault of women, who didn’t have such positions and who weren’t heard, precisely because they’re women.
As for how this frames things, it removes discussions of the at least moral responsibility of men who know something is going on to say something. It also removes discussions of how it’s not just individual men behaving badly, but rather a systemic thing that relies as much on men who won’t say anything as it does the men who do the wrong. It’s why the whole casting couch thing still exists. It’s not just there are men who make women engage in some sort of sexual contact with them in return for parts, it’s that the men who don’t do that, but know about it, keep letting it happen.
But perhaps the most important issue that isn’t addressed in light of how things are framed, is the matter of power. That there haven’t been, and really aren’t, any women in positions of power to stop things. And not only that, but no women for women to go to. Or more specifically women who wouldn’t put up with it and not worry what the men might think (which gets into another issue for another day). That what’s happened and happens is a matter of power is getting if not swept under the rug then kicked to the side. After all, in part it comes down to men who can get away with saying nothing even when they know something going on. And shouldn’t we perhaps, just maybe, want to talk about whether or not it’s wise to give those men a pass? Or should it be that a man who says nothing, even when he very well could, gets held to some consequences? And if anyone’s inaction gets blamed for allowing something to continue, shouldn’t it be the people who have positions of power and do nothing, and not those who don’t have them?