People

"The huge problem with men's silence on sexual abuse at the Golden Globes"

Posted by
Emily Reynolds
Published

With all eyes on the Golden Globes as the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements continue to gain momentum, you’d have thought the men of Hollywood would be on board by now. But their choice to stay silent on the night spoke volumes, says freelance writer Emily Reynolds

All black outfits, arriving with activists, rousing speeches and pithy one-liners: this year’s Golden Globes were less about the winners and more about the #MeToo and #TIMESUP movements that continue to dominate headlines months after the first accusations were levelled against Harvey Weinstein. Even E! News’ famous “who are you wearing?” question changed to “why are you wearing black?” this year. 

With all that publicity, you’d have thought that the men of Hollywood would be clamouring to get on board – even if their intentions were more “savvy PR stunt” than “genuine expression of solidarity”. Host Seth Meyers clearly got the memo, with an opening monologue featuring several (all too glib) ‘jokes’ about Weinstein. 

Other than Meyers’ off-colour jokes, though? Not one man standing on stage mentioned #MeToo or Time’s Up in his acceptance speech, from Alexander Skarsgård to James Franco and Aziz Ansari.

Many wore black, yes – but when do men not wear black to award ceremonies? Others wore Time’s Up badges – including Justin Timberlake, who not only accompanied his associated post with a declaration that “DAMN, my wife is hot!” but is also set to star in Woody Allen’s next film. 

A nuanced and sensible exploration of sexual abuse it was not.

Justin Timberlake - who is starring in Woody Allen’s next film - wore a Time’s Up badge on the red carpet

It may be disappointing, but it certainly wasn’t surprising: a debate on how men should respond to #MeToo has been raging ever since the hashtag started gaining traction and, in other forms, even before that. Should they stay silent, letting women talk about their experiences without sticking their oars in, or should they put themselves out there, declaring themselves as allies?

Admittedly, it can be a difficult line to walk. I’ve had dozens of conversations with men since #MeToo (and before) about how they should respond to harassment and assault – and many of them simply don’t feel as if they should take up space in a discussion that primarily revolves around women’s bad or traumatic experiences with men. These conversations are often held with men who really are keen to support the women in their lives – and, in some cases, to examine their own behaviour and question how they may have inadvertently contributed to a toxic environment for women. 

Asking whether your voice actively detracts or distracts from women’s is good. But deciding to do the opposite, and staying silent, is a complete betrayal. 

Having solidarity with women isn’t simply a case of apologising to them privately or asking them how you should change your behaviour – it also requires you to publicly express your support. Solidarity  – to see someone as part of a community, as someone you’ll stand behind and beside, as someone you’ll support through trauma, discrimination, alienation or abuse – is one of the most basic and fundamental acts someone can do. It’s a promise to not turn a blind eye; a promise to believe women’s experiences; a pledge to let us talk and to actually listen. It’s seeing us as we are: not as sisters, girlfriends, mothers or friends but as human beings with dignity and autonomy. 

There was no mention of #MeToo or Time’s Up in Alexander Skarsgård’s speech

Men openly talking about the issue will also lead to a shift in the dialogue around sexual assault, letting other men know their predatory behaviour will no longer be tolerated. So many conversations around #MeToo have also included varying levels of complicity – many stories, particularly those centred around the workplace, involved men simply watching as their friends or co-workers abused their power. This is obviously a complicated issue, and in many cases the things preventing women from speaking out also impact men.

Fostering an environment where abuse is simply not okay – which we all agree is vitally important – will only happen when men join the struggle, too. No great social change or push for rights has ever benefited from inaction, after all.

Obviously, saying something is not always better than saying nothing, and if your contribution is only likely to be combative, an attempt to play devil’s advocate or to interrupt or undermine women, then staying quiet is definitely the better option.

But if you have any kind of privilege, then it’s absolutely your duty to use it to help those who don’t. If you’re white, for example, you should be amplifying the voices of people of colour, tweeting about Black Lives Matter or turning up to protests; if you’re cisgender, you should be using that privilege to highlight the injustices and violences trans people experience every day. We profit from our privileges every day of our lives, often in ways we could never possibly understand – so consistently being there for people who don’t is one of the most vital political acts you can perform. Silence simply doesn’t cut it anymore, especially when you’re aware what’s at stake. 

It’s for that reason that showing solidarity is so crucial – even if that’s uncomfortable, awkward, or “embarrassing” for you, and even if it forces you to have difficult conversations with friends.  For too long women have been bending over backwards to make men comfortable – and now it’s your turn to do the same. 

Images: RexFeatures