Over the past six months — as the #MeToo movement has gained traction, and numerous women have come forward about their experiences of sexual misconduct — many men have been wondering where they fit into the conversation and what exactly they can do about it.
On Monday night, a group of about 30 men gathered in a Philadelphia conference room at the Friends Center to contemplate just that. They sat in a circle under fluorescent lights, snacking on pretzels and fun-size chocolate bars. They were teachers and students, technicians and social workers.
The workshop, called “Get Your Boys: Male Accountability in #MeToo,” was billed as training for anyone who identifies as male. It was led by facilitators from Lutheran Settlement House’s Men Can Initiative, which aims to involve men in the conversation about interpersonal violence, a topic usually framed as a women’s issue.
For people to change the system they operate in, said facilitator Toby Fraser, they have to understand how they got there in the first place. He encouraged participants to ask themselves how they define masculinity and how that definition has informed their actions.
“Think about, ‘What are the messages that I learned about sex growing up? What might be the harm that I caused?’ ” he said. “ ‘How can I come back from that harm without feeling full of shame and guilt?’ ”
Fraser said he hoped participants came away with an attitude akin to, “if you see something, say something.”
“We’re trying to intervene, not in the moments of assault and violence, but in the beliefs and attitudes that lead to the world where assaults and violence can happen so frequently,” he said.
Those skills were exactly what participant Steven Feldman was seeking. Feldman, who works with high school students, said he isn’t sure how to recognize language or behavior among the students that might be signs of an unhealthy relationship.
“There is some behavior that is so toxic right off the bat that it’s easy to recognize, but a lot of this is stuff I grew up with, and I’m trying to recognize that maybe I don’t recognize the signs right away,” Feldman admitted.
For their part, Fraser and the organizers acknowledged that an event like this draws a self-selecting crowd.
“We definitely expect this to be similar to preaching to the choir,” said Fraser. “We’ve been thinking about it as going deeper with the choir.”
The goal, he said, is to give these men the skills to influence others in their lives and to think of themselves as mentors.
Some attendees mentioned their sons. Feldman and others spoke about hoping to give their students the language to talk about issues of harassment, masculinity, and sexism.
Many men in the group were just grateful to find a space to discuss the issue from their perspective at all. And while a venue for men to talk about their role in the #MeToo era may have been scarce until now, other groups in Philadelphia are following suit: Women Organized Against Rape or WOAR, the city’s only rape crisis center, is also planning to start men’s discussion groups next month, said Levone Cannady, education specialist at WOAR. Cannady was at Monday’s training to get ideas, make contacts, and to be part of the conversation.
“We all know that women aren’t the only ones affected by the issue of sexual assault, rape culture,” he said. “Most importantly, you want to align men as allies in the fight against assault.”
Join WHYY’s Marty Moss-Coane of Radio Times and Maiken Scott of The Pulse as they lead conversations about sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement tonight at 7 p.m. Click here for more information about the “From Moment to Movement” event.