We begin 2018 with Oprah declaring that a “New day is on the horizon!” Like many of you, her speech brought me to tears. But better yet, it put a HUGE smile on my face. No one can make tough issues more accessible and digestible than Oprah Winfrey. But I couldn’t help but wonder, where were the men? The male winners basically just acknowledged their agents and stepped off the stage, as nearly every female winner acknowledged sexual harassment in Hollywood. As powerful as Oprah is, she cannot stop sexual harassment. Violence and harassment toward women begins and ends with men. With the mounting accusations and confessions of sexual harassment and assault committed by powerful male celebrities in the entertainment industry, we should see a surge of other powerful men in Hollywood coming together to put an end to this abuse, not just a surge of powerful women wearing black to an award show. Last year proved to be that of progress for validation and condemnation of violence and harassment toward women, as Time magazine named the silence breakers 2017’s person of the year. But if men stay silent this year, this exciting progress from the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement will end.
Remarkably, almost exactly one year prior to the take-down of Harvey Weinstein and the resurgence of #MeToo, tapes surfaced of a conversation between Donald Trump and journalist Billy Bush, where Trump bragged about grabbing women by their genitals. When Trump was asked to comment on this conversation, he dismissed his statements as “locker room talk.” In response, author Kelly Oxford called upon women to share their sexual assault experiences using the #NotOkay hashtag. Within days, millions responded using the hashtag and thousands responded with their accounts of sexual assault.
At the time, this kind of public pouring out over sexual assault was unprecedented. As a Michigan State University professor and researcher of sexuality and pop culture, I realized this was an important moment in our cultural response to sexual assault. Consequently, Dr. Heather McCauley and I decided to capture the #NotOkay tweets, took a random sample of them, and analyzed their content. The results of this study were just published in Violence Against Women. When we began our study, we had no idea that a nearly identical “scandal” (e.g. Weinstein and #MeToo) would be on the horizon and would indeed spark what appears to be a sustainable movement.
At first, we thought we would be coding sexual harassment and assault disclosure tweets (the original intent behind #NotOkay), but little did we know, tweets emerged during our team’s analysis that commented more generally on Donald Trump and sexual assault. For example, with #NotOkay, Twitter users: Acknowledged and condemned rape culture by identifying “locker room talk” as a perpetuation of rape culture. They also identified cultural norms that perpetuate sexual harassment and assault. And perhaps most importantly, called upon boys and men to end violence against women. As our results suggest, the very root of this issue begins with the cultural norms that support this kind of behavior. As a result, if men stay silent, this sexual harassment and violence toward women will continue.
Here’s the good news: Twitter users are urging boys and men to step up to men like Trump, Weinstein, Lauer, etc… and that’s exactly what the research suggests should be happening.
Research shows that when men (like a Billy Bush) shut down conversations (like the one that occurred with Trump), those actions impact social norms that are permissive of violence against women. In turn, sexual assault and harassment is prevented. Thus, the “locker room” is precisely the place where violence against women ends. Which is why this movement will end, if men stay silent. If male celebrities don’t give rousing anti-violence speeches. If men laugh as other men tell stories of harassment and assault. If male coaches, teachers, and fathers don’t capitalize on celebrity scandals (like Weinstein and Trump) as teachable moments. Please use this as momentum to encourage men to initiate difficult conversations or to shut down harmful ones so this exciting movement can truly bring the dawning of a new day.
Dr. Megan Maas is a sexuality and technology researcher at Michigan State University. She is an assistant professor in HDFS and a core faculty member in the Research Consortium on Gender Based Violence. She blogs regularly at MeganMaas.com and you can follow her on Twitter @MeganKMaas.