Hollywood, USA Gymnastics, Penn State football and the Roman Catholic Church are a few examples, among others, where sexual harassment, assault and violence left their ugly marks.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen institutions where men have failed at their leadership and a culture of sexual misconduct — to put it mildly — became pervasive. The perpetrators are men and the people who could have stopped it are, by and large, men in positions of leadership.
But they didn’t stop it. And that has to end.
In our society, a lot of our notions of masculinity revolve around physical strength and prowess and, by association, violence. So when men use derogatory language about women or boast of their sexual exploits, other men don’t stand up to these men for fear of appearing “less manly.” It means these other men, the bystanders, are enabling a culture that puts it at odds with notions of equality, democracy and basic respect for other human beings.
Change requires men to call out other men on their bad behavior because, when the peer culture sets the norm that whenever a man engages in the kind of derogatory remarks about women his social status is lowered, we will see a diminution of sexual violence and harassment. The excuses “a few bad apples” or “boys will be boys” won’t be tolerated in the peer group and our notions of masculinity won’t hinge upon aggressive and violent behavior. That kind of cultural interruption requires leadership.
Leadership in institutional settings has a greater responsibility to stop sexual harassment and violence than bystanders because the people in those leadership positions must immediately stop the men who think they can use their positions of power to harass and abuse the women and girls who are their subordinates.
As we have seen all over social media with “Me Too” and “Time’s Up,” women and girls, our sisters, mothers, wives and other women we love, have endured unwanted advances, harassment, violence and rape. It is widespread. And it has happened to people we know.
So to hear that Rep. John Curtis knew about the reports of sexual misconduct against his former police chief and tried to cover them up, or play innocent to some degree by shifting the blame to someone else, shows a troubling lack of leadership.
How can we expect our representative to stand up to other men in even greater positions of power when they engage in brazen and demeaning sexual harassment, assault or violence when he didn’t do the right thing as mayor? I don’t believe he has learned his lessons as he claims. Instead, I see a pattern of a lack of leadership on this issue. We deserve someone better.
Men in America have a ways to go still in creating a culture of respect for women, but at the very least there are laws in place to ensure that everyone in the workplace can work in conditions free from sexual violence and abuse. But laws are meaningless if the men in power don’t do what they should to uphold them and then push beyond them towards equality.
Luckily, at least in politics, we can vote in people who understand that gender violence, sexual assault and misconduct are not just women’s issues. They are very much men’s issues.
James Courage Singer, a sociology teacher at Salt Lake Community College, is running for U.S. Congress as a Democrat in the 3rd Congressional District, currently occupied by Rep. John Curtis.