The #MeToo posts flooding my Facebook newsfeed - and yours, no doubt - demand a hashtag in response. Not as a rebuttal, but as a show of solidarity and a claiming of responsibility.
This week, as I fought off an attack of nerves, I posted mine: #YesIHave.
Yes, I have been too aggressive in my interest in a woman.
Yes, I have had the gall to be galled that someone didn’t find me as appealing as I thought she should have.
Yes, I have told jokes that reduced women to how they looked or their physical attributes. And, yes, I have laughed at others’ such jokes.
Yes, I have said wholly inappropriate things in wholly inappropriate situations.
As a social construct, it’s interesting to see the way the Harvey Weinstein story has shaped a national conversation. Media attention blows up. More revelations pour forth. Lines get drawn. Debates flare in the middle of the issue and on the periphery. I’ve asked myself why, a year ago, I loudly and repeatedly denounced then-candidate Donald Trump for his misogyny but have had little to say about Weinstein (or my own errant ways, tame though they may be in comparison).
My justification - that I expect more moral character from a president than a Hollywood mogul - might well be a human response, but it only perpetuates the problem we have. We (eventually, maybe) respond to the most damnable abuse but do little to break down the systemic reasons it exists so pervasively. I have no grand answers about how to do this. I can only start with me and radiate outward.
I have been slow to recognize that the power structures in almost every facet of life make my journey easier than those of the women who have worked and lived alongside me. I have failed to acknowledge everyday situations where I blithely go about my business while women I know have to face fear, lack of comfort, even danger. I’m left to wonder how many times I benefitted from this dynamic without realizing it, or, worse, how many times I capitalized on it knowing full well I’d played an advantage I never earned.
A dear friend of mine, the novelist Sheila Redling, posted this the day I decided to share my #YesIHave declaration: “You nice guys - and I’m blessed knowing so many truly nice and decent men - we don’t need you to keep us safe. We need you to believe us, give us room, and police your own.”
There, in a single paragraph, was the good and the bad from where I’ve been living for 47 years. I am a good man, as my parents raised me to be. I’m also a good man who can do better. Who can listen more. Who can be more vigilant. Who can learn. I’m grateful for moments that remind me I’m still a work in progress, even as I charge hard toward the mid-century mark.
That’s encouraging in its way, if humbling. It means I haven’t calcified.
It’s been an interesting week in my house. These #MeToo posts - and I’ve tried to read all that Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithms have shown me - have prompted self-reflection and wholesale unearthing of past harassment my wife has endured. Hearing her stories made me angry, as does imagining such things happening to my sister or my nieces. And yet, that too underlines a problem. Our clarity on this shouldn’t hinge on whether it’s happened close to home.
One more hashtag, #YesIAm: I am trying to learn from the very real things that aren’t always obvious to me. I am trying to be mindful. I am trying to do better and demand better from others.
And to all the women behind all the #MeToo posts: I see you. I hear you. I believe you.
Craig Lancaster is the author of seven novels and a collection of short stories. He lives in Billings, Mont.