Abuse of Power by Men: How to End Toxic Culture

Part of what we have to come to grips with is that this is not a story simply of individual misconduct but of systemic inequity, a story of nuts-and-bolts infrastructure of gender injustice that has permitted generations — centuries — of this behavior, and that has worked again and again to beat back any resistance to it. Rebecca Traister, The Cut

Although abuse of power by men is not always sexual in nature and can victimize men as well as women, it’s the sexual harassment and assault of women by men that, for various reasons, is currently being debated in various forums.

The following represents recent postings regarding the abuse of power by men and how to stop our deeply entrenched culture of enabling.

I. Dacher Keltner, PhD, author of The Power Paradox, “What the Science of Power Can Tell Us About Sexual Harassment” (Greater Good Magazine).

In experiments in which one group of people is randomly assigned to a condition of power, people in the ‘powerful’ group are prone to two shortcomings: They develop empathy deficits and are less able to read others’ emotions and take others’ perspectives. And they behave in an impulsive fashion—they violate the ethics of the workplace….

…Powerful men, studies show, overestimate the sexual interest of others and erroneously believe that the women around them are more attracted to them than is actually the case. Powerful men also sexualize their work, looking for opportunities for sexual trysts and affairs, and along the way leer inappropriately, stand too close, and touch for too long on a daily basis, thus crossing the lines of decorum—and worse.

Keltner advocates not only for the continued sharing of stories about the abuse of power by men but also for improving the ability of women to reach their own positions of power and blasting “myths that sustain the abuses of power.”

II. Mark Radcliffe, “Why the #MeToo Movement is a Call to Arms for Men Everywhere” (Good Men Project). 

…We can start by simply being the kind of supportive friend/ boyfriend/ husband/ colleague that a woman feels comfortable sharing her assault with. By being someone who genuinely cares about others, who asks about how others are doing….

Maybe that conversation entails us just being a pair of ears and a source of support. Maybe it involves us getting involved, and being willing to help her confront the person, approach HR, or even go to the police with them. And that might be really hard. But it’s necessary.

But this is just the beginning.

The real challenge is in going to work on our fellow men. Every. Single. Day.

III. Irin Carmon, “Women Shouldn’t Trust the Men Who Call Themselves Allies” (Washington Post). 

…The journalist David Perry wrote that he used to talk about feminism with his students so they might hear it used without the suffix ‘-nazi.’ ‘I still think there’s power in calling oneself a feminist,’ he tweeted, but with a caveat: “but not as a ‘trust me I’m an ally’ to get entry/visibility elsewhere.” Instead, he proposed, call yourself a feminist ‘in male dominated spaces,’ where it takes some courage, where it might make a difference. Our president called bragging about groping women without consent ‘locker room talk,’ as if all men are like him in private. Even if no one is recording (or leaking your email), don’t be another man to prove him right.

IV. Elise C. Lopez and Mary P. Koss, “Why No Men Are Are Saying #ISpokeUp” (Fortune).

…One of public health’s most significant achievements is reduction in smoking, which was accomplished largely by changing social perceptions of smoking and mobilizing demands for smoke-free workplaces. We need a similar shift in the public’s attitude toward sexual assault, particularly from men. Victims have spoken up about the repulsiveness of sexual harassment and assault and have demanded harassment-free workplaces. Men must be willing to examine their own attitudes and behaviors, and to confront peers who harass or abuse women.

Women do not need men for protection. They need men need to patrol each other.

V. Michelle Wolf, The Daily Show.

One thought on “Abuse of Power by Men: How to End Toxic Culture

  1. Great blog, Ros!! I hope everyone is having this conversation (although we know that there’s still too much woman hatin’ shamin’ and blamin’ goin’ on that seems to be hard-wired with some people). Long live Feminism!!!

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