First finding solidarity and accountability in a tweet, or rather a hashtag, the #MeToo movement became an impetus for defining the next generation of female empowerment in 2018. And according to author and blogger Mark Greene, #MeToo has also shed light on how the core nature of a man’s identity has been challenged.
Here, Greene shares his perspective on the movement, and offers insights about his just-released book, “The Little #MeToo Book for Men” — which explores the role men play in #MeToo as well as how it is conflicted by culturally defined definitions of masculinity.
WWD: How did 2018 become the defining year for the #MeToo movement?
Mark Greene: Founded in 2007 by activist Tarana Burke in response to stories of sexual assault she was hearing from girls and women of color, #MeToo went viral on Oct. 15, 2017, when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you have been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ in response to this tweet.” Over the course of 2018, millions of women broke their silence and responded across social media sharing their #MeToo stories. Burke’s movement continues to expand globally. The singular intention of #MeToo has been fulfilled — demonstrating the scale of the problem of sexual assault against women and providing visibility and solidarity among victims of sexual harassment, assault and rape. Any person who takes issue with #MeToo is taking issue, first and foremost, with people saying, “Yes, this happened to me, too.”
WWD: What prompted you to write this book?
M.G.: In September of 2018, I was invited to speak on a panel on #MeToo in Los Angeles. Pushback by men against #MeToo had already increased dramatically on social media and across the 24-hour news cycle. If the growing level of pushback was the equivalent of gasoline, the Kavanaugh hearings proved to be the match. The subsequent rage and anger by men against what was framed as widespread false rape allegations coalesced around the Senate hearings. It doesn’t matter that, like any false criminal allegation, false rape allegations are rare, the narrative was set, the battle lines drawn.
As millions of women continue to share their #MeToo stories, men are increasingly alarmed, angry and even disheartened. How is it that so many men are challenged by a movement which says, “Don’t rape, sexually harass or abuse other human beings?” These are ideas we can all get behind, right? But it’s not playing out that way.
The uncertainty and alarm #MeToo creates for men can be profound, lurching up from within our socially constructed identities, from within the process by which we experience and express who we are, and from within the structures by which we are assigned our status. #MeToo challenges men’s sense of core identity. “Life used to be simple. Now it is complicated. Men and women used to know our place. Now we do not. I do not want to think about all of this.”
WWD: How do your current and past experiences, such as your position as a senior editor for the Good Men Project, help establish rapport with your reader?
M.G.: I started writing for the Good Men Project over 10 years ago. My son’s birth was the impetus. I began by writing about fatherhood, but soon questions arose for me about what our dominant culture of manhood would teach my son about being a man, and more importantly, what being immersed in that culture might cost him. As I wrote about and explored this question, I was drawn deep into the binary and reactive conversations on gender.
Over a period of years, I found ways of talking that helped me avoid the derailing, angry back-and-forth [conversation] typical of that space. I found ways of speaking that helped the larger conversation to advance. More and more people across the political and social spectrum are hanging in with the conversation on manhood and engaging.
WWD: Who is your intended reader?
M.G.: “The Little #MeToo Book for Men” is for any man or women who wants to better understand how boys and men have gotten to this challenging place where many of us are perceived as angry and broken, where suicide numbers for men are climbing and where violence and mass shootings are on the rise. The book is short, direct and to the point. Its purpose is summed up in the introduction: “For millions of men, manhood can seem like a foregone conclusion, mapped out for us by universally understood rules for being a ‘real man.’ These rules determine how we walk, how we talk, what we think and do, what we view as our responsibilities and most importantly, how we pursue or fail to pursue our deepest needs, wants and desires.
These rules of manhood become so central to what we believe as to render the distinction between ourselves and our culture of manhood invisible to us. When millions of men live our lives subject to the rules of a culture we are not fully conscious of, it can be damaging for our families, our communities, our collective quality of life, and even our longevity. As such, this book seeks to encourage a conversation about how boys and men arrive at what we believe.”
WWD: In what ways does culture define masculinity, and what are the implications?
M.G.: In the early 1980s, Paul Kivel, Allan Creighton and others at the Oakland Men’s Project developed “the Act Like a Man Box” in their work with adolescents in public schools around the San Francisco Bay Area. Their pioneering concept widely referred to now as simply “the man box” refers to the enforcement of a narrowly defined set of traditional rules for being a man.
To this day, you can go to any classroom in America, ask the boys there to tell you the rules for being a “real man,” and they’ll all tell you the same things. Always be tough. Always be successful. Always be confident. Always get the girls. Always have the last word. Always be the leader. But one of the first rules of manhood these boys will tell you is that real men don’t show their emotions. The implications of this single prohibition run deep, informing nearly every aspect of men’s, and by extension, women’s lives. At a time when boys should be expressing and constructing their identities in more diverse, grounded and authentic ways, boys are shamed and bullied into seeing their need for close connection and friendships with other boys as girly or gay.
It’s crucial to notice the ways in which we shame boys. We tell boys to “Man up.” We tell boys, “Don’t be a sissy.” But what we’re really communicating is: “Don’t be female, because female is less.” In wrongly gendering our natural capacities for authentic human connection as feminine, we teach boys to see girls as less even as we block our sons from the trial-and-error process of growing their powerful relational capacities.
This directly contributes to our epidemic levels of social isolation and its resulting health impacts. AARP says that 1 in 3 Americans age 45 and older are “chronically lonely.” That’s 42 million Americans. Cigna says that 1 out of 2 Americans are “sometimes or always lonely.” A raft of studies show that chronic loneliness has a health impact equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, increasing instances of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity, depression and more. By age 3 or 4, our little sons are engaging in a pecking order of bullying as proof of their manhood. As a result, our sons buy into bullying and abuse as central mechanisms for forming and expressing male status and identity. And because man box culture is threaded through with contempt for the feminine as a primary method for suppressing boy’s emotional and relational development, the end result is, by definition, a culture of sexual abuse for women.
As women make progress toward greater equality, many men are experiencing deep uncertainty. Long reliant on the command and control hierarchy of male culture, we have never been taught to manage uncertainty, while women, who have historically been subject to the whims of men, have had to manage it all their lives. And because our man-box-constructed identities are not based on creating diverse authentic relationships, but instead on a strict adherence to hierarchical roles, the loss of the fading 1950s-era culture of inequality that validates those roles feels like a terrifying loss of core identity.
WWD: What calls to action for both men and women do you detail in your book?
M.G.: My advice is primarily for men. A while back, a guy posted this on my Facebook feed: “Locker-room talk is just that. It is all talk and does not make you a predator.” The idea being, that locker-room talk is harmless. It’s just what men do.
Engaging in locker-room talk doesn’t make us predators, but it most certainly perpetuates a culture in which predators can hide. The term “locker-room talk” is literally designed to grant permission, even encourage men to speak in this way, as if locker rooms, are somehow magical man-only spaces. No space exists that does not have an impact on women’s lives. Our words go with us, change us, inform what we do next. Our denigration of women, or our choice to remain silent when others do so, takes place in a world populated by the women and girls who must coexist with us, along with the words, ideas, and yes, the predators we grant refuge to.
So, immediately, right now, today, we can end our silence in public spaces when other men denigrate women. We can stop acting like the denigration of women is “just part of manhood.” Our society may have once been a place where men could avoid risking their social status by simply staying quiet, but as our 1950s culture of inequality falters, the bullies and the alphas are asserting themselves. Threats of violence and abuse, even at the highest levels of government, have become commonplace. The assault on more civil discourse is growing. Our cultural tipping point on manhood can go either way, toward a culture of equity for all, or dramatically away from it.
Longer term, for men, becoming aware of our dominant, man box culture is both life-affirming and deeply challenging. To be able to self-reflect about who we are and what we believe is a capacity we were never taught by a culture of manhood that doesn’t care who we are as individuals. Yet here we stand, confronted with a choice. We can avert our eyes from the hard truths of #MeToo or we can engage and, in the process, unpack years or even decades of conditioning, the price of which has likely been the loss of our authentic connection in the world.
No one can be a bystander any longer. It’s long past time to pick a side and the choice of sides is quite simple: Equality, yes or no?
WWD: How do you foresee the #MeToo movement carried out in the coming year and years following?
M.G.: The #MeToo movement is primarily for women to define and for men to support. I am also fully aware that boys and men suffer sexual violence and rape, but #MeToo is a conversation about sexual violence against women. One conversation does not negate the other. But men need to understand the following. In 2012, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control report revealed that nearly 1 in 5 (18.3 percent) of women reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives. Based on the current U.S. female population of 133 million women, this means that 29 million women are rape survivors. Globally, that number is much higher.
Yet, there are some men who are insisting that the CDC’s numbers on rape against women are inflated. Some among us actually wish to debate how many millions of rapes are actually taking place.
WWD: Anything else you think is important to add?
M.G.: It may surprise you to know, I’m uncomfortable writing this: telling other men to step up. My culture has taught me not to do this, not to have this conversation. If you’re a man, you may be uncomfortable reading it. But I can only offer you this. My condemnation of our dominant culture of manhood is not a condemnation of men. I do, however, hold us responsible for our bullying culture of masculinity if we fail to create something better.
Collectively, men still have a simple but important lesson to learn. Some of us learn this lesson at great cost, after a crisis of our own making, the loss of our careers or the collapse of our marriages. It’s a lesson reflected in the voices of broken men at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. It’s visible there in the shining eyes of fathers cradling their newborn children. It’s a lesson reflected in the ancient philosophies and religions of the world. The lesson is this; despite what we have been taught, our power as men does not lie in how well we are able to dominate and control those around us.
The only question is, how much human suffering, our own and others, will we allow our culture of manhood to create before we collectively make the choice to change it? We can continue to allow man box culture to dominate us, or we can start fighting for our basic human freedoms as men. We can start pushing back, making space for a much more diverse range of masculinities, creating healthier, more authentic options for how we, and all those who love us, can choose to live our lives.