Skip to main content
How many of your women friends wrote ‘me too’ yesterday, with or without their stories? How many more do you think didn’t write it? Because they couldn’t bring themselves to think about it again? Worse, because they didn’t see how it could possibly make a difference?

When you read all this, what do you imagine? Probably something you’ve never done, and somebody you couldn’t know. It’s easy to think of dark streets and blokey workplaces and populate them, in our minds, with strangers: people who are awful, maybe disturbed, and above all not like us. So we offer solidarity, we say we’ll listen. And there’s nothing wrong with listening, but if we’re really hearing then we should be hearing this: it’s not that there is this problem. It’s that we are this problem. Not ‘we’, all men, who you don’t feel you have much in common with. ‘We’, men like you and me, the good ones.

The thousands of women who spoke up yesterday were not all harassed by men you don’t know. None of us are above it. I have been sexually harassed and even without a world telling you it’s your fault, it feels a bit like it is. Even without worrying — that is, knowing — that it’d happen again, it feels like shit. Even without thinking you did anything wrong, you don’t want to talk about it. Which lets you start to think about what it’s like, if you’re not cushioned by being a man. And even so. Even so I know I’ve made women around me feel desperately uncomfortable, and if you’re being honest, guys, you have too.

Did I grope, or abuse, or follow? No. But those are the stories we’re hearing from women because it’d be too exhausting and banal to describe every time a man was pushy, came closer than they wanted, made them start to worry. Did it happen because I was drunk? Sure, if that means it wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t. But I don’t get in fights or steal things when I’ve been drinking. It’s easy to not do things. If you take them seriously enough. Did I mean it? No. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t do it. It makes no difference, to her, if you made someone miserable from deep-rooted intention or just offhandedness.

A year ago, Donald Trump pleaded ‘locker-room talk’ to excuse his gleeful retelling of sexual assault, and men cried: This is not locker-room talk! Maybe it’s a particular election-season mania that made us want to say this was Trump’s unique badness and not a failing of us all. It wasn’t true. This year we are finally seeing it’s bigger, promising to speak up. This is an easy commitment, when (like almost everyone reading this) you’re a bright young thing at university, imagining yourself sticking up for your friend and telling off a stranger on the street.

Now imagine yourself sticking up for a stranger, arguing with your friend. Anna Spargo-Ryan — and if you haven’t read her piece, then close this right now and read it:

you did it, and you thought, well, it’s not like Roman Polanski. It’s not like I’m a rapist. It’s not like I wouldn’t stop if she asked me to. It’s just some people mucking around. We’re just a car full of dudes whistling at a girl on the footpath.
Your silence implicates you. It is the reason this happens.
Are you listening today because you understand your complicity or because you could never be compared to Harvey Weinstein? If you are standing up ‘with us’ against institutionalised, systemic, gender-based sexual violence, do you even realise you’re actually batting for the other team?

A year ago, for the sake of impugning Donald Trump, we pretended this was his problem. Today we’ll agree it’s bigger and say we’ll do our part. How many more years, before we admit what ‘our part’ must, first of all, be? How many more years of making women talk about what they’d rather not even think about, for the sake of making us look at ourselves, honestly?

We are all doing it, being part of the background entitlement and disrespect that lets this become normal. There’s no point apologising for the sin of silence if we’re not going to admit that we’re also part of what needs to be spoken up about. It’s dishonest to confess guilt if we only do it in a way that simultaneously points the finger somewhere else. We aren’t just complicit in our quietness. We’re complicit in our closeness, loudness, persistence. Maybe she didn’t answer your message for a week, not because she’s ‘been super busy’ or ‘didn’t see it’ or is ‘really bad at responding’, but because she’s trying to reclaim the space you didn’t give her. Maybe she didn’t leave early because she was tired. Maybe she didn’t drop her boyfriend into conversation quite as randomly as it seems.

It’s not just Harvey Weinstein and Casey Affleck. It’s not just the grotty old man on the train and the lads on their rugby club’s night out. I’m a good guy, I think, whatever that means. If you’ve bothered to read this then you probably are too. Still: it’s us too.