Troy Piwowarski, PsyD on Aug 20, 2018
As an individual and group therapist, I’ve had the privilege to see the various ways that #MeToo has stirred men’s and women’s awareness and attitudes. This article explores men’s work in the age of #MeToo.
The fallout in the entertainment industry, reflected in the public denouncement of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and so many others reverberated in the minds of everyone who remotely paid attention in those first dramatic months of #MeToo. With each name that hit the news came a new wave of disappointment and betrayal in these men who abused their power. The sharpness of real, life-altering consequences being doled out to so many previously ‘untouchables’ registered in our collective consciousness. For many men, it impelled us to reflect on ways that we’ve been complicit in sustaining a culture of abuse and rape.
#MeToo’s power comes from its simplicity. It is two simple words that point to a common experience unseen and denied by so many men for so long. The movement’s power also comes from its specificity. I have been most affected by hearing detailed accounts of experiences from women, some that I am close to. This has helped me move from abstract (‘most women have been sexually harassed or assaulted in their lifetime’) to personal (‘these women I love, care for, and respect have been violated and demeaned, and carry wounds from these experiences’).
I have personally felt a mixture of grief on behalf of women and guilt for my complicity as a man. I kept trying to get myself to write about it, but feared saying the wrong thing, or missing the boat on something obvious or important. I was afraid to offend, cheapen, patronize, or inadvertently mansplain in the wake of such an important movement.
While the initial dust has somewhat settled, I believe many men are still in a similar state of low-grade fear and guilt, and lack the proper forum to work through the complicated feelings and moral implications of being a man in the #MeToo era.
Over the course of this year, it has slowly dawned on me that this is something I can address, and something that needs to be addressed, specifically by men. A mentor of mine, Lane Arye, taught me that, “shame keeps things underground.” Whatever shameful experiences men carry, keeping them secret is poison to ourselves, and poison to the culture at large. Whether we need to come clean about perpetrating sexual harassment or assault, having espoused sexist beliefs, or even remaining silent instead of speaking up when we should have, we do ourselves and others a service by doing the work to become better. As Carl Jung taught us, “what we resist persists,” and often grows in size. Taking responsibility can begin to set us free.
Part of our work as men is to resist the urge to continue sloughing off personal responsibility for #MeToo culture. To draw an analogy to internalized racism, we don’t need to have owned slaves or even uttered a single racial epithet in our lives to carry responsibility for fighting racism—it is so embedded in our culture, our economic structure, and our collective unconscious that we all automatically bear responsibility for combatting it. Like racism, rape culture is embedded deep in our bones, and requires deep emotional work to own our role, and to work through what that means to us.
As a depth psychologist who works closely with men, I want to challenge us to do the hard work needed to hold masculinity with greater integrity than we have before. Here are a few ways we, as men, can approach this daunting work:
Make it personal. If you haven’t heard someone’s #MeToo story yet, it’s time to listen. Here is a powerful story told in detail by five courageous women. Let it get under your skin; feel whatever comes up, whether that be anger, guilt, betrayal, pain, sadness, or numbness. This process may bring to mind small moments from your life, or even ways you can relate to feeling powerless.
Share your experience. Find or create a safe space to share your experience, whether that be with a close friend, a trusted family member, or a men’s group. My colleague, Brian Thompson and I run the kind of groups where this level of vulnerability is welcome. Whatever route you take, the best scenario is to share your experience with someone who is willing to get vulnerable and share their own experiences with you.
Apply it to everyday life. Reflect on what this all means not only on a larger cultural scale, but how it applies to your everyday life. How does it affect how you hear a story from a female coworker who says she’s being harassed by someone you know? When your friend makes objectifying comments about women, do you speak up and challenge him? This work is ultimately about learning to see what we’ve allowed to remain invisible for far too long.
Troy Piwowarski is a psychologist with a private practice in the Bay Area of California. He co-founded In Real Life (IRL) Men’s Groups with his colleague Brian Thompson, who he met in a men’s group 8 years ago. They are currently forming three new men’s therapy groups in Oakland and San Francisco that will begin this fall. Find out more at www.IRLMen.com.