5 Men on Why They Didn’t Stop Harassment at Work

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In the wake of the Weinstein allegations, men everywhere have been examining their role in creating a culture that allows for the pervasive harassment of women in nearly every single industry. You don’t have to grope a woman to be complicit; men who turn a blind eye to harassment at the workplace allow for it to continue. In an attempt to understand why they don’t do more in the face of behavior they know is wrong, we asked five men to explain why they didn’t speak up. Here’s what they had to say.

“Who am I to decide how this should be handled?” — Steve, 47, software executive

A while ago, I learned that the senior project managers (all men) would stay late drinking and streaming porn — to test the system. Nobody officially complained but I knew that the women on the team felt weird about it. Then I heard that the male executives would take customers to strip clubs. A colleague told me she couldn’t do her job effectively because she felt too uncomfortable to participate. She had to fit in, not make waves or get labeled as “difficult,” so she asked me to keep quiet. I didn’t say anything. It’s easy to come up with reasons not to get involved, so in some ways she simplified things by telling me not to talk. Plus, I was friendly with the guys and I knew it would be really awkward if I confronted them. But I also felt: Who am I to decide how this should be handled? Did allowing her to decide give her some power, or did it make things worse? In the days since #MeToo I’ve been thinking about how the worst behavior of men in the workplace continues (in part) because other men do nothing when they see it. I was part of that problem.

“I don’t want to be seen as protecting them for my own benefit.” — Andrew, 31, strategist

One of my colleagues is this middle-aged guy who’s always hanging around the copy machine outside the women’s bathroom. He’s really tall, deep voice, you know the type. He talks to every woman who comes out of the bathroom; they can’t avoid him. He also dominates the common area saying really flirtatious stuff to the interns. You can tell they’re uncomfortable.

I want to say something even more exaggerated so he knows how it feels, like: “Hey, looking sexy today” or “Smile for me, bitch …” But I don’t. Why? Well, I feel like I was only taught to say something when I see physical violence. And then there’s the whole white-knight thing — I don’t want to be seen by women as “protecting” them for my romantic benefit: “Don’t worry, he won’t be bothering you anymore … wanna get coffee?” As someone who is definitely not alpha male (I’m on the smaller side, kinda nerdy, and most of my friends are women) I feel like I will instantly be seen as a white knight.

Since #MeToo, I’m more aware of these situations, but a big part of the issue is simply not knowing the best approach to take. Do I cause a scene? Do I approach the woman after and tell them I’m sorry for his behavior? That seems creepy and patronizing. Or do I approach the guy and try to explain what they did wrong? I don’t know.

“It just wasn’t worth it.” — Bobby, 36, Ph.D. student

A professor I’ve known for years has a reputation for making inappropriate comments to women. I’ve heard him refer to a student’s looks or ask about her sexual orientation or inquire about her sex life. His words always seemed more clueless than anything — but the more I think about it, the more bothered I am that I never said anything. I rationalized the things he’d say as just harmless but, also, if I’m honest, he was really important to my career and that definitely stopped me from challenging him. It’s difficult: The comments weren’t okay — but they appeared such a product of his being a retrograde awkward dork. At the same time, if he’d had zero power over us, would I or someone else have been more likely to say something? Probably. If you’d asked me then, I probably would have said that it just wasn’t worth it to try to explain to a clueless man why he’s clueless. Today, I’m annoyed at myself for not acting differently.

I just wanted to yell: ‘Leave her the hell alone!’— Charles, 37, communications director

I was working for a bathroom manufacturing company in the South. There was a woman who was the main receptionist. Men would boast about their sexual escapades to her; they’d comment on her legs and her breasts. My initial approach was to ask her if it made her uncomfortable. Her reaction was: I can take care of myself. This is just how men are. I worried about it. I struggled over whether to say something when she didn’t want me to. I just wanted to yell: Leave her the hell alone! I felt really angry.

I ended up leaving the company, and now I feel like I failed her. When I hear from people who still work there that it’s still going on, I feel awful. This woman had to shrug those things off to keep her job. To be honest, she is probably just a much stronger person than me.

“Racism seemed easier than the sexism to point to as wrong.” — Theo, 34, project manager

I worked at a gallery on some construction projects and I was in charge of the interns. Towards the end of one project a new intern showed up: an early-20s party bro from a rich family. He was a jerk: He made racist comments about the drywall guys and he was lazy. One day I was standing with him and another intern, who was a young woman, and the (female) assistant gallery director walked by. The new guy said: “Hey, you think she likes anal?” I was shocked and angry he roped me into a comment like that, but mostly I was offended for the intern’s sake. When it was announced that he was getting hired, I was so embarrassed. I told the gallery owner that he was being racist to the drywall guys, but the sex stuff didn’t register to me as a clear line crossed. The racism seemed easier than the sexism to point to as wrong.

Looking back, besides the feeling that I was responsible for exposing the female intern to that asshole, I enjoy the idea of them suffering with that guy, in an awful office culture of their own making.

5 Men on Why They Didn’t Stop Harassment at Work