A question for men: You hear a sexist joke. Do you say anything?

Victory was declared yesterday in the worldwide movement against sexual misconduct. 

Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sexual assault, and now faces up to 29 years in jail. 

“It’s a perfect test case of what happens when a culture begins to shift,” Deborah Tuerkheimer, a law professor, told The New York Times.

This momentary victory will add momentum to the fight against predators, but it’s my sense that a significant change won’t happen until there is a paradigm shift where men hold themselves accountable for how they contribute to a culture of sexual exploitation.

I received feedback to my blog yesterday from some men who say the world is unfairly weighted against us now. Many good men feel afraid of making a mistake that could cost them their reputations and livelihood. “There’s a big difference between being a dumb ass and a harasser,” one man wrote.

In making our way through this quagmire to firmer ground, I believe we must start by holding our ourselves accountable. I asked some pointed questions in the blog, and promised that I would answer them today. Here goes:

I feel in integrity with my commitment to refrain from objectifying a woman by saying something to a man about her body. I’m also conscious about giving women space*, especially in an enclosed or dark area.

(*As coaches at the University of Guelph, we are drilled to follow ‘The Rule of Two.’ See the bottom of this blog for details, which I believe have some good learning for adults of any age.)

I’ve never received a social media communication that shows sexual exploitation. If I ever do, I will confront the sender.

In the last few years, I recall two occasions when I’ve heard a man call a woman a derogatory word. Asked about it, the men rationalized something along the lines of ‘I didn’t really mean it … I was just angry.’ After talking about it, they pledged to be more aware of the words they used. 

I’m no hero. It’s easy for me to talk to individual man who I know reasonably well. In recent years, I’ve not been put to the test in a situation where I judge there was a higher risk.

Now, I’m squirming because in my coaching, I’ve forever talking about commitment and accountability, especially as a leader in the ManKind Project.

“Accountability is based on a promise,” wrote Ed Gurowitz, a former MKP chair. “You agree … to be the sole agent for the outcome.” Regardless of the unpredictability of that outcome, it doesn’t matter ‘how hard you tried’ or ‘wanted to.’ You either delivered that outcome, or you did not. 

If you did not, here’s the core question to ask: ‘What did you choose to do instead?’

Answering that question is, to me, the greatest value that we derive from accountability. It pushes us right up against our belief systems, our shadows, and the stories we tell ourselves. 

The test is whether we truthfully confront those beliefs, shadows and stories. It’s not about shame or blame. It’s about the learning; owning our responsibility for our lives, and doing what we need to do to deliver on our promises.

Thus, on this score, I am out of account with the promise that I have made to be respectful to women.

There have been innumerable times when I’ve been with a group of men, say on a golf course or in a bar, and someone has made a sexist joke or remark, and I have not said a thing. I may have turned away, or didn’t laugh, but I have not addressed the man who made the joke or the remark.

Instead, I’ve been a bystander. Through my inaction, I am perpetuating a culture that is threatening to women. I’m implicitly saying, ‘I’m Ok with it.’

I’ve been afraid, especially in a group of men. I’m fearful that I’ll be the buzz-kill, the crusader, the serious dude that no one wants to be around. I’m pushed right up against my shadow belief that I’m not good enough and therefore you won’t like me.

Until I put my on big boy pants and start delivering on my promise, I’m out of account, shooting my mouth off and failing to walk my talk. 

That’s not the man that I want to be.

I commit to this: the next time I’m in that situation, I’ll say something. 

After writing that, I thought about modifying it to say, ‘I’ll talk to the guy later—one-on-one.’ But that’s chicken shit. 

To hold myself accountable and live in integrity, I must step over the line of my fear, and say something in the moment. 

This mindset puts me on a path where I’m moving with intention toward the life that I want for myself and for others, and toward contributing to a pardigm shift in our culture.

Now, I have to see if I’m up to the test.

The themes of behaviour change and accountabiity are pillars in my golf and life coaching, as well as my Walk Your Talk workshops. Click here for more on my workshops. Drop me a line at tim@oconnorgolf.ca or visit www.oconnorgolf.ca.

*The Rule of Two
University of Guelph Athletic Department

The coach is never alone or out of sight with an athlete or student volunteer.

Two coaches (full-time or part-time/volunteer staff who have signed a Guelph Gryphons Code of Conduct) should always be present with an athlete or student volunteer, especially a minor athlete, when in a potentially vulnerable situation such as in a locker room or meeting room.

When meeting with an athlete or student volunteer, all one-on-one interactions must take place within earshot and in view of the second coach except for medical emergencies, i.e. no closed doors. When possible, one of the coaches must also be of the same gender as the athlete.

If the above is not possible (i.e. a second coach cannot be present), then all one-on-one interactions must take place in a public place, e.g. student centre, coffee shop, public lobby, etc.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!