How can men make the world safer for women?

On Saturday morning, I was steeling myself for another Globe and Mail article connected to the sexual abuse of Megan Brown, a former University of Guelph athlete. I coach the golf team at Guelph.

Instead, I found a disturbing story about a report that the late Jean Vanier, the Canadian founder of L’Arche, had sexually exploited a number of women employees.

Really? Jean Vanier! This hit me hard because as a Roman Catholic, and the nephew of two priests, I have spent much of my life in awe of Vanier. He has been venerated for emanating love and compassion for creating residences around the world where the mentally challenged can live in dignity in a community with their caregivers.

In the embattled church, which has its own sordid history of sexual exploitation, Vanier was revered as worthy of sainthood or a Pulitzer Prize. The report appears conclusive and Vanier’s reputation is smouldering. I hope L’Arche survives. I was a smidge relieved the report didn’t conclude he abused residents.

After reading the article, I was in a state of shock and sadness. What the f***? I thought about Megan Brown and the women who told their horrific stories at the trial of Harvey Weinstein, I felt angry, and kind of helpless.

A few hours later, while waiting for someone, I pulled out my phone to read an email with the subject line: ‘More about women—makes one sick.’

The Time magazine story detailed how Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, feared for her safety and reputation after she published a blog about being sexually harassed and discriminated against at Uber. She was stalked, trolled and the subject of salacious rumours. 

For God’s sake. Yet, another woman suffering at the hands of men, not only to be harassed or assaulted, but to then suffer at the hands of men trying to silence her. No wonder the majority of women don’t speak out.

As a man, I felt ashamed and angry. I thought, ‘Enough’s enough.’

In my fury, I thought, ‘What can we—as men—do?’ 

Later, I thought, the better question to ask is, ‘What can I do?’

If I want to make a difference, that’s where I must start. Everything starts with the individual, being responsible for himself—I’m intentionally using the male pronoun—so that he can act from a place of integrity. Only then can he positively influence others. 

If you’re not taking a hard look at yourself, holding yourself accountable, and being aware of your impacts—particularly around your relationship with women—you are asleep dude.

How does accountability relate to this? Consider a definition used by the ManKind Project: “I am 100 per cent responsible for my actions and their consequences, intended or unintended.”

I like this definition for two reasons: It puts me in control of my life; it doesn’t mean everything works out the way I want, but this mindset puts me on a path where I’m directing my life, and moving with intention toward what I want for myself and others. And it prevents me from thinking like a victim. 

It also keeps me conscious of how my actions—particularly what I say, and do or not do—have impacts.

Some argue that holding myself responsible for things I don’t intend is over the top, but this mindset keeps me conscious. When I sleepwalk through life, I’m not responsible and I’m oblivious to my impacts.

As this relates to what men can do to stop the cycle of sexual abuse, harassment, discrimination and intimidation, you could start by asking yourself: 

  • What am I doing to perpetuate this culture?
  • What do I say verbally or with body language to other guys when I see an attractive woman?
  • What actions do I take when I receive a digital transmission that is centred on exploitation? 
  • What action do I take when I hear another man refer to a woman as a bitch or another derogatory word?
  • What do I do that could possibly make a woman feel unsafe, through eye contact, physical proximity or language?
  • What do I do when I hear a man make a sexist remark or tell a sexist joke? 

I’m not advocating that you don a white cape, mount a charger and launch a crusade.

But if you start asking yourself some questions about yourself, that’s a good place to start. It’s the only place to start.

Tomorrow, I’ll write my about answers to these questions.

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!