I rarely respond to headlines, trends, or hot topics on this blog. Most of what is posted here stands alone, immune to current events or the latest trends.
However, the recent headlines about sexual harassment–and a message from one of our readers, Chris, on Twitter–have prompted me to address the subject of the proper treatment of women. The recent scandals have developed a tsunami-like quality. They originated, perhaps long ago and far away, in unseen depths, but now they have built, crested, and crashed upon our shores. Reputations, marriages and careers are being destroyed and swept away. The landscape afterwards will be very different. And everyone will have to take some time, look around, and assess the damage.
Debates about the permanence of this ‘watershed moment’ fill the columns and airtime of media outlets at present, and probably will for some time to come. This is understandable. How men treat women is an issue as old as recorded time. The inequality and injustice of some of this treatment is, sadly, just as old, because men have traditionally held a position of power over women. Men are generally physically stronger. We have historically made more money and wielded more political clout. We have viewed and recorded history from our perspective, too often exclusively. We wrote marriage vows that included ‘to love, honor, and obey’.
Sociologists, psychologist, historians, and activists will pontificate, politicize, and debate the factors that contribute to men’s less than noble behavior toward women. They will propose legislation, regulation, and sensitivity training. Maybe some or all of these things will have a positive, constructive effect on men.
From my perspective, it is very simple: boys and young men will imitate and emulate what they see, not what they are told. Their first teachers are their parents. It starts at home. Whether it’s domestic violence and sexist attitudes, or a healthy, give-and-take, talk-and-listen relationship between parents–they’ll see and learn that first.
Second, it’s peer pressure at school. If older students cast a long shadow over younger students and instill a tradition of respectful actions and language toward and around young girls and women, that will shape behaviors large and small. If a senior informs a freshman that certain things just aren’t done to or around young women, the edict will be obeyed, even if the rationale behind it is not completely or immediately understood.
Finally, gentlemen, when you’re interacting with a woman, it is helpful to see them first as someone’s daughter, someone’s mother, someone’s sister, or someone’s wife. Start with that concept. Consider how you’d like another man to treat your daughter, your mother, your sister, your wife. Act accordingly.
It’s simple, and it’s the right thing to do, headlines or no.