Why the women’s reckoning has the wrong men afraid…

In the storm of news reports of women coming forward to expose powerful men of harassment and lewd behavior, it is stirring up feelings of fear in many men.

Unfortunately it is often the wrong men. The good men. Men who are stunned that men they knew and respected are not who they thought they were at all. Men who worry that this reckoning will bring out a vengeful woman that could take down an innocent man. Maybe even him. Fear is a natural reaction. Disbelief is a natural reaction. Silence is a natural reaction.

I say to all the good men, don’t be afraid. As women, we are talking about this – a lot. We know what it is costing these women to come forward. The choice they make to speak up is one that often takes years and sometimes decades to make and even then they sometimes wait until someone else comes forward first. Speaking up costs them in so many ways and it is not something that the women on the sidelines take lightly. We worry about false stories and accusations too. We don’t want the truthful accounts undermined by spite or attention seeking. We will stand up against any untruthful women so we can stand with the victims. Do not fear these bad women. Good men, please trust in the good women to stand up for the truth.

The news of Matt Lauer this week is one of the greatest examples of the utter disbelief felt by so many.

How do we reconcile the public persona we felt we knew so well with the behind-closed-doors man? It is natural to question the validity of the accounts, to ask questions…

While I can’t speak to the specifics of any of the news reports, I can tell you that these types of incidents happen to women more than you good men would ever know. The reports we are watching and reading aren’t shocking to many women who regularly interact with a large number of men, particularly men with power.

I remember the first time a man suggestively touched himself while starring at me – I was 16. I remember an older executive that would only look at my chest and never my face when we had 1:1 meetings. I remember a colleague coming up to me after I’d come off stage and his whispered comment, ‘I really liked your presentation… especially that skirt you are wearing.’ I was in utter disbelief each time.

I remember being in my last semester of college and going to the office of a professor that I had taken several classes from over the years. Highly respected by his students, I believed he was invested in my academic career. When he closed the door behind me and sat down in a chair across from me in his short running shorts and preceded to pick up his right leg and place his foot on the chair, I was stunned. I wanted to run away from the awful sight. And I did leave very quickly, never to return and also to never say anything. I wanted to get my diploma and move on with my life. I understood even then the disbelief that people would feel if I reported this incident because if it hadn’t happened to me, I would have struggled to reconcile that type of behavior with the professor I saw at the front of the lecture hall. Disbelief is a natural reaction but please trust that these things happen – even though it is unbelievable, unfathomable.

Women have long been silent about these issues and we are now hearing a whisper of what history holds.

So many women and situations will never come to light. Do not think this ‘reckoning’ is a complete vindication for women. For every story told, there are countless others shared only in our small circles of other women we trust.

When these good women break their silence, I ask you good men to break yours too. Don’t be afraid to speak out with us. This is not merely a gender issue, it is a people issue. Abuse of power is abuse no matter the gender of the victim. Men and boys are abused. Entire religious groups are targeted. Discrimination is alive and well in our country. If only the women carry these stories forward, if only the women point out inappropriate behavior, if only the women support the victims that find their voices, it will take twice as long to change this power dynamic. When we all speak together – all the people – we move faster, change happens faster.

Don’t be afraid good men. Don’t let disbelief silence you. Let’s all stand together, as women and men united against abuse. That will bring the true reckoning.

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