Asia Argento is right, men need to be held accountable – not just for their actions, but also for the impact of their silence

Assault goes far beyond a dozen or so high-profile rapist predators. It could involve your friends, your brothers, your gym buddies. It could, actually, be you – it’s simple statistics

Harriet Marsden
Tuesday 10 July 2018 15:15
Asia Argento condemns Harvey Weinstein in powerful Cannes speech

Since the initial tide of #MeToo and the endless backlash upon backlash, men have been uncharacteristically quiet. The movement promised a reckoning, of a gender acknowledging how the power dynamic they have benefited from – and propagated – has led to what amounts to a sexual assault epidemic. One which women have long known about, but only recently felt safe enough to discuss.

This reckoning has yet to materialise.

Yes, there have been specific people – those whose actions are deplorable by any standard – who have been loudly condemned. But in general, most men have yet to stand up en masse with a mea culpa, and become active allies rather than passive participants.

Italian actress Asia Argento made headlines with this point on stage at the Cannes Film Festival closing ceremony, condemning the festival’s past as a “hunting ground” – reminding the audience that they were standing where she alleged Harvey Weinstein raped her in 1997.

She pointed the finger at those “sitting among you, who still have to be held accountable for their conduct against women”. The community, she thundered, that “embraced him and covered up for his crimes”.

We’re not talking about people who commit rape or sexual assault here. We’re talking about people who did – and still do – nothing to prevent it. We’re also talking about people who don’t consider themselves complicit, which by definition means that they are, in the very fact of denying their role in a systemic problem, propped up by anyone not actively challenging it.

It seems that men have achieved an impressive level of Orwellian doublethink: believing (or professing to believe) all the women who say they have been assaulted, while simultaneously seemingly believing that neither they, nor any man they know, would be capable of doing such a thing.

I’m no mathematician, but if we accept that the vast majority of women have been victims of harassment, sexual assault or rape, almost overwhelmingly at the hands of men, then we must logically accept that this is not being perpetrated by a handful of prolific bad eggs.

Assault goes far beyond a dozen or so high-profile rapist predators. It could involve your friends, your brothers, your gym buddies. It could, actually, be you. It’s simple statistics.

Men have yet to accept this, because to do so would necessitate admitting culpability as well as complicity.

We’re also not just talking about rape and sexual assault. Those exist at the far end of a sliding scale – a scale of sexism, aggression and patriarchal domination. That scale starts with the most innocuous of behaviours: with sexist language, drunken aggressive come-ons, workplace bullying, cat-calling and objectification. With assertions of power, essentially. Microaggressions were not invented by white western “feminazis” in the absence of more serious problems: they are all part and parcel of a world that still sees half the population as inferior.

As far as I am aware, I do not know any men that have raped or sexually assaulted anyone. But I do know, and have often seen, men being cavalier with a woman’s consent, whether by being drunkenly, aggressively or simply physically threatening.

I know even more men who have seen this, known this to be true, and yet still done nothing.

To stand passively by while your friends make rape jokes, or grab strangers in a bar, or have sex with a completely intoxicated woman doesn’t make you personally culpable – but it does make you complicit.

Men: it is not enough to stand in solidarity with women, retweeting their #MeToo stories and condemning high-profile rapists. It’s not enough to not be a predator. It’s not enough to point the finger at them. You have to actively fight them with us.

Women alone cannot shoulder the burden of speaking out, sharing their pain for the world’s dissection and risking their own wellbeing and career to confront sexual assault. We may be powerful, but we’re only half the population – with far less than half the socioeconomic clout or political representation.

It’s hard enough for a sexually active feminist these days to navigate things like consent, sexuality without sexual objectification, risk evaluation and problematic role play.

Men complaining about their newfound nervousness when it comes to come-ons are adding to our burden, and failing to realise that it’s on all of us to consider the nuance of consent.

I’ve yet to see significant changes in male behaviour beyond increased sensitivity about rape scenes and off-colour jokes along the lines of: “You can’t be too careful where you put your hand these days.”

Men need to talk to their female friends and family, ask them questions and listen to their experiences. But crucially, they must also talk to their male friends. Call out their behaviour and question their own, even when it may seem innocuous – and to not just do so when there are women present, or the world is watching.

I’ll believe that we’re really getting somewhere when a group of men sit together in the pub having a serious discussion about consent, violence and their own role in both. The ball’s in your court.

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