When women talk, men should listen

Published 4:33 am Monday, October 23, 2017

Some years back a friend provided one of the best life lessons I’ve ever had, though it didn’t feel too welcome at the time.

We were on a charter flight to Cancún, Mexico, and I was giving the head flight attendant the what for about having served hamburgers that were still frozen in the middle. She took offense to my objection.

I had justice on my side and alcohol in my bloodstream. The confrontation escalated. Slowly, I heard a chorus coming from the observers, led by that friend:

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Shut! Up! Joe! Shut! Up! Joe!

Ouch. But I’ve learned since then how often that advice is still good. Like just the other day.

I had ventured into the Harvey Weinstein controversy over the sexual harassment of women with a social post suggesting that, while some men are obviously jerks, most aren’t.

I used a stronger word than “jerk” – as did the respondents. But, perhaps because I had expressed it, my comment seemed eminently reasonable to me. And some women agreed.

But, to my surprise, alternative viewpoints were soon expressed. Some of them vehemently alternative.

“No,” one woman responded. “Most are jerks. It’s a lot like racism – it infects the culture and our socialization so much that even those who don’t think of themselves as jerks can be jerks.”

And some, while agreeing, focused on the larger point. Like this:

“I’ve been harassed by men since I was at least 12. The last time was last week. Bosses. Men I’ve been out on dates with. Coaches. Co-workers. Customers when I worked retail. It eats away at you, makes you question your worth, talent and intelligence. It sucks. Not all men, no.”

And this:

“I certainly don’t think most men are jerks. I do, however, think that most men will excuse such behavior (‘boys will be boys,’ ‘oh, that’s just Harvey being Harvey’), diminish the woman reporting (‘It wasn’t THAT big a deal, was it?’), and remain silent when they see a man treating a woman that way. … Until men get that it doesn’t matter that they themselves aren’t jerks if they’re complicit in other men’s jerkiness, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

And still another, this:

“To describe the way men have been abusive to me would fill a book. Not all men in my life have been abusive. But, to a man, almost all of them have needed assurance that they are good guys. Guys, if you are not sure, I can’t help you.”

One friend sent a link to an article about all the abusive behavior women face that men generally have no idea of.

“We are sexualized before we even understand what that means,” the author stated. “We develop into women while our minds are still innocent. We get stares and comments before we can even drive. From adult men. We feel uncomfortable but don’t know what to do, so we go about our lives.”

Maybe, she went on to say, women should be more vocal and not just make accommodations for all the harassment they face. And when they talk, she said, men should listen.

Which is what I’ve decided to do. And meanwhile, on this topic, to shut up.