We’ve all heard that we need to keep people accountable, especially the men in our lives. Of course, this is easier said than done. Navigating the nitty gritty particulars of each situation can be a challenge, whether in a professional setting or between friends. As a woman, I want to stand up for myself but it always comes with guilt. I’m sure many other women feel this way too, but I wanted to get the perspective of men, as well. I want to understand what makes accountability so difficult and how we can all better understand each other. I’d like to start with a personal narrative. Then I will share some thoughts from both men and women that I have interviewed to hopefully gain more clarity.
At the first university I attended, I went to a house party about two weeks into the term. A guy drugged me and took advantage of me. I spent the remainder of the night locked out of my hall and the next morning crying in the shower. I didn’t know much about this boy. Soon, I found out that he was rich, well connected, and everyone in his field wanted him in their group. The school was competitive and everyone wanted to grab all the resources they could. This was understandable, but it became a source of stress for me. My closest group of friends at that school were in the same major as this boy. They knew what had happened to me. I didn’t want to hold them back in their passions, so I turned a blind eye to their association.
How everyone reacted
My girl friends who worked with him began to avoid the subject as a whole. However, I heard them talking about all the money, resources, and skills he was bringing to the table. I could tell they felt fortunate to have met him. We were all in majors that are hard to succeed in. I didn’t want to make it harder for them. I didn’t want them to feel guilty on my behalf.
One day, when I was sitting in the common room, my guy friend came back from working on a project. He was in such a terrible mood and I was concerned. But, when I asked him if he wanted to talk about it, he shrugged me off. I didn’t want to pry, so I let it go. Over the course of that week, I saw less and less of him and it bothered me. I wondered if I had done something wrong, but he seemed to be angry towards everyone. Ultimately, this worried me more. After about two weeks of this, I tried to approach him again to ask if he needed anything. He said he was having issues with someone in his group, but didn’t want me caught up in it.
Through the grapevine, I found out that he had refused to continue working with the guy I had problems with. Because of this, he was facing some harassment and judgment from fellow peers and even professors. I knew he didn’t want me in the middle, but I had to talk to him about it. I felt so guilty, like I was getting in the way of his success. Finally, we had that conversation. He told me that yes, that boy had resources and connections. Yes, he learned a lot from him that he never had the opportunity to before. But ultimately, he said he couldn’t get over what he did to me. I told him that I didn’t want him to have my baggage.
What I learned
That day, he taught me something important about standing up for myself. He said, “this isn’t just about you. He treats women like nothing. I work with him. I see the way he thinks, and in our work, it’s incredible. But the person he is, the way he treats the other girls on our team, I can’t stomach it.”
I said to him, “but I don’t want you to be behind or left out.” He told me that people should not just do things out of convenience. He said he could never be proud of anything he created with that boy. He said, “Yes, this is a hard field to make a name in, but it is never worth it to step on others to gain success. Even if I have to wait a hundred years to meet someone good that can guide me in the same way, it is better than taking this route.” He assured me that this wasn’t just because we were friends.
I felt a support that I wasn’t getting from any of my other friends. My roommate blamed me for being taken advantage of. She told me that it wasn’t lady like to go to parties with alcohol in the first place. So I always felt unsafe, even in my own room. This felt like a breath of fresh air, but I still felt guilty, and even now, I still do.
The boy who took advantage of me is incredibly successful in his field today. I’m not in touch with that friend anymore. I wonder from time to time if he ever regretted his decision. I wonder if it made things harder than necessary for his future. But I understand what he told me, and I appreciate the sentiment. I do agree with it because I would never step on someone else for my own success. It just feels different when someone else does it for you, like you made someone sacrifice something huge for you.
Sometimes, it seems to me like such an obvious choice. Why aren’t these men standing up for us? It seems weak. It seems like something small to give up for a greater cause. So I wanted to get the opinions of some people I don’t know. Now that I’ve given my story, I’ll share the quotes I received from those I spoke to.
“I’m one of the only women at a very competitive firm. I’ve been told that I’m being “abrasive” or even “too idealistic” when I stand up for myself. A few men empathize with me when certain situations arise, but feel that it would be too big of a risk to fully stand up for me. I used to think I was expecting too much but now I realize that it’s not okay. Women are forced to sacrifice so much all the time. We have to fight extra hard for a seat at the table. Men have so much power to change things and they have so much less to lose. We are all a part of this world, so if women are fighting tooth and nail, then our fellow men must, too.” –Anonymous woman, age 36
“I had a group of friends who always made sexist jokes. I grew up with a lot of strong female influences, like my mom, sister, and aunt. So these jokes would make me uncomfortable but I used to not say anything. One day when I was hanging out with those guys and my girlfriend, she asked me why I never spoke up. I said I felt kind of uncomfortable. She was like, ‘well, women have to go through way more uncomfortable things all the time. Grow up.’
Honestly, this really opened my eyes because I was like, ‘wait a minute. Why am I trying so hard to get the respect of people who are so disrespectful? They clearly don’t respect girls, and if they don’t respect me when I tell them to knock it off because it makes me uncomfortable, why do I even want to be around these guys?’ Thankfully, I have much better friends these days.” -Arnav, age 27
“I think a lot of men feel pressure or pride to say anything against misogyny. Sometimes, it’s still there in me but I try to work on it. At the end of the day, I can’t have so much pride that I’m involved in destroying someone else’s [a woman’s] pride.” –Matthew, age 47
“Why is it so hard for us women to stand up for ourselves? Why are we not allowed to have the same level of ego that men innately have from birth? Because they’re raised that way and we aren’t. But we aren’t lesser than them, we aren’t asking for something crazy. All we’re asking for is to be treated the same.” –Pooja, age 15
“Men’s egos get bruised really easily. I think I can say that as a guy. But us guys are also like, ‘we need to defend women, we need to be chivalrous.’ We see ourselves as heroes, but we get to pick and choose when it’s convenient to stand up for someone? That’s the wrong part. You see something, you say something.” -Henry, age 23
“So, before this little interview, you showed me your story. And it really made me think. I think you shouldn’t feel guilty and that your friend was right. Your own success is never worth it if it comes from bloodied hands. It can be awkward to have those conversations with guys, but I’m sure guys are putting y’all in much more awkward positions.
We’re all human so it makes me feel like, why are we ignoring a huge problem that half of the world is facing? They always say men are strong but this is an enormous problem that exposes us for being much weaker. Women are really strong for what they go through on a daily basis but they shouldn’t have to be this strong. We need to take responsibility and some of that pain off their shoulders. It’s the least we can do. Really just such a minuscule thing. It does’t need to be this huge decision.” –Rohit, age 25
“To be very blunt, I just don’t understand what the discussion is. Why is this such a huge deal for men? Because they might lose a friend who is not even a good person? I just don’t get how they can feel good about it or how they’re able to compartmentalize or separate such a bad thing.” -Rachel, age 24
“I think we see this behavior a lot in professional settings. Men don’t want to get their hands dirty or be accused of being a “feminist.” Personally, as a man, I don’t know why we see that as such a bad word. We’re like, ‘hey, hey, no I’m not all that,” when we should be proudly claiming it. I don’t know why we’re looking to other men for approval. At this point in the world, we should be turning to the women.” –Sam, age 56
“When I was in college, I would not have had the courage to do what your friend did, so a lot of props to him. But I have regrets because of this. Now that I’m married and I have a daughter, I realize that men put women’s in harm’s way just because it’s slightly more convenient for us. It’s good that you’re asking these questions because I think we all need to really think about how we stand up for people, regardless of if we know them or not.” -Anonymous, man, age 30
“You know what? These men are just cowards. I lost almost all of my friends because I stood up against some sexist sh*t they were doing. I was lonely for years and it sucked but not really. That company was garbage and it’s never worth it to just be comfortable and hurt others. They say that ‘silence is violence’ and I fully agree. Whether it’s your sister or a girlfriend or a stranger…like grow up. If I had buddied up to this one guy who was a creep, I would have gotten my dream job. I was like no thanks. And I have no regrets. You can’t just think about yourself, you have to see the bigger picture. And you know what? I have great guy friends now. It’s worth the wait. Don’t settle boys.”
-Anthony, age 29
“Yeah, I’ve had men try to have their cake and eat it too. Like, console me and be like, ‘yeah what so-and-so said to you was wrong.’ But then they go back and be buddy-buddy with those guys. I won’t stand for it anymore because this halfhearted stuff just doesn’t work. Women don’t have that privilege.” -Anonymous woman, age 16
“We’re putting our women in really uncomfortable and dangerous situations. As a man, it may feel like you’re sacrificing something huge, like your “masculinity” or even a job prospect to stand up for them. Trust me, you’re not. It’s nothing compared to what they go through. Women go through crazy sh*t and their entire ego doesn’t crumble. And at the end of the day, men, you will get nowhere in life with that attitude. Sure, maybe you’ll become CEO or whatever, but you’re morally bankrupt and you die knowing you were part of one of the biggest problems in history.” -Hardik, age 28
“The fact that you feel guilty that a guy stood up for you encapsulates this whole problem perfectly. Why do these boys not feel more guilty about being bystanders just because it benefits them? They have so much internal struggle with what they’re giving up or whatever. They’re not giving up much. They just experience minor inconvenience. We give up so much everyday. I can sympathize with losing a friend or an opportunity, but I would be more sympathetic if they didn’t have such an issue with it. Like, I’d never think twice.” -Amanda, age 29
“I’ll never understand feeling like I’m sacrificing something because I’m standing up for someone. I fully believe that us guys need to be accountable. I’m not perfect and I want to be the best man I can be, so yes, please, call me out on my bullsh*t! I think it’s crazy that people continued to work with the guy who took advantage of you even if you don’t. So what if their field is hard to break into? It’s like…you’re starving and you and a homeless man see the last apple on the tree. You’re kind of a jerk if you take that apple.” -Jaden, age 17
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