The #MeToo movement has brought hundreds, even thousands, of complaints about sexual harassment and assault to the surface, most obviously about famous men, starting with film mogul Harvey Weinstein, with many Hollywood women finally speaking out about unwanted advances.
This type of public conversation traveling like wildfire across TV, newspapers and social media eventually affects the rest of us, who are not famous, but nevertheless live in the cultural landscape of the day. While #MeToo has sometimes re-triggered pain, or a certain sense of relief from speaking out, for some women, the related impact is that many men are increasingly on edge around their female dates or colleagues.
Before #MeToo became part of the daily conversation, men “... didn’t have to worry as much about what they do and say,” said Kristina Drumheller, a professor at West Texas A&M University who studies leadership and culture. “This movement has made some men question what they do in the workplace, and it has made some nervous.”
In personal relationships, too, the territory around sexual relationships is increasingly sensitive.
“The accusations against famous men were in one sense far from the people I saw,” said psychotherapist Avi Klein, whose clients are mostly men in New York City. But the public accusations are relevant to questions his male clients often bring to therapy. Questions men ask like, “Why did they so misunderstand the women in their lives? Why were they often being accused of hurting them?”
Klein said some of his male clients are confused about the idea that many women seem to prefer men who are decisive and “strong,” while that behavior may now be seen as manipulative, aggressive or even threatening. This is especially an issue among men who are dating and don’t know the women well enough to feel comfortable launching into a conversation about sensitive topics.
“Most men have spent little time with their feelings and have very limited vocabulary to describe what is going on in their hearts,” said Klein. The #MeToo
movement is forcing men “... to engage with topics that they would have earlier avoided.”
One example of the struggles some men have with identifying their feelings, said Klein is, “...a newly single photographer has done such a good job of disconnecting from his feelings that he can’t ever really tell if he’s had a good time on a date.”
In some says, the upheaval that’s come with #MeToo is having a positive effect on those men who face what they might consider manipulative or unfeeling behavior, perhaps putting their need to “perform” sexually or have a “conquest” above the needs or feelings of the woman. Klein said one of his clients realized he had made a women he dated uncomfortable, so he invited her for coffee and apologized. This kind of reflection and honesty can be the seed of a healthy relationship.
Men, of course, are also victims of sexual assault and abuse. While many say they admire women who are speaking out, some men wonder if they will receive the same kind of public empathy and understanding if they go public with their own experiences.
"Because the movement happened to get its start with women only, in a way it furthers my loneliness as a past victim," said Chris Brown, a University of Minnesota music professor. He was among several men who in December 2017 accused renowned conductor James Levine of abusing them as teens several decades ago, leading to Levine's firing by the Metropolitan Opera Company.
Joan Cook, a psychiatry professor at Yale School of Medicine, has been treating sexually abused men for more than 20 years.
"Many of them still espouse this John Wayne mentality," said Cook. "If something bad happens to you, just wall it off and don't acknowledge it to yourself or others."
She said some of her patients fear they'll be perceived as weak if they go public about their abuse, while others worry people will view them as more likely to be abusers themselves because of the trauma they suffered. Most victims of sexual abuse, however, do not become abusers, according to the support group MaleSurvivor.
While these affirmations that are the foundation for healing in the MaleSurvivor community, they are obviously words of guidance for all men and women recovering from sexual abuse:
The most important action for male or female survivors of sexual abuse is to find a therapist you trust and with that professional guidance, take consistent steps to healing.
Klein, Avi, “What Men Say about #MeToo in Therapy,” The New York Times, June 30, 2018
Paquette, Danielle, “Men are Concerned about What #MeToo is Doing to Men at Work,” Washington Post, April 4, 2018
Associated Press, “Some Male Sexual Assault Victims Feel Left Behind by #MeToo,” CBS News, April 19, 2018
Graf, Nikki, “Sexual Harassment at Work in the Era of #MeToo,” Pew Research Center, April 4, 2018