We must stop praising men for their #MeToo reactions

by Cecilia Winterfox

The amount of praise for men on the internet these past days of #MeToo leaves me sick to the stomach. Let them not be met with praise for "speaking out" as women are not met with praise. Let them experience instead the cold, lonely reality of being someone who speaks out which is this:

You will be unpopular. You will be thought untrustworthy. People will find you annoying. Long-time friends will tire of your newfound "opinionism" and your miserable intent on being "politically correct" and ruining their fun. People will suggest you lighten up, and that it is your attitude that is the real problem. You will hear whispers that you are a drama queen, an attention seeker, perhaps even mentally unstable. These whispers will come from people whose support you thought could count on, like coworkers or your own family. You will be known as the office killjoy. You will be excluded from social events, your career may suffer. You will fight argument after argument where you are expected to offer up statistics only to be met not with additional facts but with increasing irritation about how those facts make the person feel - only to be told that it is you who is irrational.

You will want to stop. You will want to go back to the world you were in before, when you let things slide and people liked you.

And then later, off the record, people who didn't stand up for you at the time will come to you with their pain. You will hear stories you are unequipped to deal with and you will listen.

If you commit to "speaking out" you must do so consistently and in the real world where there are no comment threads with endless thanks and heart emojis declaring you "good" or "a legend". You may experience recriminations, exclusion, closing of ranks, the loss of relationships and the unasked for role of confidante and still, still you must speak out because you are not the victim here.

Women, we must stop praising men for emotive declarations of good intentions. Frankly this bar is too damned low. The impulse to soothe and placate runs deep, but few things are more humiliating than the gratitude that comes when men declare they are moved by our stories of sexual abuse and them lauded where we have been disbelieved and despised. At least people are listening, right? No more. We must recognise this pattern as rooted in same power imbalance that gives rise to abuse in the first place.

The familiar cycle with any zeitgeist whereby intentions fade away as real world consequences of solidarity become apparent should at the very least warrant a healthy holding-off of fireworks as men post their reactions to #MeToo. But there also is an immediate political loss when enthusiasm and encouragement serve to spotlight men and their lightbulb moments: it re-centres them, invokes the hero narrative and affirms the paternal authority that comes with the position of benevolence. In short, we risk closing the loop on whatever momentum has been generated by the #MeToo hashtag by implying it has somehow "worked" or "achieved its goal" because men have... become more aware on Facebook? No. The job ain't done yet.

Plenty of men have expressed genuine interest in joining the fight against sexual violence but without knowing how or what it will cost. We do them no favors by showing them that basic-decency-said-out-loud will be met with gratitude and assurances that they are "good guys". Hold the bar higher - in fact let them hold it. Insist they be held to account, and that account will be taken after they have gone out among friends and colleagues repeatedly and been met not with praise but with isolation and rebuke, and even then only after they have shown they will keep working despite this, long after notions of heroism have been stamped out by the inevitable misery of being One Who Speaks Out.

We are at a crucial point where we can generate change - but so many crucial points in history have been lost to sentiment. We need not repeat that here. If we are to honour the courage of those who have shared with us their #MeToo stories, let us direct our political efforts collectively. Let men's declarations echo in the silence of expectation so that they meet each other without buffer. Let the resonance build free from false accolades until it speaks of action and results. Let it grow until it is ready to join the long-held voices of women and we can finally tell the story of revolution.