Last weekend I was faced with (what I thought) was my first #metoo moment. An incident when a lady says “no” and a guy continues to be inconsiderate and idiotic! Then, when pointed out, instead of apologising, walks away pretending to be offended.
We were at a cottage holiday among friends and family. The details of the incident are not important. Fact is it happened so quickly that almost 15 people didn’t notice it, but it didn’t matter that they didn’t notice. A moment of indiscretion in a public setting, made someone uncomfortable, brought back bad memories. The lady responded like most ladies do, retreated from the common area and went and spent some time with herself. Apparently that wasn’t a hint enough for the guy to get the fact that he had done something discomforting and wrong. It wasn’t obvious to him.
As the evening progressed, when the lady joined the group again, the guy went up to her and ‘innocently’ inquired ‘what happened?’. At this point the lady lost it and gave him a proper telling off ending with ‘… for me this is a #metoo moment!’. At that point, everyone’s ears perked up, everyone heard it, and everyone was suddenly aware something had gone wrong. The reaction of that guy and the other guys in the group was an eye-opener for me. None of them actually got what had preceded before that telling off.
There on, instead of focusing on why was there a need for the outburst, guys in the group were – ‘why bring up #metoo?’, ‘both should apologise to each other!’, ‘he didn’t mean to’ WTAF are you talking here mate! You just sounded like the orange faced cretin, where he said ‘there were fine people on both sides’ after Charlottesville, when a pig of a person mowed down a protestor with a car? Yes, you sound like that, when you say ‘both should apologise’… or ‘why did she say it publicly?’… f***’s sake, it happened publicly, so why should it not be said publicly!
I was stunned that the guys were asking these questions or saying these things. For them apparently #metoo was some ‘high bar for nasty, criminal behaviour’. I spent nearly the entire night trying to explain that it wasn’t the case, there was only one person in the wrong here, and only one person needed to apologise. I think I failed. Sadly! While I went and apologised profusely for the evening ruined, to our friend, the rest of the guys were worried about ‘establishing’ wrong behaviour and dissecting ‘why did she say #metoo?’
But things didn’t stop there, it got worse when, during my attempt to apologise for the incident, one of the ladies said “what happened is statistically true given the size of the group”. At this, two guys threw a hissy fit, as to how is that possible? They completely failed to see, it had already happened! Intentional or not, we were in a room where a woman had complained that she was made to feel physically uncomfortable by one of us. Instead of acknowledging that, they were still trying to agree what had happened actually warranted the use of the term #metoo, ugh!
The next day, when everyone had slept it over, before parting ways, the lady made a supreme effort go up to the guy and ask, “I wasn’t in a mood to listen to you last night, is there anything you wanted to say now?”, instead of apologizing profusely, his response (paraphrased) was ‘let bygones be bygones’!
Guys, I am writing this down in hopes that it will get into your head, maybe not today, someday…
- Social norms and values are very dynamic and fluid, if you are not tuned to them when in a social setting, you should dial yourself down to a point were you approach things conservatively.
- If you know and are aware of a social boundary, don’t try to push it in the name of occasion, how much alcohol you’ve had, or who initiated a chain of event.
- If you realise you’ve crossed a boundary, whether on your own or by direct/indirect prompts, the only thing that will fix it is an unconditional apology at the very first opportunity you get. You may not understand why your seemingly innocuous actions were construed as an invasion of privacy or personal space, it only means you need to try to learn more, sincerely. Don’t try to brush it off with a ‘I didn’t mean it’!
- The longer you take you apologise, the deeper the hurt gets and more difficult it becomes to treat it as an ‘honest mistake’. Taking 72 hours to talk about it, borders on acknowledgement of guilt, and then making it about yourself during the apology just makes it a non-apology and meaningless.
- It is not about your intention ‘interpreted wrong’, it is about your actions resulting if someone feeling uncomfortable, due to myriad reasons possible.
- Don’t feign innocence because no one complained to you before. Being human means being different from others in many many ways. You are not expected to know all the ways, but if someone says you goofed up, then admit it, learn from it, apologise genuinely, and back off.
- Don’t make it about yourself. Getting accused of improper behaviour may come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t shock you into inaction. Quite the opposite, it should shock you into action. If you are among friends, it gives you an opportunity to course correct, introspect and come out a better person. The moment you make it about yourself because ‘it never happened to you before’ or ‘no one said it to you before’ you have lost it and probably the friendship.
Women should NOT have to cry out a hashtag for you to sit up and listen to her disagreements about personal space. Apart from the criminal behaviour that has brought #metoo to the fore, any of the following can bring back bad memories that are hurtful and hence just as detestable and protest-able
- Every time you ‘did not hear’ her protest about encroachment of private space, however mild it was. A no is a no is a no!
- Every time you forced a physical contact that may have been appropriate in another scenario (A hug as a greeting is not the same as hugging/touching when, say you are playing a game that doesn’t actually need such interaction)!
- Every time you don’t try your hardest, to avoid physical contact in a public place, and don’t apologise for contact that was unavoidable (for example – crowded trains, buses, public transport are not a license to ‘lean in’ or ‘touch’),
- Every time you threatened her with violence (don’t have to perpetuate, just being vocal is bad enough)
- Every time you questioned a woman’s complaint about being uncomfortable/sick/nauseous etc. about a certain action, speech or gesture.
If you think getting the above is ‘hard’, imagine what goes through women when one or more of those things happens to them in varying frequencies over their lifetime!
For everyone who recognises what I have written here and still say ‘but…’ I present to you, Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
It was a very sobering few days for me, needing much introspection and how I (and guys in general) go about and how women have go about, socially. Even though I wasn’t the aggravator in this case, I have been around women who have been hurt and have not protested, or not been apologised to, for the hurt… it actually took someone near and dear to yell #metoo for me to understand that it happens far too often even in our closest circles. I guess it wasn’t my first #metoo event after all, just the one I heard clearly! Now pardon me while I go introspect my follies and figure out the apologies I owe!