Every day now we hear more accusations of sexual harassment, assault and rape against powerful and influential men. It’s a sad thing. But what’s worse is that these types of behaviors have not only been tolerated in every area of our world, but in many cases they have been encouraged. Most of the men around me have not been surprised to learn the extent of these behaviors, and understand the conditions that have allowed them to happen. But they also believe that many more revelations of such deplorable behavior will continue to come out.
As the son of a single mother, husband to an amazing wife, and father of a wonderful daughter, I am grateful for, and appreciative of, the women in my life. And, naturally, I feel very protective of them. I want them to be safe from abusive men and enjoy all the benefits and equal rights to which they are entitled. Of course, I do not expect unacceptable male behavior to vanish simply by shining a light on the problem. So I will do whatever I can to advocate for real change. At the same time, I will do whatever I can to be the best man I can be.
To this end, I’d like to share some of my observations.
I celebrate the power and courage of women everywhere who are willing to step out, share and relive what has happened to them. In doing so, they have created an opportunity to disrupt how our society views women. Negative attitudes and behaviors toward women have been tolerated for centuries. And they have changed over time only when women have fought for their equality and autonomy. But clearly they have not changed nearly enough.
In modern society, the media and entertainment industries have been a major problem for women. These outlets have driven the narrative of how women should be viewed and treated. And that narrative has not changed much over the years, even as women have gained more power and control. From the ’50s until today, women have been objectified for entertainment and the fulfillment of male sexual urges and fantasies. Images have been embedded in us through sexual content and have influenced our views of women regardless of what we believe to be the right thing.
Religion, education and the government have not done a great job of helping to define womanhood or how women should be treated. So even when the ideologies started to change, male behaviors within our institutions rarely changed along with them. In the absence of institutional leadership, the entertainment and media industries defined and visualized what a woman should be. In fact, they took control in a massive way. Film, music and eventually adult entertainment and media, including the likes of Playboy and Hustler, took things to the next level, visualizing male fantasy by casting women to perform certain things that triggered the male brain to want more than fantasy. Dominant males, who had money and resources, sought to turn fantasy into reality and used whatever means available to them to get what they wanted. Is it any surprise then that, even as ideologies about womanhood started to change, male behaviors rarely changed along with them?
This brings me to my next point: Power. Men who have power often wrestle with how they can utilize this power to fulfill their sexual desires and fantasies. For some men, power and access mean power over women to get whatever they want. They feel like they can buy anybody and buy themselves out of the troubles they cause. When males have power and influence, some feel that a true measure of their success is how many women they can catch and take advantage of. And where does this influence come from? Back to the media and entertainment. Visual entertainment relies heavily on sexuality in order to sell. And even men, who know better, find it hard to separate reality, entertainment and fantasy. Most sexual fantasy for men comes from movies and pornography. A lot about what we have been taught about sexuality also comes from these mediums. The problem is, these mediums are fictional and do not truly reflect human emotions. But we have allowed them to influence what we yearn for in our sexual relationships. In other words, fantasy drives male expectations. We are programed by the media.
Men today have an opportunity to admit where they have gone wrong with their definition and expectations of women. And they can only do this by listening to how women define themselves. Men need to learn what women’s autonomy is and how not to infringe upon it. We need to view this autonomy without being influenced by male preferences or preconceptions. This is a great starting point for men. Beginning now, we can encourage empowerment of the women in our lives, so they can be free to redefine what it means to be women and how they should be treated.
It will take time for men to reprogram centuries of perspectives and mindsets that have been instilled in us. But we need to start somewhere if we are ever going to ensure that women can feel equal and have the freedom to be themselves without being bound to male preferences. It will take some learning and listening to become better boyfriends, husbands, brothers, sons, and fathers to the women in our lives. We also need to identify our weakness when it comes to sexual urges and desires. Many of the men we are seeing on the news today felt invisible and untouchable. They believed they could demand and act upon whomever, whenever, and wherever they wanted to. They could not control their sexual urges and needed to assert their male dominance constantly. No amount of rationalizing, minimizing or ignoring can justify such behaviors. The suffering and pain men have caused woman is immeasurable. It needs to stop.
We need to do better. We must do better. We have to recognize inappropriate sexual urges and desires in order to transform and redirect our thoughts to those we love and share companionship with. We need to make sure we do not sexually harass someone with suggestive remarks or behaviors. We also need to confront our sexual thoughts and fantasies regarding women who are around us who are not our wives. If we do not identify these things, we do not have the strength to resist. We have to eliminate the possibility of acting on our fantasies by either changing our environment or removing ourselves from it. We need to remain humble, regardless of our influence, power or wealth. The people we see on the news today, who acted on their desires and urges, convinced themselves that there was nothing wrong with their behavior. Obviously they were wrong.
For men out there who have been victorious over their sexual urges and desires, please speak up to your fellow brothers and help equip them to be better to the women around them. Have the courage to confront inappropriate behavior when you see it. To the fathers out there, teach your sons to respect women and treat them with dignity. Find opportunities to introduce strong women into their lives, who can teach them how to treat women with respect.
To Women Everywhere
I am sorry. You do not deserve this. It is not acceptable. Please continue to speak up and demonstrate to us the proper definition of womanhood. Do not accept male dominance or it will continue. As our mothers, wives and sisters, confront us and teach us how to treat you better and not to minimize you in any way. Come at us with full force but also with patience. We have a lot to learn. Never justify or excuse our inappropriate behaviors. Whenever they happen, confront and condemn us.
To women in the entertainment industry, please redefine what sexuality is. You need to create different visualizations and narratives if we are going to see real change in how men see women. And be aggressive. You’ll need to be as forceful and consistent as the media and entertainment industries have been in creating negative visualizations and narratives
Male sexual desire can make it difficult to separate sexual reality from sexual fantasy. Those who allow intense urges to take over are the ones committing these negative acts frequently. Let’s stop this cycle and create a better future for women where they feel respected, equal and celebrated. We can do better guys!!!
Deo Mwano is an innovative multi-cultural leader in education, technology, leadership and social justice. He holds his BA in International Relations and History, and MBA in Strategic Leadership. Deo has many years of experience working with K-University level students, with a focus on Discipline Expertise and Action Expertise. He lives in Manchester with his wife, and their two sons and daughter.