In the past week, #MeToo – the admission of being harassed, stalked and abused – has taken over social media feeds. But once again, the onus was on those have suffered violence and not their abusers. Even though I was among the millions of women who wrote #MeToo, I couldn’t help but wonder – where are the men?

The campaign that was started a decade ago got a second life after Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused by multiple women of rape, sexual assault, harassment, bullying, among other things. Many women in the movie industry knew of this and privately warned one another to stay away from him for decades, while Weinstein carried on, unchecked. Who knows how many women he overpowered, threatened and made feel unsafe?

The #MeToo posts on Twitter and Facebook are not referring to faceless perpetrators, they refer to real men like Weinstein. The problem is clearly bigger than what women can do to protect themselves. What can men do? Plenty.

Abusive behaviour

To begin with, men need to learn how to call each other out. In my life, I’ve never seen a man do this. Not once. It is possible that sometimes they do not realise why they need to intervene in a situation to help a woman, but often, even when they do know that a friend is being inappropriate or abusive, they make excuses, or ignore it for as long as possible.

This enables some men to engage in incredibly abusive behaviour in private, with girlfriends or other women close to them. This sort of “bro, I got your back” attitude also makes it harder for women suffering at the hands of a man to speak about it, or realise that a line has been crossed. Multiple times, friends and colleagues will say the opposite of #MeToo – they will say, “Oh, I didn’t know that was abuse”. Emotional abuse is harder to prove because it does not come with visible injuries, but it is frequently as hard to get over.

When I lived in Chennai, I used to take the bus a lot. My only protectors from harassers were women my grandmother’s age who would shout at the men deliberately rubbing up against us. We knew and shared ways to stay safe – carrying safety-pins in our pockets to poke the men, elbows out at all times, and so on. The women looked out for each other, but the men, they stayed silent.

Men’s reaction

Spurred by the magnitude of women’s stories coming out, a few men have chosen to speak online recently. Their responses have ranged from supportive ones that say some version of “I will do my part to make you safer” to confessions of toxic behaviour to scepticism – “What is the point of this?” or “Do you really think it will help?” But while token solidarities are great, will men actually help women report crimes, or prevent themselves and their friends from going too far?

The confessions must have taken courage. On several of these posts too, women have thanked men for speaking up, for supporting them, for admitting their mistakes, while other men are silent. Are they introspecting?

A post on a friend’s wall did make me feel better though. Maybe he wrote it, maybe it was copy-pasted from somewhere else – it didn’t matter. Finally, there was something more than a token reassurance for women, there were actual suggestions on what to do:

1. I aim to treat people (women and men) with respect 
2. I aim to teach my friends and family to adhere to this basic principle.
3. I apologise (and will do so as many times as it is needed) for my own mistakes from which I have learned. 
4. I will aim not to repeat those mistakes or make new ones against people, women especially. 
5. I will aim to inculcate change in and around me to my capacity both physically and verbally. 
6. I take responsibility for my own actions and urge my fellow brothers to do the same.

Another great list by writer Nicole Stamp asked men to examine all the areas of their lives in which they may be expecting too much labour from the women around them, taking up their space, treating them as less-than.

And finally this blog which asks men to consider what percentage of Harvey Weinstein-like behaviour they may be practising in their own lives without realising it:

Have you ever felt entitled to a woman’s time or energy?
Have you ever talked over a woman coworker or excluded her from a project because it would be easier socially without her?
Have you ever been annoyed when a woman caused a problem with a complaint against a co-worker?
Have you ever interrupted a woman?
Have you ever felt angry at her when she was direct with you?
Have you ever called your ex crazy?

Men changing their behaviour might be the only way forward, because this is not the first time women have used social media and protests to be heard. How much longer will survivors of sexual violence have to keep talking about what happened before things start to change?