Skip to main content

Instead of fixating on celebs, talk to your friends about sexual misconduct

Carly Lewis is a Toronto-based writer and critic.

The barrage of sexual-harassment and assault accusations out of Hollywood has been overwhelming to process. As of Jan. 11, The New York Times counts 51 men in its running tally of high-profile individuals who've fallen from power after recent allegations of sexual misconduct. This list is limited to allegations made after Oct. 5, and only those in the United States. In addition, the Times lists 27 men who've "experienced fallout short of resignation, such as being suspended." That's 78 men in total, all of them public figures. It is important that we know their names. And it is important that we know what they've allegedly done.

But with celebrities and public figures at the heart of the conversation, it can be tempting to interpret the cascade as a distant spectacle. Those of us on the outside of grandiose Hollywood culture have always watched from afar. The lavish Beverly Hills and Tribeca hotel rooms, the teams of spry, complicit associates, the Golden Globe Awards becoming a site of glamorous protest – it can be challenging to apply these scenarios to our own lives. Many of us can identify with elements of these stories. But the people within them are far away.

Story continues below advertisement

This focus on celebrities affords the rest of us a sense of helplessness that too often manifests as complacency. Since the Weinstein story broke, I've had many conversations with friends and colleagues who will vigorously condemn the misconduct of celebrities but continue to fraternize with male acquaintances who've done the same things.

All of the questioning, confusion, frustration, pain, scrutiny and reckoning that we've directed toward Hollywood since October could and should be applied to our own social groups – which, of course, is a much more arduous task than interrogating celebrity strangers. But what allegedly happened in Aziz Ansari's apartment has happened to plenty of women I know. We are surrounded by such men all the time.

Your day-to-day existence will carry on unscathed if you disengage from the moral hideousness of continuing to watch Woody Allen films. Having to sit down with a friend or family member and say, "Hey, I'd like to talk about the allegations of sexual misconduct being levelled against you," now that's difficult work. And doing it is essential.

I worry that in expressing this I'll be inherently adding to a burden already disproportionally carried by women. So I'll be clear and say that I'm mostly writing this for men. (I said mostly. Not entirely.)

The resurgence of #MeToo has made it undeniably apparent that sexual harassment and assault are pervasive. The onslaught of our favourite celebrities being accused of sexual misconduct has proven that even those we admire and whose politics align with ours can commit abuse.

The infamous spreadsheet of "media men," its roster a revelation of alleged actions ranging from inappropriate comments to sexual assault, attempted date rape and physical violence, has shown us that it's the men we work with, too, men we call our friends.

In my case, a man who once tagged along to a Christmas party at my parents' house – he's on there, among the very worst of them.

Story continues below advertisement

You can strive to keep good, moral company and still be proximate to abuse. What needs to happen now is not a cull per se, but a "calling in" of our own friends.

Last spring, I tried to have this conversation with a man to whom I was close. It went so disastrously that I gave up. What I didn't have then was a practical understanding of how such a conversation should go.

On its website, Neighbours, Friends and Families, a public-education campaign funded by the Ontario Women's Directorate and managed by the Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children at the University of Western Ontario, offers guidance on Talking to Abusive Men. If you have the emotional capacity to initiate that conversation, you might familiarize yourself with the campaign, which encourages being "direct and clear about what you have seen" and informing the offender that their behaviour needs to stop.

Other organizations, such as Incite! and Next Gen Men, as well as the 2006 book The Revolution Starts at Home also offer resources to help navigate the issue of an abusive friend.

The reality is that many of you – of us – are friends with men whose current and ongoing sexual behaviour resembles that of the famous men we are furious at. In every bar you go to this weekend, at every mall, every restaurant, every gym, every grocery store, on every social-media timeline, you will be among men who've committed sexual harassment or assault.

So don't just fixate on celebrities. Talk to your friends – they're right beside you.

Story continues below advertisement

Justin Trudeau is urging world business leaders to hire more women, pay them the same as men and reduce other employment barriers. The Prime Minister addressed the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on Tuesday. The Canadian Press
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons or for abuse. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.