First Steps Towards Our Daughters Never Having to Say #MeToo

We disparage what we don't understand which leads to disrespect

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Rob Call (CC by 2.0)

How did we get here? It’s both unfortunate and understandable that we have arrived here in the #MeToo era. Yes, there are those men who just don’t care about women, and those whose brains have been corrupted by power. Then there are so many men who just don’t understand women. Herein lies a major root of #MeToo.

“What do women want?” is an age-old question.

Women will be happy to tell you if you ask. And men have. What keeps the mystery going is that the answers are so different from how men think and operate that they’re too often tossed out, simply because some of them don’t seem to make sense.

Ira Glass once asked a researcher on This American Life why she thought her hypothesis was so far off her actual results. The researcher’s answer was that she had assumed the teenage subjects in the experiment would be a lot more like she had been at that age. Ira Glass commented, “Ah, the mistake that rules the world.”

A woman wants to be understood for who she is, how she thinks, what’s important to her, how she feels and why she feels what she feels. Perhaps you’ve had this conversation:

Sam sees that look on Sally’s face. He says, “What’s the matter?”

Sally: “You didn’t even listen to what I was saying.”

Sam: “Yes, I did. I told you what I thought about it and what you should do.”


Sam: “What now?”

Sally: “I wanted you to understand how I felt when my colleague was talking to me that way today. He was so patronizing.”

Sam: “Yeah, I heard you and I told you what you should say to him. I don’t get it, why are you upset with me?”

Sam responded to Sally as he’d like anyone to respond to him, which is to offer a solution. What Sally wanted was for Sam to understand that she felt humiliated and undermined. She wasn’t looking for his solutions.

Knowledge and understanding leads to greater respect and sensitivity. What men don’t understand about women contributes to the eye-rolling in the ‘boys club.’ They make judgements that women are illogical and too emotional, especially at ‘that time of the month.’

It’s no wonder that disrespect prevails. We tend to disparage what we don’t understand or relate to. This lack of understanding and the corresponding disrespect are at the root of #MeToo. It’s a rare woman who cannot say “me too.” What does this say about what is missing in the education of young men? There are many times men don’t know how badly their behavior is received

Much is being asked of men today and I believe men can rise to the challenge. Men are expected to be supportive and attuned to their female partners. This requires a different skill set than what was needed for the well-defined roles of the past.

John Gottman writes, “no other single thing in a man’s life will be as important as how he understands and responds to a woman’s emotions, especially the negative ones.” 

There is a great need for relationship education in our culture. Why aren’t fathers telling their sons that women walk around with a level of fear unknown to men? That what you think might be innocently playful could scare her and put her on guard. They don’t tell their sons because they don’t know.

Men need to know how women are different in some fundamental ways. They need to know so they can teach their sons. When their sons then teach their sons, not only can #MeToo fade away, but the bulk of gender-related conflicts.

Understanding can’t happen without listening. Really listening means being fully attentive. It means not interrupting. It means saying “Help me understand why you felt dismissed?” If you ask, “Do you think you could’ve done . . .?,” she’ll feel abandoned. She’ll let you know if she wants your help to problem-solve.

Shaking your head, glancing at your phone, looking away lets her know that you’re not listening to what she has to say. She gets the message you’re judging her, disagreeing with her and just waiting until she’s done talking so you can tell her so.

It’s highly unlikely that you woke up that morning and said to yourself, “Hmm . . .how can I hurt Stacy today?” Of course not. But you did, unintentionally, by not listening.

Women do want to be desired sexually. This is a complicated one for men. How can you demonstrate your desire and not be a creep? You might be understandably confused about how to find a balance between being respectful and considerate, and being passionate. You may be cautious for fear of offending her.

It can be confusing when you hear women want a man who’s sensitive and capable of talking about his feelings. It’s not such a leap for you to assume this means she wants a gentle lover. Women can be a walking contradiction because this same woman may want to be ravished or desired passionately.

The answer to this mystery is good communication. It’s dangerous to assume that any one woman wants the same approach as the next woman. Talking about sex is uncomfortable for many people, but the alternative is literally and figuratively groping in the dark.

The #MeToo movement is highlighting that we are very much in need of a different kind of national conversation. This does not fall only on men’s shoulders. It is now also women’s responsibility to be a part of this dialogue.

We learn what we observe in our families as children and adopt tons of mythology from our peers and the media.

With a growth in understanding between men and women, #MeToo can begin to fade away.

Deborah J Fox, MSW is a psychotherapist in DC with a specialty in relationship counseling

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