At the My Feminism Must Be Intersectional Rally in East Liberty on January 20, 2017. Photo by Jennifer Baron.

In the year since allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein and a long list of other high-profile men began to surface, we’ve started hearing women’s voices on the long-buried subjects of sexual harassment and assault, and rampant workplace sexism, in America.

Essays, interviews and the growing chorus of women saying #MeToo on social media have slowly begun exposing the remarkable extent of sexism and abuse that generations of women have lived with and still face today.

But what do men in Southwestern Pennsylvania think about the #MeToo movement, and about sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence in our community?

New research released today by the Southwest PA Says No More initiative, with support from the FISA Foundation, asked that question and found some interesting answers.

“The #MeToo movement has exposed the scope of harassment and violence in the lives of women. We believe that abuse is preventable, but teaching risk-reduction strategies to women won’t solve this issue,” the group explains in the introduction to their report.

“In recent years, many men have joined women in speaking out against abuse, calling out abusers, demanding accountability from institutions and promoting healthy respectful relationships. But many men have gone quiet during #MeToo,” the report says. “We wanted to know what men think about violence against women, a year into the #MeToo movement. So, we asked them.”

Here are some key findings:

  • The men surveyed clearly see a problem: 71 percent acknowledge that domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment against women are “common experiences.”
  • But there seems to be a disconnect in how they perceive the behavior of most men. The majority — 86 percent — say that “most men respect women and oppose harassment and abuse committed against women.” And yet 74 percent said they or someone close to them has personally experienced some form of domestic violence, sexual harassment and/or sexual assault.
  • Nearly all of those surveyed — 89 percent — agree that “Men like me have an important role to play in preventing violence and harassment against women.” But men are split in how they think allegations should be responded to: 47 percent say we should tend to believe allegations unless hard evidence disproves them, while 54 percent think we should be skeptical about accusations unless hard evidence is shown.
  • More than half (59 percent) think victims are generally treated fairly after abuse is disclosed, but less than half (42 percent) think people who are accused of abuse or harassment are treated fairly. 51 percent said they are “concerned that #MeToo has gone or will go overboard.”
  • Another discovery: While women in Southwestern PA and nationwide have been discussing these issues since the #MeToo movement began, this survey finds that it isn’t being discussed among men. Only 22 percent said they have discussed this subject with other men and 58 percent said no one has “talked to them about how to recognize the warning signs of abusive behavior.” (Although when the group is broken down by age, that number improves slightly. Among men 18-35, only 41 percent say no one has ever talked to them about recognizing abusive male behavior.)
  • Nearly one-third of men surveyed say they are “willing to talk about these issues, in order to prevent domestic violence, sexual assault or sexual harassment.” But while 90 percent say schools, law enforcement and business leaders should do more to prevent abuse and harassment, only eight percent say they have initiated conversations about prevention with employers. Even fewer have spoken with other organizations — four percent have brought up the subject with elected officials, two percent have spoken with religious leaders and one percent have spoken with someone at their child’s school.
  • An encouraging 81 percent support more awareness around how to report abusive behavior in the workplace and 82 percent support “strong and consistently applied policies against inappropriate or illegal harassment or abuse in the workplace.” But only half report that their own employer has taken steps to address domestic violence, sexual assault or sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • One in four men surveyed say they’ve reflected on whether they have made a woman feel uncomfortable and 18 percent say they have made changes in their behavior around women. One-fifth say that in the past year they’ve told someone that a joke they made about women was inappropriate, and 26 percent say they are willing to do that in the future.
  • 38 percent of men surveyed say they are “willing to intervene if they witness or find out about abuse or harassment” and just slightly fewer — 35 percent — say they would be willing to offer support to a victim of abuse or harassment. (And 25 percent say they have offered support to an abuse or harassment victim this year.)

The study’s organizers say that while the vast majority of men acknowledge that harassment and abuse are common experiences for women, and most say it’s important to believe women who speak publicly about their experiences and to take action to prevent abuse, “there is a gap in putting these beliefs into action.”

“If the 90 percent of men who believe that ‘Men like me have an important role to play in preventing violence and harassment against women’ each took a small step to put their beliefs into action,” the study concludes, “it would profoundly change the culture.”

These results were released today at the Point Park Center for Media Innovation.

Melissa Rayworth

Kidsburgh Editor Melissa Rayworth specializes in stories about culture, gender, design and parenting. She has written for a variety of outlets in the U.S. and Asia, and is a frequent contributor to The...