Listening to Women About Red Flags, Part 2

[Content Note: Misogyny; rape culture.]

Yesterday, I wrote a Helpful Hints for Men piece about listening to women when they identify harmful men. In response, Peter Green tweeted at me (which I am sharing with his permission): "Thanks, very helpful. Will there be a sequel, what to do after you've listened to and believed her?"

So here it is.

The thing about being socialized in a patriarchy is that men are entrained to fix things and to not ask for help. Insert a history of hacky comedians' jokes about how men won't stop for directions. The reason those jokes exist is not, however, because of something innate to (cis) men, but because of patriarchal socialization.

And being socialized to fix things and to not ask for help means that lots of men (not all men, and not only men) are inclined to respond to a woman telling them about red flags by trying to "fix" the situation and to determine for themselves what that "fix" is, rather than asking for direction from the woman who has come to them for support.

So, here's what to do, and what not to do.

Don't approach the situation with the presumption that anything needs to be fixed. Or, perhaps, realize that sometimes the "fix" being sought is simply to be heard and believed.

Don't imagine yourself in the role of savior. Imagine yourself behaving as ally.

Don't be a white knight. Be an accomplice in challenging a culture of abuse.

Don't view your role as protector. View your role as supporter.

Being an effective ally, an effective accomplice, an effective supporter is utterly contingent upon understanding the needs of the person to whom you want to act as ally, accomplice, supporter.

Guessing, or simply imposing your will about what you think should happen over hers, is a terrible idea—because if all she wants is support, then meddling in some other way might actually make her feel unsupported.

It could also make her less safe.

Just as many women have learned through a lifetime of experience to identify subtle signals of potential harm, we have also learned how to intuitively assess, as much as any person is ever able, which courses of action might escalate a situation with a potentially harmful man, even when they are the very things we are told we should be doing.

And it's important to recognize that if you act in a way that escalates the situation, the blowback won't be on you; it will land on her.

Acting in the way that makes her feel safest, even if you want to do more or do things differently, is crucial, because your privilege will (likely) insulate you from retributive measures from the harmful man being identified.

Listen to her, and then listen to her more.

Ultimately, maybe listening is all she wants, in a particular situation. Maybe, in another situation, she'd like you to back her up in a report to HR. Maybe she just wants you to never leave her alone with this guy during game night; maybe she wants you to stop inviting him to game night altogether.

The best thing to do is straightforwardly ask: "What can I do to best support you?" Let her tell you. And then do that.

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