Never contact me again.
The email was from my friend Jess*. She and I had a sort-of relationship for a few years, a long time ago. It was on and off, mostly off. I was happy to have a good time together when it required little effort, which meant when we were at the same party. We never really talked about how we felt or where it was going, if anywhere. I thought we were both ‘on the same page.’ In more recent years we’d been in touch occasionally, especially when she was going through tough times.
As I read the email, I first felt anger: “I’ve been there for her as a friend for years, and this is how she repays me!” Next, protective: “Her new boyfriend must have put her up to this–she could get dangerously isolated.” Finally, the shame slowly crept in, “I need to look at myself and understand why she doesn’t want me in her life.”
I spoke with Jess’s boyfriend (since she wouldn’t talk to me) and discovered that she felt ashamed; she felt used; she felt bad about herself because of who she had been with me and others. I truly believed that I had been a positive influence in her life, being there for her during difficult times and helping her to navigate through them. What was most shocking to me was that my perception of my impact on her life could be so different from her reality.
Now I see that I didn’t share my feelings or listen to hers. Now I see that I saw sex as a goal, consent something men ask for and women agree to. Now I see that I was guilty of objectifying women rather than seeing them as whole people. I like to think I’ve changed a lot since then, but I know for sure I still have further to go.
I feel ashamed. There’s an unfinished conversation I’ll probably never get to have, which deepens the regret. I hope her current relationship works out and that she leads a joyful, fulfilled life. The uncertainty is hard but I won’t ever contact her unless she contacts me.
I am deeply moved by the #metoo campaign. By the bravery and vulnerability of the women sharing their experiences; by the fact that the sadness that these issues and the deeper pain they cause are far more prevalent than I knew; by the realization that I am part of the problem. I resolve to do something to help myself and other men to do better.
So I am making a public commitment to a manifesto. I call it #Ichoose, and its goal is to accelerate the long, long journey to a society with true gender balance. I invite other men to join me in this set of choices.
#MeToo Led Me to #IChoose
With the #metoo campaign, women have powerfully continued to raise awareness about harassment and abuse. These two issues are just parts of the gender gap facing us today, and I believe that to close the gap we must address all of it, from harassment and abuse to subtle biases. Men must work alongside women to co-create meaningful change. Men are the majority of the problem, so the majority of the work falls to us. As a man, I suggest here only what men can do differently.
To create the #Ichoose manifesto, first I read hundreds of #metoo and #howiwillchange tweets, and some articles on the topic. Second, I wrote a draft after spending time with my wife Roxy, whose love and intelligence encourages and challenges me each day. Third, I shared it with female and male friends and carefully considered their feedback.
Articles like this, and social media posts, solve no problems and heal no pain until they cause us to change our actions. Before you react to the manifesto, please understand that it is not perfect and know that I am trying to help. I seek and welcome constructive criticism. I know that I am writing this from a position of privilege as a straight white cis male. There are many complex and important issues I have left others to address, including matters of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersectionality. I ask for understanding of my omissions and I hope that there is enough to agree with here that you can support it.
To men, if you agree with the spirit of this but not every single word, I urge you to put aside our disagreements in service of the overall goal–and commit to #Ichoose.
The #Ichoose Manifesto
- As a man, I am aware that we live in a society which favors men.
I am making a set of choices–today and every day–which I believe will help us move toward full gender equality, so women and men can thrive together. I make these choices in the sight of my community. I expect no special recognition if I make a contribution: having an impact is its own reward.
- I choose to seek awareness of my own gender bias.
Every man has some form of gender bias, and I accept that I am part of the problem. I choose to look deeply at myself and ask others to help me do so.
- I choose to address gender bias when I see it.
Women need to be twice as effective as men to get the same credit, so I choose to notice–and to do something–when women are interrupted or ignored and when their ideas are attributed to men. I choose to boost female voices.
- I choose to see and admire women as whole people.
I choose to compliment women and girls first on their character, values, accomplishments, and gifts. I choose to be thoughtful; not to only praise boys for activities and girls for looks. I choose “not to say to a woman in the street what I wouldn’t want a man saying to me in prison”. When I introduce women, I choose to be mindful of how I do it.
- I choose an attitude of mutual respect and shared exploration when it comes to physical intimacy.
Sex isn’t just about consent: my goal is to listen with all my senses and help my partner to have an experience they look back on with fondness and joy. When seeking consent, I’m listening for a “hell yes!” however it is expressed, or I’m not doing it.
- I choose to help women feel safe.
I try to be mindful of when there may be risk to a woman, real or perceived. I go out of my way to address this sensitively, not as a savior but as an ally.
- I choose to work towards a safe, equitable work environment for women.
I stand for zero tolerance for harassment and I seek opportunities to level the playing field.
- I choose to hold other men accountable to these standards, even when it’s hard.
I do this by calling them out: “That’s not cool” or “I feel uncomfortable with that.” At the same time, I recognize that many men are acting from their own wounds and ingrained patterns, or are unaware of their impact. While this doesn’t excuse anything, it calls for compassion in the way I help other men to become aware of, and take accountability for, their actions.
- I choose to listen hard.
Others, especially women, can help me learn about all of this so I can become more aware and effective. I choose to welcome and explore challenges to my preconceptions.
- I choose to stay the course.
This is a very long journey. I choose to remain vigilant and focused so we can continue to travel this road together.
Lead the Change
I am making these choices. I invite other men to join me in doing so and to ask to be held accountable to our commitment by our communities. We men are the perpetrators of these problems. If we want to progress as a society, I think we have no choice but to say #Ichoose.
If I had been able to begin making these choices a couple of decades ago, I would have done many things differently with Jess. For example, I would have shown respect for her as a person by co-creating a space to be honest with each other about our feelings.
These choices are hard to live by. Even in the week I started writing this post, my wife Roxy was harassed at a party we attended together. She laughed it off and when she relayed the incident to me, so did I. It ‘wasn’t a big deal.’ Later we reflected on the experience together, and I felt deeply disappointed in myself that I hadn’t done something about it. Harassment is so normalized that even when it’s top of mind, we don’t know how to handle it. But we must learn.
To women and men alike: if you support this, share #Ichoose on social media, tagging men you’d like to invite to make these choices. Tagging someone is an invitation to help lead this change, not an accusation of any wrongdoing. Feel free to include the link to this article.