Me too. Really.
I actually have been sexually harassed, twice that I can remember. However, neither time caused me particular angst. I think that’s because when you’re a man, it’s entirely reasonable to believe it’s an isolated incident. I said “yeah, whatever” and that was it.
Mostly, women don’t have that luxury. Women can reasonably expect a periodic leer, catcall, or “compliment” that falls on the creepy/predatory side of the line, just for being women. Perceived provocative behavior, clothing, or such has nothing to do with it, nor does the fact that you may not see it day to day.
(For several good reasons, I’m not going to publicly get into how I reached the conclusion of the previous paragraph. You’re going to have to take my word for it.)
To be sure, there is still misinformation out there. One in five women are sexually assaulted on college campuses is a favorite chestnut of highly questionable provenance, for example. And there’s a certain sort of assumptive person I still find intolerable—a person who “knows” a great deal about me because I’m a white male, and who therefore imagines me presumptively guilty of a litany of sins.
The existence of these sorts (whom I generally don’t engage anymore, by the way) does not change the fact that the problem of sexual harassment is non-trivial, and there are two simple things men can do about it.
First, don’t sexually harass women. Slam-dunk, right? However, if you do need any help determining what that means, the Wikipedia article is a pretty good primer. It’s not difficult. The lines are solid, and for the most part, there aren’t women lurking about looking to “trap” hapless men into violations. The difference between screwing up and not screwing up is pretty clear.
Second, call it out when you see it. Make a scene. “Hey! Leave her alone. That’s not how men treat women in a civilized society.” You jump in not because you think she can’t take care of herself, but to accelerate the change in dynamic we need on this, which is that real men respect women, and men who don’t can expect shame from their peers.
A favorite acquaintance of mine moved to Atlanta a few years ago. She wrote a poignant blog post about sexual harassment—sharing first a dream about it, and then the real-life experience from which it had come. I commented that I couldn’t believe catcalls were a thing anymore.
Well, they are. So are men talking to women’s chests; men “accidentally” trapping women in tight spaces; and so forth. Wouldn’t dream of such behavior? Great. Me either.
But help me watch for it, won’t you?