How to Make Better Men
The women who came forward with tales of rape and abuse by Harvey Weinstein set off a cultural earthquake the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the early days of the women’s liberation movement. They spurred other women, many of whom had been pushing for years to be heard and believed, to share their own stories of sexual harassment and assault. Within one 24-hour period in October, more than 4.7 million people, most of them women, posted 12 million accounts of harassment or assault on Facebook, using the hashtag #MeToo. Almost every day another prominent malefactor is revealed. Movie stars and moguls have fallen. Lecherous journalists have been found out. So have celebrity chefs. And politicians.
Right now, the focus is on sexual harassment at work. Not so long ago it was about assault on college campuses. Before that, misogynistic online trolls. Catcalling. The fight for equal pay. None of these issues are new. It’s just that women finally have enough collective power to do something about them. Slowly, incrementally, their demands are leading to real change.
This has inspired a fundamental reexamination of the cultural attitudes that for so long have treated women as an afterthought. It’s a slight shift, but you can already see it starting to happen. Sometimes in the least likely of places.
“Men’s magazines used to run ‘hot’ lists—‘these are the 100 Hottest Women.’ We don’t do that,” says Matt Bean, editor in chief of , which is consciously trying to move away from what he calls “the JFK and Steve McQueen icons of masculinity.” Three years ago, ran an essay marveling that some 42-year-old actresses were still attractive. In December, Editor-in-Chief Jay Fielden wrote in his editor’s letter, “It’s wrong to sit by while women are treated as sex objects.” runs sex-advice columns written by women alongside articles about, for example, Joe Biden’s recent lecture about rape and consent to male college students, which included the line “Please, act like men.” During her yearlong stint as editor-in-chief of , Kate Lanphear, now creative director at , replaced the magazine’s pinup spreads with something more closely resembling high fashion. It didn’t sell, and Lanphear left the magazine in October 2015. Her tenure, however, did provide a real-world example of what sexualized photography might look like if the photos were taken by a woman instead of a man.
These magazines still write about women—and men who are attracted to them. recently ran an online roundup of hot Instagram models. has kept its recurring feature “Women We Love,” which consists mainly of women photographed in their underwear. But the magazines have undergone a changing of the editorial guard in recent years and are staffed by a new generation—Bean of is 39; at 49, ’s Fielden is more than a decade younger than his predecessor—that’s unalarmed by the word “feminism.” “A significant portion of our relationship advice is still focused on sex,” Bean says, “but as a culture I think the default used to be ‘When in doubt, go for it! Hit the gas pedal!’ when it should have been ‘Hit the brake.’ ”
Brands have also started to change the way they depict masculinity in advertisements, especially as it relates to women. Axe body spray has moved from skirt-chasing commercials to ones focused on young men’s self-esteem. Dove, which has been running its “Real Beauty” marketing campaign for 13 years, now uses the slogan “Real Strength” for its men’s line, offering ads that focus on caring and fatherhood. Men wash clothes in laundry detergent commercials. Chase Bank ran an ad in which a father puts on makeup and plays fairy princess games with his daughter. “Advertising follows reality,” says Jeanie Caggiano, executive creative director of ad agency Leo Burnett Worldwide. “A decade ago it was so not OK if you were Mr. Mom. But now we have something like 40 percent of households headed by a female breadwinner. In order to sell something, you have to appeal to what rings true for them.”
That rule doesn’t yet appear to apply to Hollywood. A disproportionate number of the public assault and harassment accusations have been made against directors and producers. The industry has reacted. A collection of studio executives recently launched a task force, headed by Anita Hill, whose accusations against Clarence Thomas roiled the nation in the early 1990s. She will help them address gender inequality in the entertainment industry. “Within the last month, on conference calls while casting a movie, I noticed people being more careful about what they say, that they shouldn’t be talking about [a particular actress’s] physical attributes as much,” says Ross Putman, an independent film producer who most recently worked with Ben Stiller’s company Red Hour Films. “But if they’re just reacting out of fear, that’s not really change.”
So far, Putman says, Hollywood seems largely resistant to any real soul-searching. Weinstein’s ouster doesn’t change the fact that men disproportionately control studios and financing. They direct most of the movies and write most of the screenplays. When the Oscars air in March, 80 percent of the nonacting nominees will likely be men. Putman created a Twitter account in 2016 where he posted physical descriptions of female characters he came across in scripts submitted to him—anonymized as Jane so as not to humiliate the writers who created them—to highlight how often they were objectified. (Samples: “JANE, 17—ripe with young womanhood”; “JANE, 54, a stunner even for her age.”) “There is a direct line between the way women are looked at—objects there to make men happy—and the behavior of these people,” Putman says. “Imagine being a woman and going to audition for that part. You immediately see how you’re valued in this business. That hasn’t changed.”
Judd Apatow also noted Hollywood’s hypocrisy when he was interviewed on , the podcast of former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “Ronan Farrow writes these incredible articles about Harvey Weinstein,” he said, “but Ronan Farrow not that long ago wrote an article about his father [Woody Allen] molesting his sister. … And if you’ll notice, nobody ever turns down a job in a Woody Allen movie.” Allen’s most recent film, , was released on Dec. 1. It was filmed before the wave of sexual assault allegations came to light, but Dylan Farrow’s allegations against Allen have been known for years, just as the allegations against Bill Cosby were. Similarly, after Hugh Hefner’s death in September, the announced a biopic to be directed by Brett Ratner. A month later, six women came forward in the , accusing Ratner of sexual assault. The biopic is now on hold.
Obviously, this is not enough. A few well-meaning men’s magazine articles and thoughtful soap commercials can’t change that Cosby’s first trial ended with a hung jury or that criminal charges have yet to be brought against Weinstein, who’s largely denied the allegations against him. The kind of legal and political overhaul necessary to prevent industry gatekeepers from abusing their power is so monumental—no more arbitration clauses, no undisclosed settlements—that it seems almost naive to believe it’s possible. We’ve known for years that the foundations on which we ran our businesses, elected our politicians, and made our movies weren’t as egalitarian as we claimed.
That collective cultural tendency to dismiss women as less than men has been around for most of modern history. But it’s finally rubbing up against the unbending belief, one held by an increasing number of Americans, that men and women are equal and deserving of respect. What we are seeing now is a byproduct of living in an age where these things are simultaneously true: There are more women in the workforce, more women in managerial and executive positions, more women in Congress and running companies than ever before, but they live and work in a culture that still regards their opinions and experience as secondary. These forces have been at odds for a while. It’s just that until now, the conflicts they’ve produced have been smaller, harder to see.
Most earthquakes go unnoticed. Two sides of the Earth push against each other, and yet their subtle shifts are recorded only by seismologists and maybe a few particularly attuned house pets. Minor tremors can be difficult to feel. But this time it’s different. The ground is finally shaking. It feels at times as if our entire world has started to crumble. Many of us never saw it coming. But, you know, we should have realized that one day it would.