The silence of men at the 75th Golden Globes
Updated: Sep 8, 2018
It’s a common virtue among well-meaning, progressive men that women should be heard and that the empowerment of women equals the silencing of men. It’s an idea that’s often encouraged by women themselves fighting to end the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and the systems that allow these behaviors to go unpunished. They aren’t wrong. The same kind of intimidation that prevents women from reporting sexual harassment in their workplaces also prevents them from sharing their ideas with their male bosses or voicing their opinions in meetings. Silencing is an insidious form of violence that ultimately limits women’s access to positions of authority. So we tell men to let us speak — not only that, but to listen.While men should listen to women, while our experiences should be believed, valued and understood, the sole instruction of “sit down and listen” to privileged white men in response to gender inequality is all too rudimentary and performative to affect real change. Listening is an accommodation, one that turns into silence. It’s not advocacy. These thoughts infiltrated my experience watching the 75th Annual Golden Globes on Sunday night. As an unabashed consumer of pop culture and celebrity gossip, I was excited to see the films, television shows and actors I adored over the past year being celebrated but, most importantly, the demonstration of a movement led by women, Time’s Up. Time’s Up became an initiative after the #MeToo movement peaked social consciousness last October and exposed the abusive, predatory behaviors of some of Hollywood’s most elite men, most notably Harvey Weinstein.
Nearly every actor, writer, director and random celebrity that was invited to the ceremony got the memo to dawn all black in solidarity with women in all industries who have suffered sexual misconduct in their workplaces and private lives. Men, who would typically wear black suits, wore pins with the Time’s Up logo.
While the night was one of meaningful conversation balanced with moments of levity and hilarious digs at grimy men and all-male award categories (shoutout to Natalie Portman), women did most, if not all, of the talking. Actually, I’m 100% sure that Seth Meyers was the only man on that stage to address Harvey Weinstein or the fact that men can be garbage, all because he was hosting. For other male attendees and award recipients, it was business as usual. Men thanked their families, fellow actors and managers for their achievements and walked off stage.
If you couldn’t tell already, it bothers me that a societal issue that is so overwhelmingly perpetuated by men is left for women to make a talking point. The clearest example of this during the show was the harsh contrast between Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard’s acceptance speeches for their roles in HBO’s Big Little Lies. Like her acceptance speech at the Emmys last year, Kidman used her platform to shed light on the prevalence of domestic abuse and how authentic storytelling can hopefully affect change. Skarsgard, who played her brutally violent and manipulative husband in the series, didn’t have anything to say on the topic. He also referred to his adult, far more experienced female co-stars as “girls,” but I digress.
In the midst of my frustration watching the Golden Globes, I was reminded of Emma Watson’s HeForShe campaign that began in 2014. The goal of the campaign is to recruit men and boys as “agents of change” against gender inequality and hurtful stereotypes. Her speech to the UN was originally met with pushback from certain feminists who believed her campaign ultimately aimed to make feminism a more accommodating space for men. Pictures of male celebrities like Harry Styles and Tom Hiddleston holding handwritten signs that read #HeForShe didn’t exactly help, with activists and social media users accusing men of priding themselves on their feminist beliefs without doing any real work, the type of performative activism displayed by men at the Golden Globes.
I never really agreed with these sentiments when I heard them, as I understood Watson’s message as one of male accountability and sharing the workload. There’s a particular way we talk about sexual abuse in American and global culture that has always bothered me. Discourse about this subject often mislabels rape and sexual assault as “women’s issues,” placing the burden of these injustices on the shoulders of its victims, not its perpetuators. The silence of all men — the good ones and the bad ones — may sound pleasant to some, but it’s ultimately dangerous. The extremity of the patriarchy is represented in the idea that women have to work to end the problems that have been inflicted on them by men. Therefore, men should not be able to pride themselves as socially conscious, enlightened “good guys” based on minimal involvement in a movement.
Looking back, I’m satisfied with what Emma Watson established in her campaign, like so many other feminists: that sexual assault, rape and the overall mistreatment of women are men’s issues, that gender inequality is not our burden to carry, that all men should be held accountable for the patriarchal systems in place. Just listening is not enough.