But some of us men know that dark underside all too well. Before I was fired by President Trump, I spent 16 years at the Department of Justice, finishing as a U.S. Attorney in the Obama administration.
Such a role hardens you to the cruel reality that women face daily. Domestic violence offenders hide in plain sight. Drug cartels exploit women as mules, trapping and trafficking them across the border for their own profit. Employers casually deny women the same pay as men for doing the same work.
The Trump administration’s efforts to incarcerate pregnant immigrants, separate mothers from children at the border and attack reproductive freedoms have only exacerbated existing threats.
One solution is to ensure women have more opportunities to make the gains that have been denied them for too long. But men cannot be let off the hook. We cannot just throw up our hands, close our mouths and take the easy way out. Being an ally means lending your voice to the struggle for equality, not silencing it.
The burden of achieving equal justice for women cannot rest on women’s shoulders alone. It cannot always be incumbent upon the marginalized to advocate for themselves. Advocating for women, protecting their civil rights, recognizing and living the truth that women’s economic, social and reproductive freedoms demand respect is too big a challenge to be brushed off by half the population – the half in power, especially.
If we’re going to both change and challenge systems, it’s going to require all of us, collectively, doing the difficult work of forcing and enforcing justice.
Not too long ago, a friend came to me with a harrowing story – her daughter had been sexually assaulted at the University of New Mexico. Under my direction, the DoJ launched an investigation, and we discovered a system that protected the perpetrator at the expense of the victim. Reporting her case had traumatized her all over again.
We took action, and our office changed how sexual assault cases were handled and addressed at UNM. We ensured faculty and staff were trained in victim advocacy, and we gave students the opportunity to learn about their rights and understand their options for seeking justice. So many systems across the country need change, but we can’t expect women to do all the work. Sexual harassment and abuse are not women’s issues; they are men’s issues. And while there are times that we need to keep the focus on women, this issue in particular begins with men. That means it must end with men.
I have sons. I want them to grow up to be honorable men who respect women. It’s up to us to raise them that way. Instead of teaching young girls how to avoid being assaulted, we need to teach young boys to respect girls. We need to teach enthusiastic consent in our schools and homes. We need to promote a culture of “yes means yes.”
In short, we need all of society to commit to both holding perpetrators accountable and changing our culture and our systems that have demeaned and marginalized vulnerable populations for too long.
Such work will anger certain men who are content with the status quo, which gives them such power over others. But for the rest of us who have been fighting for justice our entire lives, it is simply the work we have always done, and therefore will continue to do, until we make it right.