The Common Good
August 2011

Men Behaving Badly

by Jim Wallis | August 2011

It's a consistent storyline in the media, involving powerful men in politics, sports, business, and religion: Men behave with utter disregard for the dignity and humanity of women -- using and ...

It's a consistent storyline in the media, involving powerful men in politics, sports, business, and religion: Men behave with utter disregard for the dignity and humanity of women -- using and abusing them at will, and acting as if they believe that they are entitled to do so. These men seem to think that the ordinary rules of decent behavior do not apply to them. We have a never-ending cavalcade of disgusting stories about men cheating on their wives and abandoning old wives for new ones; engaging in serial philandering as a way of life; sexually harassing and assaulting women; and even committing rape. But when all is said and done, the perpetrators are still playing basketball, football, and golf; they are still holding or running for political office; and they are still at the helm of the institutions of the economy and even the church.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the (now former) chief of the International Monetary Fund, John Edwards, and Anthony Weiner have all been in the media lately for sins and crimes past, present, and accused. The stories have recently come out about a longtime affair Schwarzenegger had with a member of his house staff, Trump’s long and blatant history of sexism, John Edward’s indictment for campaign finance law violations in covering up an affair, Anthony Weiner's tweeting lewd photos of himself, and, most gravely serious of all, Strauss-Kahn’s alleged sexual assault against a hotel maid.

As the secret stories are revealed, the media exhibits great interest and perverse excitement. The pain and suffering of the women involved, and the invisible hurt of the children, are brushed aside. Instead, the women are often subtly, and sometimes directly, blamed. And sometimes, in all-male circles, there is a wink and a nod, and, most disgustingly, even a little envy of the powerful men who get to break all the rules when it comes to women. The primary outcry is from other women who, in the name of equality and dignity, lament this continual pattern of abuse.

What often has been missing from this too-often repeated narrative is the condemnation of these behaviors and attitudes by other men -- especially men who are in positions of power, authority, and influence. While the primary blame lies with the perpetrators, we should look next at the good men who say nothing. It’s time for good men to hold accountable those who abuse women. Those who abuse, assault, and rape are not real men. They distort and destroy any sense of healthy manhood. It's time to tell our sons that they must never act like these abusers and perpetrators, and to make sure to raise our own sons to love, respect, and be faithful to women.

While many have provided ugly self-caricatures of the moral corruption of men in power, Donald Trump sums it up well. For example, the "Trump Rule," according to a book by a Miss USA pageant contestant, required that all contestants parade in front of Trump, the co-owner of the pageant, so that he could separate out those he found attractive. Trump once said this about his own daughter, Ivanka: "She does have a very nice figure ... if [she] weren't my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her." And as if to demonstrate how oblivious to criticism (and good taste) he really is, Trump once told Esquire magazine, "You know, it doesn't really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of [expletive]."

For me, men who treat women this way serve only one useful function: They serve as anti-role models for my two sons. They exemplify what I hope my boys will never become. So here is my little contribution to condemning men who need to be condemned for behaving badly: When TV shows with these unrepentant men come on, we will change the channel. When movies come out with them on the big screen, we will stay home. When sports games are played with them as stars, we won’t be buying tickets. When another media story erupts because of more bad behavior, my boys will be told that men who abuse women are not real men. They might still have money and power, but their abuse of women diminishes their humanity.

Women are already speaking out, and now it's time for more men to also say that this bad behavior is not acceptable. More men must condemn men who treat women badly, not only as immoral and sometimes criminal, but also as the worst examples of what and who we are supposed to be. These men have given their humanity over to their animal impulses. I hope all of these recent revelations are lessons to politicians everywhere: Your sin will find you out.

We should publicly point out their bad and unacceptable behavior and punish their acts as an example to others. We need to establish as a firm principle: The abuse of women by men will not be tolerated. And the voices of more men need to join the chorus to make that perfectly clear.

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.

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