Seven weeks ago, the “We Said Enough” campaign made national news for a terrible reason: the state Capitol – where lawmakers pride ourselves on being champions of progressive values – is under fire for the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault. The campaign’s letter had nearly 150 signatures from women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault, with many more women adding their names since.
Amid the growing dialogue, male voices have been largely missing. This silence must end if we are going to stop this insidious behavior and transform this unacceptable culture.
A culture of objectification and misogyny allows men to get away with harassment and assault. Not enough men are standing up to defend women even when they know what’s happening is wrong. We as men must be forthright in acknowledging that this problem exists and in taking the responsibility to stop it. We cannot overlook misconduct among our colleagues, acquaintances or friends. As leaders of California, we need to set a better example.
Our priority needs to be the safety and well-being of our staff and anyone who works around the Capitol. We must uphold the zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment and assault.
All of us must also reflect on our own behavior. Are we standing up to clearly show respect for all women? Are we strong enough to call out those men who aren’t? If we aren’t willing to be an ally, are we not then part of the problem?
To be a true ally, men must work to push away the harmful status quo and create a culture that is inclusive and safe for all. The dialogue taking place now is hopefully just the beginning.
I am listening and I have heard just how difficult this culture can be for women who simply want to do their jobs. My words need to be, “I believe you.” My actions need to be more pronounced. I will admit my own passivity. I’ve heard an inappropriate remark, but didn’t do enough to challenge it.
Sexual harassment is often an exploitation of power. I pride myself in defending California’s values of justice, inclusion, equity and opportunity. My parents taught me to fight for the vulnerable and the voiceless. We all need to fight harder for equal representation of women in the halls of power, whether in the Capitol or in corporate board rooms or anywhere inequality exists.
California needs to set the bar higher. We owe it to future generations – to our daughters and, yes, our sons – to build women up. We as Californians lead in so many ways, but when it comes to empowering and supporting women, we simply have to do better.
The women who have bravely come forward to share their stories are to be commended. They have exposed this unacceptable reality of our society. They need to be heard, and then a clear process needs to be followed that uncovers the truth and protects victims. While they may also bring forward solutions, it is not women’s burden to solve this problem or to change men’s behavior.
Men, it rests squarely with us.
Rob Bonta, an Alameda Democrat, represents the 18th Assembly District and is chairman of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.