Men Talk About Times They Let Other Men Harass Women

"Catcalling was just part of the culture. Everyone did it, so me and my friends did it too."

by Sam Nichols
19 October 2017, 3:40am

All images by the author

The #metoo campaign, which has seen women around the world publicly detail their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse, has both fans and detractors. But, across the board, one very legitimate question has come up again and again: What are men doing to prevent harassment and promote change? Do any men call out other men in everyday life? Or, as we've seen in the case of Harvey Weinstein, do most men simply stand by and do nothing? (For some, it's a rhetorical question.)

With this in mind, we approached some "everyday" men around Melbourne to see how willing they would be to detail the times they did nothing. And tell us why.

Rowan, 26

He's often watched his friends catcall women and said nothing.

VICE: Hey Rowan, talk me through how you can watch your friends catcall someone, and say nothing.
Rowan: Whenever it's happens it's always just a normal, regular situation. For example, this one time, we were just hanging out and an attractive girl walked past. One of the guys yelled out "hey lady" and did a whistle. Something along those lines.

Why do you think they did this?
To me, it was to get reaction. Either the person they're doing it to, or from the guys.

How did you react?
I tried to just shrug it off. I didn't want to pay too much attention to it, or give the person any satisfaction for what they'd done.

You didn't say anything to him?
I haven't said to him explicitly, or directly addressed it. But I feel they'd be aware of my feelings about it and why it isn't okay. I feel in order to address this, it has to be done in the right time, and the right place.

When do you think the "right time and place" is?
For me, it's one on one. I don't feel like doing it in front of a whole group of people is necessarily to right way to address it. I feel like if I was to confront my friend in front of the group, they might get embarrassed. And I don't want to embarrass my friends.

Wilson, 27

In high school, a group of Wilson's friends gang raped a girl. He did nothing.

OK Wilson, tell me what happened.
Wilson: My mum was the senior service officer at my high school, and was actually this girl's carer. After she was raped, she told my mum what happened and—naturally—my mum went straight to the police. But for some reason, after a couple of weeks, the girl dropped the charges and nothing happened to the guys.

How close were you with these guys?
They were my best mates. I've never actually discussed it in depth with them, because they never knew that I knew—I only knew because of my mum. I know a couple of the boys were pretty rattled by the whole event. They didn't participate in the actual act, but they were present when it happened.

You've never confronted your friends about this?
No, I haven't but that's because they're a scary bunch of people. I was really scared that they'd bash me, or assault me in some way if I did. One guy who watched got belted just because he was going to talk. But then, of course, the charges got dropped and everyone just moved on.

What do you wish you could've done?
I wish there was a way to have given [the girl] support at the time. I didn't know her and only knew from my mum, but I wish I could've told her to keep the charges up. I wish I'd been a character witness and legal support. I wish I told her that what she went through wasn't an isolated incident.

Has this affected the way you think and act these days?
I don't think it changed my view, but it definitely reinforced it. Being in a senior position at a business, I really to try to accommodate everyone and anyone as much as possible. I work in a bar, where there's often a lot of crap behaviour towards women—so I try to make it clear that this kind of behaviour isn't tolerated.

Levi, 24

When he was at school, Levi taunted a woman for being sexually active.

Hey Levi, tell me about your experiences.
So, I haven't actively participated in any abuse or harassment of women. My mother was a single mother raising three kids, so I was raised to treat women with respect. In saying that, when I was younger and at school, because I wanted to fit in, I allowed the shaming of women to happen.

Was there a moment that really stuck with you?
One of my friends had slept with this girl and bragged about it to all of us, going into graphic detail while we all laughing and saying she was a "whore" and a "slut." I didn't personally agree with it, but I didn't pull anyone up on it. Later on, we openly mocked the girl and embarrassed her in front of her friends—thinking it was some massive joke. I didn't agree with what I was doing, but I was so terrified of speaking up in case they'd turn on me.

What would you do now?
I wouldn't stand for it. If it was to happen now, I'd call them up on it and remove them from my life. I consider myself lucky to have both so many people in my life, both men and women, who don't act like that.

Do you still know anyone who acts like this?
I do know of certain people in and out of my circle. I hear about it happening, but thankfully not as much as I used to when I was younger.

Have you done anything to call them out?
There are times I have, and times I haven't. I haven't always for the same reasons as when I was younger— just fear of being judged by the group. I feel there's such a problem addressing this.

Tim, 27*

He's catcalled women on several occasions.

Hey Tim, tell me about the catcalling.
I don't recall ever being sexually violent to anyone, but I grew up in a small town in New South Wales and catcalling was just part of the culture. Everyone did it. So me and my friends did it too. We weren't really taught, and never really considered, what was the right and wrong way to treat women. It wasn't until moving out of that small town environment that I learned to understand the bigger picture.

Right so, now you're out of that environment, how do you feel?
I would never do that to a woman. When you leave that environment, you mature and grow out of that small town mindset. I'm not making excuses for the way I've treated women in the past. I take full responsibility for that. I'm ashamed of it. I don't even consider doing those things now.

Okay so what would you do if you saw someone else catcalling?
If it was a friend or a colleague, I'd definitely call them out on it. If it was a stranger, I'm not sure.

What's your reservation about confronting a stranger?
I'm not actually sure. I've thought about this in a physical sense, but I don't think you can solve violence with violence. I don't believe it works. To be honest, I'm a little unsure about the right way to go about it. I don't know how to address it in the right way.

Can you recall a time that you've tried to speak up?
There was one time when my friends received a lot of racist verbal abuse, and I just went into shock when it happened. I felt there was nothing I could really say or do in that moment to prevent it from happening.

Follow Sam on Twitter

*Names changed to protect their identities. Some of the interviewees were worried about people... abusing them.