I’ve been thinking of #metoo in light of the safe environment training that’s required in Catholic churches.
Some quick background: One of the US Church’s responses to the abuse scandals of the early 2000s was to mandate safe environment training for all employees and volunteers who worked with minors as well as for students themselves. I’ve been a volunteer or employee in the Church for about a decade now. I’ve been to multiple safe environment classes and part of my job now is to help facilitate some of these classes.
Students in Catholic schools and parishes need to attend these safe environment classes. Children are taught safe adults vs. unsafe adults, safe touch vs. unsafe touch, and other tools to help them protect themselves from abuse. Should children have to learn this stuff? No. But in the world we live in these classes are good and necessary.
Adult volunteers and employees also need to take safe environment classes. There we are taught the norms for what interactions are safe and appropriate and what interactions aren’t. This allows us to flag when we see other adults acting outside the norm. And it helps us be instinctively aware of our environment when interacting with children. In the training we are told that following these norms is for the student’s protection first but also for our own protection. Our interactions with minors should be such that an outside observer looking at the situation would see no red flags.
I think this is somewhat analogous to where we find ourselves in the midst of #metoo.
Women have had to take extra precautions and be extra worried about not being assaulted for basically forever. Things like not walking/running alone at night, never taking their eyes off their drink at bars and parties, carrying pepper spray, etc. Should women have to take these precautions? No. But in the world we live in these things are good and necessary.
One of the positive things that I hope comes from #metoo is a new set of cultural norms that force men to carry some of this burden that women have carried. Norms that help men flag other men who aren’t abiding by the norms. Norms that force men to be more attentive to potentially compromising situations that they find themselves in. Men becoming instinctively aware of situations that would make a woman fearful, uncomfortable, or that would look suspicious to an outside observer. If men don’t put themselves in unsafe situations with women then women aren’t placed in unsafe situations.
Thinking back to the safe environment training, I think that there’s a healthy amount of fear when it comes to this stuff. It’s good for me to have a little bit of fear, anxiety, or concern about how may interactions with students look to others and if they follow the established norms. This helps me internalize and consistently respect those norms. So the idea of men being forced to be aware of how a situation looks to an outside observer, even if it’s at least partially motivated by the fear of how this would look in a court room, seems like a very good thing
Obviously safe environment for students and #metoo are different and this analogy is far from perfect. (The biggest difference being that women aren’t children.) But I think it’s a worthwhile thought.
Should a guy feel nervous about getting totally plastered at a party where casual hookups are the norm? Yes. And should he let that fear prevent him from getting so intoxicated that he possibly puts himself in what looks like a compromising situation? Yes.