Schwartz: Gay men, recognize your role in sexual harassment

Alex Schwartz, Assistant Opinion Editor

Gay men, we need to talk about sexual harassment.

A couple weeks ago — when I first saw my Facebook feed populating with #MeToo — I thought about how easy it would’ve been for me to feel like a bystander in this issue. I’m gay, and sexual violence and harassment is mainly an issue between straight men and women, right?


It’s easy for gay men to feel solidarity with women. Heteronormativity has grouped us together and labeled us as weak and less than. Many gay men feel more comfortable around women than straight men, avoiding bullying and harassment that comes with straight toxic masculinity. Women and gay men have also allied politically at some moments in history, like when fighting for gender equality helped lead to marriage equality.

However, we gay men sometimes identify so closely with women that we fail to recognize our own privilege as men. As a result, we also forget our role in the oppression of women.

Women are not simply oppressed by straight men; they are oppressed by toxic masculinity. Gay men have a role in this structure and, by result, a responsibility to dismantle it. Not being sexually attracted to women does not exempt us from the violence and harassment they experience.

Of course, gay men are not monolithic. Some of us exhibit more masculinity, some of us exhibit more femininity and some of us reject the gender binary altogether. Still, recognizing our role in the oppression of women involves being aware of both how we behave around them and how society views us.

Do you call women “bitch” without asking them first? Recognize that you may be using your rapport with women to make them uncomfortable.

Do you stay silent when a straight guy around you makes a rape joke? Recognize that you have as much of a responsibility as his straight friends to call out this violent discourse.

Do you get overly handsy with your female friends without asking? Recognize that even non-sexual contact requires consent.

As gay men, we’ve probably all been guilty of these behaviors at one time or another. I know I have, and I am sorry. We are equally affected by a society that teaches men not to value women’s bodies as much as our own (and, in some cases, not at all). While that does not excuse our behavior, gay men must recognize that we are not bad people for admitting to bad behaviors so long as we take ownership of them and commit to doing better.

And, gay men, we can definitely do better. We must affirm women’s value as human beings and acknowledge their contributions to our own journey to societal acceptance. We must call out instances of rape culture wherever we see them, even though they may not directly impact us. We must respect women’s personal space and dignity. And we must reject all instances of toxic masculinity.

The onus should not be on women to tell us what makes them uncomfortable. It is our responsibility to behave respectfully and be aware of how we exhibit toxic behaviors. We must be cognizant of the fact that every human being deserves the right to have control over their own body, regardless of our sexual attraction to them.

It is not only on straight men to check their behavior toward women — it is on everyone. And it’s time for gay men to realize that includes them, too.

Alex Schwartz is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.