During the past two weeks we have all witnessed the public debate and fallout from the 2005 video of Donald Trump making comments where he brags about his sexual exploits and sexual assaults of women. As a labor and immigrant rights male activist for over 30 years, Trump’s statements and sexual assaults on women triggered in me an increased awareness about the negative seeds embedded in male privilege and how if left unchecked it can grow into acts of sexism, assault and violence against women.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master, poet, scholar, and human rights activist who just turned ninety, teaches us that "in each of us, there is nonviolence, and there is also violence. With mindfulness, we can begin to transform the violence, the wars in ourselves, into love, understanding and compassion."
For any man, his male privilege creates the potential for violence when left unattended. Acts such as lewd comments towards women plants a negative seed evolving from male privilege that can grow and develop into acts of sexism, harassment, sexual assault and other mistreatment of women. The best way to prevent this from happening is by speaking up and calling out other men the moment a lewd or sexually explicit remark takes place.
Let’s face it, many men objectify women and say outrageously offensive things about their breasts, butts and other body parts in spaces we occupy with each other. This has become a dominant trait in the male culture of this country in workplaces, at locker rooms, at social clubs, and anywhere where men are in the company of each other. In the work for justice, however, male activists can begin to dismantle this culture beginning with themselves.
When men fail to challenge other men on troubling things they say about and do to women, we contribute to a dominant culture that excuses sexual harassment, assault and other forms of gender violence.
I am the first to admit that I struggle with my male privilege every day, especially as a Latino coming from a culture where issues of sexism can be deeply entrenched. Recognizing and owning up to our male privilege, however, is the first step to addressing these negative seeds and transform them into love and compassion. But it should not stop there. The second step is to take action. When men fail to challenge other men on troubling things they say about and do to women, we contribute to a dominant culture that excuses sexual harassment, assault and other forms of gender violence.
How are men to address a situation where they witness their counterpart making lewd remarks or sexually explicit statements demeaning women? When someone frustrates you with such a comment or you witness a sexist act, take a deep breath first before you react. Remember, this is an opportunity to transform someone. Decide if you speak out at that moment, or wait to calm down first if you are highly reactive or upset. You can have a discussion later when you are more grounded, but the important thing is to take action to address the situation.
Thich Nhat Hanh in his Fourth Mindfulness Training, Loving Speech and Deep Listening, states that we must be “determined not to spread news that [we] do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord.” He goes on to state that we must “make daily efforts, in [our] speaking and listening, to nourish [our] capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in [our] consciousness.”
Through this principle of active listening and loving speech, we can confront and educate those who engage in lewd and unwelcome remarks towards women. It is our responsibility as men to engage one another in this conversation and not let it go unattended.
If at work, we witness or hear remarks from our male colleagues that are demeaning to women, we must call them out. In meetings with community members at union halls or community organizations, we must call out these types of comments. By doing nothing or excusing their words and actions, you will be sharing some responsibility for sexual harassment, assault, rape, and other awful things that men do to women. You will be an accomplice to a sexist culture.
The interconnectedness between all of us in the social justice movement should become an indispensable part of our work. Remember that in our work for justice, we are all interwoven – ourselves, our lives, our communities and what we are striving to accomplish. By addressing the issues relating to sexism in our community, we too have the potential to connect through our hearts and let that connection be the driving force that enables us to struggle together and to win together.
In reaching such a potential of human relationship, we will create the spiritual binding force from which we can move forward together in dismantling sexism. This is true solidarity in action – our interconnectedness with one other, the spiritual force of love and compassion for one another.
After listening to the audio from 2005 and observing Donald Trump’s behavior towards the increasing number of women who have come forward with cases of being groped and sexually assaulted by him, we must be more committed than ever before on taking the negative seeds that can spring out from male privilege and transforming them into love and compassion. If we are to create workplace justice and healthy communities for everyone, we must work together to root out sexism.