Activate the Bystander
So the other day I’m watching this video on the Bystander Effect. Apparently, groups with more people present have a LOWER chance that someone will do something to help another in need. Even when we’re alone and faced with someone who needs help, it often takes a few moments to register.
What does that mean for bystanders to sexual harassment?
There’s no such thing as an “innocent” bystander, but what can we actually DO when we see something happening? And, when it’s in a public place with more people, are we LESS likely to do something? Are we able to walk by and let it happen?
If I could do one thing to make public spaces safe for women and girls, it would be to activate the male bystander. Most men aren’t perpetrators (or so I’d like to believe). Most are rather passive observers – who maybe acknowledge that what they’re witnessing is wrong. Or maybe not?!
But anyway, how do we ignite that guy? How do we help men – especially young men who are probably insecure – find courage in being “that guy”, that guy who calls out catcalling, stops sexist jokes, and has the courage to say STOP. Just f’ing stop! Because unless that guy says stop, we’re all contributing to a climate in which women and girls are unsafe, and sexual violence in all forms is accepted. And so far, that guy has been silent.
Intervening is hard. And it may even be scary. It may present risks to the bystander, leading to another potentially violent situation. But likely more often than not, the bystander feels like a buzzkill, like the guy who takes things too seriously, who can’t take a joke, who stopped all the “fun”. But what an f’ed up idea of fun that is, right?! There’s no “fun” at the expense of women and girls, like, EVER. So don’t use that excuse.
Maybe being a bystander is hard, uncool, or whatever. What if there were incentives? What if there was a credit score? What if there was a public record – or an ability to grade – like we do for Uber drivers? [Yes, I know, bad example considering Uber’s shitty record, but you get the point!]
Like, what if that scoring actually linked to your Tinder profile and gave you increased “swipe-ability”? I don’t know – there’s gotta be something. But then again, why do we need bribes and presents and promises in order to start behaving ourselves, to be good people? And conversely, we shouldn’t need the fear of punishment to keep us in line, to restrict our assholery. But we do.
So, we gotta start somewhere – challenging and changing the social norms that make male violence against women acceptable, in all its ugly manifestations.
There are bystander intervention training programs (like the Green Dot 3 Ds: direct, distract, and delegate), but you have to sign up for those – or be forced into a program. And this won’t take hold on the streets.
Maybe we can cook up cool and creative social media campaigns, coming up with actual lines guys can use on other guys, so the average street dude has a verbal arsenal to use to put an end to the harassment he sees. The alternative is silence, and their continued silence makes them guilty.
Each action we take – or do NOT take – has an impact on our lives and our surroundings. And in this case, choosing to not take action can have severe consequences for women and girls, and ultimately, for our conscience as well. We kinda owe it to ourselves and the world to do some smart shit for a change – because our little initiative could make a big impact. And – it is contagious.
So – this might be a big ask, but couldn’t we make it cool to stand up and stop harassment? And Mr. So-Called-Innocent Bystander might end up being an activist after all.