How do I Confess if I've Harassed People in the Past?
November 17, 2017 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm a straight white man who is in my thirties. When I was younger, I didn't always treat people well. I had "nice guy" tendencies, and while I never subscribed to their ideology, I did internalize that same grievance. Because of this I didn't always treat women well.

  • I invaded their personal space.
  • I touched/poked them without checking to see if it was okay.
  • I brought up topics that would not be appropriate to talk about with how long/how I knew them.
  • I dated/pursued people in my work chain of command.
  • I almost certainly made people feel uncomfortable and was blind to it.
    Now I am older, but with the recent revelations in media/politics, I wonder if men must proactively admit what they're done before they're called out. In my case, I don't think anyone would call me out publicly, but I know I have guilt. How can anyone ever do good when they cannot admit, publicly what they're done wrong, how they've hurt others? Some of those people I still know, though most I don't. But I feel that men have to do this.

    What if I do this publicly and word gets back to work? Would I get fired for it? Should I get fired for it? Is this just reaping what I've sown so many years ago? How can I interact with anyone in my life that thought of me well and that I was a "good guy"?

    I don't know how to do this, but I know that I must, that I should.
  • posted by anonymous to Human Relations (58 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

    Wow, good for you for addressing this. I think you're brave and I appreciate that you want to do the right thing.

    I don't know that there is a simple answer to this specific situation. There are separate legal and ethical considerations here, and I can only say my opinion from the ethics side. Consider talking to some professionals here: I'm sure it would be wise to get legal advice. But perhaps a therapist who has a feminist perspective might be helpful here too?

    One thing to consider is specifically apologizing to the individual women who you harassed. Again, this is just my personal opinion from an ethical, not legal point of view.

    I would consider a written apology that was:
    - Brief
    - Does not make excuses
    - Leaves room for the person to respond

    Something like, "Looking back on our interactions when we worked together in x-department, I realize now it was wrong that I talked about inappropriate topics with you. I know I may have put you in a very uncomfortable position, and I apologize. I am open to hearing from you if you have any feedback for me about it or anything else."

    You sound like you're at the beginning of a journey of personal transformation. Looking into reading what feminist authors have written, or joining a group of other men who are addressing their behaviors might be really helpful to you right now. This is a lot to figure out on your own.
    posted by latkes at 8:23 AM on November 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

    Sometimes, guilt isn't something you should "fix". If you were to come out about the issues, it wouldn't make anyone that was really impacted feel much better. It would only make you feel less guilty. Net: selfish.

    It might hurt your existing relationships - which, if you've already changed, wouldn't necessarily help you. It might bring up bad memories in people that have completely moved on. Net: negative.

    How can you do good? Move forward, a learned person from your past. Swear that you will learn from your mistakes, past and future. Be a better person tomorrow than you are today.

    I've heard the simile that guilt is like a seat belt. You shouldn't take it off. Wear it, let it guide your future actions, steering you toward being the person you want it to be. It's there for your protection. If you no longer felt guilty, what was the downsides of your actions?
    posted by bbqturtle at 8:24 AM on November 17, 2017 [82 favorites]

    It's good that you recognize your wrongdoings, but consider that these women may not want to have this past pain opened up so that you can feel better about it. The right thing to do is to do better with every interaction with women you have going forward.
    posted by Lutoslawski at 8:26 AM on November 17, 2017 [107 favorites]

    I think it's amazing that you're asking this question. It says a lot of really, really good things about your character.

    There are a few things you should do, in my opinion:

    * Apologize in private to the women you still know. You can say something like, "Hey, all of the news in recent weeks has made me think carefully about my own behavior over the years. I realize I've treated you poorly at times, and I want to apologize sincerely for that. Please know that I'll be working to do better going forward. I'm happy to talk about this more with you, but understand if you'd prefer not to." I'd rather get this message in writing than in person.

    * Apologize in public (for example on Facebook). You can be vague here, and shouldn't name names, but this is a good way to lead by example. Hopefully some of the women you've treated badly will see the post, and some of your male friends and family will be inspired to apologize, too.

    * The best thing you can do to make amends is to never treat a woman like this again.
    posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:27 AM on November 17, 2017 [21 favorites]

    I agree with latkes' comment.

    What I would want from someone who behaved like this towards me:
    - An apology (brief, not self-pitying, accepts responsibility, doesn't make excuses)
    - Addresses the specific thing that you did (rather than "for my inappropriate behaviour"), showing that you understand what the issue was
    - Leaves room to continue the conversation but makes it clear that it's not creating an obligation for the person to respond if they don't want to. ("If you'd like to talk more about this, I'm glad to discuss it, but please know that you don't need to if you'd prefer not to")

    If they also let me know that they'd kicked some money towards something like a sexual assault crisis line, etc., that would probably also make me feel good and like they are taking their behaviour seriously.
    posted by ITheCosmos at 8:28 AM on November 17, 2017 [11 favorites]

    1. The perception that every man everywhere is going to get "called out"/punished for sadly commonplace piggish behavior is probably the result of guilt/anxiety. I don't think you "need" to do this to "get out in front" of anything unless you misdescribed your past.

    Franken isn't just some guy; he's an elected representative of Minnesotans. Also, he was in his fifties and a position of significant power when this happened. To continue in political office, he needs to meet a higher standard, but no one is suggesting that he should never work again or be banned from polite society if he apologizes and makes amends.

    2. I am one person and this is just my opinion: What I would like from men who've acted moderately badly in the past* is that when it comes up in conversation, they acknowledge that they acted badly, regret it and have changed their behavior; and I'd also like them to call out other men's bad behavior when they see it. If they encounter women they've injured in the past and it would not be traumatizing/unprofessional/disruptive, I'd like them to apologize.

    I'd like them to continue to be open to changing their behavior, because not only do standards of politeness change, but what people feel empowered to ask for changes. A really great feminist male boss from 1980 would not look the same as a really great male feminist boss in 2017, because what women are empowered to ask for has changed. This does not mean that Really Great 1980 Boss was actually a garbage fire - it just means that times change.

    3. When I was a younger activist, I made a couple of big mistakes (and, I mean, a host of small ones on a regular basis, I'm not saying those were the only mistakes I ever made) that I am ashamed of and that did emotional harm to people who were vulnerable. I've done a couple of other non-activist things that I am hugely ashamed of and that were bad things that I should have known better than to do.

    I've chosen to deal with these things by apologizing to the people I wronged wherever possible, making material donations to assist the types of people I wronged where possible and talking about what I did and why it was wrong/stupid/careless/harmful where possible, to the point of giving a couple of presentations about one of the things. I also think about them pretty regularly, actually, and remind myself that I can make huge, awful, stupid mistakes and should always second-guess my instincts.

    Basically, I've tried to balance my desire to make amends/do better with the need to not make it All About Me And My Guilt. Sometimes I do this super well, sometimes I don't.

    What this has meant in my activist circles is that some people think I'm a fuck-up. This is frustrating, because I know that I am not the only person involved in the mistakes that were made, but I'm the one who stepped up. But it's also a price I deserve to pay. If you are open about having acted badly, this is probably what will happen with you, and it is what it is.

    *So, not actually sexually assaulting people, not actually harassing or stalking people, not actually trying to harm women who turned them down, etc.
    posted by Frowner at 8:28 AM on November 17, 2017 [25 favorites]

    As a person that has had many of those things done to me, possibly by someone in a similar position as you, I would not want anything from you, but to be left alone. I would not want confessions, I would not want reparations. I would feel like you are trying to un-guilt yourself by laying it back on me.

    I appreciate the sentiment that you have behind this, but, for myself, I would feel further trespass if you were to try to apologise for your previous actions.
    posted by kellyblah at 8:29 AM on November 17, 2017 [49 favorites]

    as someone who received an unexpected apology email from a harasser, i have... mixed feelings about the idea of apology or contact. it was not a request for forgiveness, to its credit, and the apology seemed mostly sincere (although it did veer into 'it was only intended as joking' excuse/justification territory). to be honest, it just reminded me of how uncomfortable my contact with that person had been.

    How can anyone ever do good when they cannot admit, publicly what they're done wrong, how they've hurt others?

    you just... do it. you do the things that you should do. you do not do the things you know (or now know) you should not do. you do this without feeling that you are atoning for past sins, because it is the right way to be. you do this without the expectation of public forgiveness, because your actions now and going forward are important. you do not expect others to hold you accountable. you hold yourself accountable, now and going forward, and you hold others accountable, if you see them doing the things you know men should not do, and you support people you know if/when they are harassed.
    posted by halation at 8:31 AM on November 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

    It's good that you recognize your wrongdoings, but consider that these women may not want to have this past pain opened up so that you can feel better about it. The right thing to do is to do better with every interaction with women you have going forward.

    Exactly this. I feel like we're going to see a new movement from harassers publicly apologizing, and as someone who has lived with decades of harassment, I don't want to hear from any of one of these men personally, nor do I want to read their public Facebook or whatever apologies.

    I think there's an element of needing to be absolved which is something that I refuse to do. This may not be a kind or popular view, but it is my view: I don't want to hear from any harasser and I don't want to read any harasser's public apology.

    Go forth in peace AND quiet and resolve to treat people as they all deserve to be treated.
    posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:31 AM on November 17, 2017 [29 favorites]

    You sound like a thoughtful person who wants to do better. The world could use more people like that.

    How can anyone ever do good when they cannot admit, publicly what they're done wrong, how they've hurt others?

    That's a really defeatist way to look at this situation. Of course you can do good. You can, for one thing, make a commitment to not harassing women in the future, and for another, you can speak up when you see someone harassing a woman. You can also make this about improving your future interactions with women and not about The Feelings you have because you're sorry you were a jerk. That's how you can do good.

    How can I interact with anyone in my life that thought of me well and that I was a "good guy"?
    Speaking as a woman, most of us assume that even the "good guys" have done this. Trust me, if people found out that you were less of a "good guy" than they thought, you probably won't be shattering any worlds. Just do better in the future.

    I have to agree with everyone above that putting your guilt back on the people that you wronged would just be making things worse.
    posted by corey flood at 8:33 AM on November 17, 2017 [8 favorites]

    What you do going forward:

    -Treat women well.
    -Call out other men, and ask for their help in changing male culture.

    That is it. Asking for forgiveness, desiring to be absolved of your guilt -- that is just another way of asking women to do emotional labor. Work it out on your own (or hire a therapist) and be a better person going forward.
    posted by epanalepsis at 8:35 AM on November 17, 2017 [80 favorites]

    so contra Frowner, my social circle has been calling out and naming A LOT of the casual dudes around town who are guilty of this nonsense. i would not rest easy that you won’t get called to account for yourself just because you’re a nobody.

    as a woman who has suffered the kinds of nonsense you’re coming to grips with having perpetuated, though, i wouldn’t really want to hear from you directly.

    i would recommend a very public accounting of yourself. here’s ways in which i did shitty things, here’s why and how i now understand it to be shitty, here’s what i’ve committed to to ensure i am unlikely to do this kind of thing again, and most importantly: here’s what i’m doing on a societal/structural level to fix this problem. that’s what i would love to see from the trash men who treated me badly: an commitment with cash and effort behind it to no longer being garbage, and to helping other men not be garbage.

    but have you actually committed to and begun executing on those last pieces? because without them this kind of accounting is just gutless crocodile tears. one must do the real work of restoration if one wants to partake in restorative justice.
    posted by amelioration at 8:38 AM on November 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

    I want the guys who behaved this way toward me in the past to do a few things.
    • Mentor young men and explicitly state, as well as model, that this crap is not ok. Without the message of “I used to do this and I grew out of it.” Just, be very clear that it’s not ok.
    • Engage in conversations with their (especially male) friends about the recent news, state that they believe the women, and that it’s not ok for men to behave in these ways.
    • Actively and purposefully hire and promote women, trans people, and people of color.
    • Mentor women, trans people, and people of color without being gross.
    • Quietly donate money and time to organizations working to stop this crap and mitigate the effects of harrsssment and abuse.
    You’ll notice that ‘reach out to me and apologize’ is conspicuously absent from this list. There are So Many men who have behaved in these ways, toward and around me. I do not have the energy to make men feel better or absolved of what they did in the past, and I don’t want to be reminded of specific incidents. Many, many of these incidents have blurred into a gross smear, akin to the thin film of poo that’s left on a sidewalk when you realize you’ve stepped on a turd and spend a few minutes hopping around, scraping the sole of your shoe on the sidewalk. I don’t need refreshers in the trauma of each individual butt nugget. And some of the things guys did to me were so bad they should be in jail, from then until now and beyond. I definitely don’t want to hear from those guys.

    Engaging these women now is likely all or mostly about making you feel better.

    Don’t do that. At least not directly. Maybe post on Facebook that you encourage men to donate their time and money to these efforts. But not if you’re expecting a cookie for being publicly self flagellating.
    posted by bilabial at 8:39 AM on November 17, 2017 [62 favorites]

    Before you do anything, ask yourself: will you be helping women (by empowering them, by challenging established sexist power structures, by intervening when you see other men behaving poorly, by listening thoughtfully to the lives experiences of women, etc.), or will it be helping you (by making you feel less guilty, by giving you the sense that you’ve made sufficient amends and can table the whole thing as done, etc.)?

    If it’s the former, do it. If it’s the latter, don’t.
    posted by jesourie at 8:41 AM on November 17, 2017 [15 favorites]

    As a guy who certainly wasn't always 1. good person, let alone 2. a good feminist; I also struggle about the concept of apology.

    Because you/I want to make amends but you/I don't want to reopen old wounds or make other's suffering all about you/me. It's complicated.

    Where I settled on it was: I'm going to be better, do better, call out bullshit as I see it, hire and promote women, treat my daughter with respect, raise my son not to be a misogynist/red-pill/rapist, make the world a better place than I found it.

    And when the guilt/self-pity gets me and I feel like "i just have to DO something" I get out the checkbook and make a donation.
    posted by French Fry at 8:42 AM on November 17, 2017 [20 favorites]

    Please look around you right now (where ever you are) and see how you are helping, respecting, empowering and listening to women. Now do better.
    posted by Toddles at 8:42 AM on November 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

    Boy oh boy, I bet this will be an interesting discussion!

    As a woman it goes without saying that I have been stalked, harassed, hasseled, touched inappropriately, and threatened by men both at work and outside of work all my life. I just began discussing this topic with my husband recently. Would I want these men to apologize? Would I want them punished? Would I want this to be public or private?

    I haven't come to any definite conclusions yet. But so far here's what I've come up with (I am only one woman but I hope maybe eventually with enough voices we can get some consensus).

    The man who abused me and threatened to kill me can never be punished enough. I dont want an appology. I want him to rot in hell. Never ever contact me. If you feel guilty and miserable , good. Live with it!

    The men who harassed me at work, who tried to have me fired when I wouldn't date them, or started sexual conversations at job interviews, ditto, rot in hell, no apology will make it better, and I never want to see your faces ever again. If you were on fire I wouldn't waste the piss to put you out.

    The men who haraassed me at work, made inappropriate comments, speculated publically on who I was sleeping with, grabbed my ass or told me I only got my position because of how I looked, I already proved you wrong and I moved on to the point where I don't even remember all of you. You could appologize but really, its unnecessary. You never mattered to me at all.

    To friends who got too familiar after a few drinks, who underestimated me because I was a woman, who didn't stand up for me when they saw others treating me badly, a private appology would be nice.

    I can't give you legal advice, but that's my one woman guide for men on what they might want to do or not do if they're feeling guilty.
    posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:42 AM on November 17, 2017 [24 favorites]

    Another woman who doesn't want to hear personally from you because I would feel you were just trying to make yourself feel better.

    And if you posted something on Facebook or another public forum about what you'd done in the past and how you now know it was wrong, you'd get a major eyeroll from me. I've seen way too many men wearing feminism on their sleeves as a way to make themselves look awesome. I don't trust it.

    It's great that you're thinking about this, but I agree that doing better moving forward is your best bet.
    posted by FencingGal at 8:48 AM on November 17, 2017 [18 favorites]

    OP, I have a business associate who just ran a workshop titled: "How to Apologize: for Men Who Want to #DoBetter." If you'd like her contact info, an overview of the content, or useful screenshots with examples of when, how and if to apologize, message me.
    posted by fritillary at 8:50 AM on November 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

    Divorce yourself from the emotional side of this and consider it coldly. Quantify the harm done and what it would take to rectify it. If your sexually harassing your victims profited you professionally and harmed your victims professionally, can you explain that to anyone at the workplace in a position to restore equity? Obviously, only if you are absolutely sure it will cause no additional harm to your victims. Your unwillingness to risk your own professional position at work on behalf of people whose professional success you may have prevented is certainly understandable; unfortunately, it will be impossible for you to make amends if you aren't willing to take that risk.

    Q: I am still possessed
    Of those effects for which I did the murder:
    My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.
    May one be pardoned and retain th' offense?

    A: Nope.
    posted by Don Pepino at 8:59 AM on November 17, 2017 [8 favorites]

    I think you don't go out of your way to announce it, if your description is the sum of it (though the part about dating in your chain of command seems problematic). But unless you know very different people than I do, harassment and its consequences probably come up at times in conversation, and often with people who think it's all going too far, it's out of proposition, it's getting dangerous to be a man, "they're" ganging up on "us," etc, with the assumption that you'll agree with them. What you can do then is speak up, and make it clear you're for this brave new world and why. And speak up when you see other people's harassment, and be introspective enough to make sure you're not still treating people with less power than you differently than you would if they were far more powerful than you. Be proactive about keeping an eye out for this stuff.

    Make it clear that you're not "one of the boys," and where relevant bring up your experience and the consequences of having been one.
    posted by trig at 9:03 AM on November 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

    I think the answer to the larger question is that we don't really know what this looks like yet.

    I have a number of friends who have to watch men they are no longer specifically in contact with performing all kinds of wokeness (is it real? It could be, some people have their Road To Damascus moment and some just want to say the right words to be one of the cool kids) on social media and local social/political circles and my friends are angry but they also do not want to be approached with apologies. And with the fleeting nature of social media and local social/political circles, maybe these guys did stand up and perform the full mea culpa once, but anyone who comes along 5 minutes too late won't ever know about it.

    I do think that part of the future narrative is going to have to be repeatedly acknowledging and honestly doing a form of witnessing to other men: I used to do bullshit and then I learned better and did better. When you hear about someone in your vicinity who isn't doing better, you believe the report and you see what you can do about it. Men have to start saying this to each other, to increase the pressure to learn/do. When you're sitting in a meeting at work and realize there's 5 white guys and one woman at the table, you're going to have to talk to someone about that. When you watch a customer service transaction and you can smell shitty behavior in either direction, you have to do something.

    As a feminist, I spend a lot of time re-acknowledging that there's a path from not being very informed to being smarter/doing better, and I walked it myself, and I know for sure that I am at best only halfway in between on any given day, and I may still do something poorly and have to answer for it and I will do my best to do so gracefully. That's probably a lot of the way this is going to work for y'all going forward. That kind of humility is not socialized into men, and it's probably going to suck and y'all are going to be terrible at it and you just need to keep trying.

    I'm hearing others say they don't want a public performance of your past transgressions, and I agree you don't get to command the stage to perform a public confession, but I think it should be part of pretty much all people's narratives to say, when you have the opportunity (especially when you know you have an opportunity to influence), I used to be bad at this and here's some information or explanation that was helpful to me or I wish I'd had at the time. I just think the important part is that you do not direct this at women, but at boys and men who might be given cause to think because you asked them to. Women may very well be unimpressed by this behavior, women from your past specifically may never think well of you, and those are consequences that you will have to live with.
    posted by Lyn Never at 9:03 AM on November 17, 2017 [11 favorites]

    I don't know how to do this, but I know that I must, that I should.

    No, you don't and I would silently and thoughtfully unpack why you think this is something you need to do. I mean, you want to apologize but you don't want your work to find out. So how sincere is your apology, then?

    I'm asking you to honestly examine what's your motivation for needing to apologize.
    posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:06 AM on November 17, 2017 [19 favorites]

    I wouldn't want someone I'm no longer in contact with to get in touch with me just to remind me of something unpleasant that I've probably forgotten - with an exception for friends and former friends.

    I had a few more paragraphs but really bilabial nails it. Move forward and try to do better. I think it's important to not pretend you've always been the perfect feminist, but I've watched people bend themselves into knots over the past rather than looking around them and asking themselves "What can I do now that would improve my home/workplace/community/city?"
    posted by bunderful at 9:10 AM on November 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

    Make the world a better place for women by calling out men for this behaviour that you now recognize as wrong. „Not cool, dude.“
    This will be really hard and maybe scary for you. (It’s worse for women.) Do it. This is how you give the world back what you took from it. This is how you make things better for women.
    posted by Omnomnom at 9:15 AM on November 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

    As a lady person who has had her share of dealing with sexist and degrading comments, requests, etc., I would not want to hear from you if we are not currently friends/acquaintances/co-workers.

    IMO the most important things you can do are:
    1. When a woman, a person of color, or a trans person tells a story about being harassed, bullied, etc., believe them. Do not minimize, suggest that they misunderstood or that the harasser was joking, etc. Believe them.
    2. When another man starts going on about "the women are after us! buncha lying bitches" or whatever, say, "Actually I believe them." Stand up for us. Let other men know it's not cool to denigrate, minimize, or ridicule other people who report harassment and sexual assault.

    If the men who harassed me would do those two things, I would value that much more than a personal apology.
    posted by tuesdayschild at 9:24 AM on November 17, 2017 [17 favorites]

    You feel guilty but you don't want any actual consequences for your actions. You want absolution from the victims and maybe from others. Respect the women in here who are telling you to leave your victims alone. Public self-flagellation is performative feminism.

    The way you make amends is to 1. never do this shit again; 2. be a good role model for others, especially boys; 3. call other men/people out when they do this shit; 4. support women anonymously, e.g. via donation to a victim's group. (Do not under any circumstances send the actual victims anything anonymously.)

    Years ago, I did something similarly shitty but non-sexual and not illegal, and I've done 1-4 above. I still have to live with what I did even though the victim has possibly forgotten who I am given that I'm probably one of a long list of perpetrators. That knowledge keeps me humble and helps me be aware of my effect on others.
    posted by AFABulous at 9:24 AM on November 17, 2017 [16 favorites]

    I am a woman who has experienced this kind of behavior. I speak only for myself, of course.

    If we were no longer in touch - I wouldn’t want you to contact me, because that would feel like you were trying to get me to forgive you when I have already moved on.

    If we were casual acquaintances - I’d want you to demonstrate through your actions that you are different now, but believing women, affirmatively calling out bad behavior in other men, and acknowledging your complicity if and when it comes up in conversation. I wouldn’t really want a personal apology (again it feels like asking for forgiveness in a yucky way), but I’d appreciate seeing you act in a positive way.

    If we were close friends, I would want an apology, but the things above about your behavior would still be more important.

    Lots of men talk the talk about being a feminist who respect women but don’t act like it (see: Joss Whedon, Louis C.K., a million other men we all know). Actions speak louder than words. If past behavior comes up in conversation the yes, acknowledge that you behaved in a shitty way and you’re affirmatively trying to do better, but don’t try and make “I’ve changed! I’m great now!” statements because they feel really false.
    posted by insectosaurus at 9:38 AM on November 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

    I don't know how to do this, but I know that I must, that I should.
    I don't think it is true in your case. If your behavior is what you describe, I would actually be disturbed if you did contact me if I were in their place.

    Change going forward. Work to make a better world. Don't reopen old wounds. That wouldn't necessarily be productive or even make you feel better about your past actions.
    posted by RainyJay at 9:54 AM on November 17, 2017

    Also: this behavior apparently didn't have negative consequences for you at the time, but you don't make any mention of being secretive about it. It seems like it's relatively new for you to recognize that your mindset wasn't appropriate, especially for workplace; that doesn't mean this assessment of you is necessarily new for other people. Consequences may or may not occur based on past assessments of your behavior. Strive to change.
    posted by RainyJay at 10:04 AM on November 17, 2017

    I was repeatedly and viciously bullied as a child by the son of one of my mother's friends. It scarred me. I have learned, through my mother, that this guy has had a conversion of sorts, and publicly acknowledged at his mother's funeral that he used to be a horrible person, and apologized for it. I also heard that he is a high school sports coach and tries to mentor young men and women.

    In the abstract, I say, "Good for him." I still never want to see him again.

    If you really want to do better - and not just FEEL better - I recommend any or all of the following.

    Talk less, especially at work, but at home, too. Much, much less. Ask more questions. Listen more. If you hear things that are jarring or don't mesh with your opinion, don't immediately get defensive or tell the other person why they are wrong. Ask more questions and listen more.

    Amplify other voices, especially women's voices, and the voices of people of color and other non-dominant groups (differently abled, LGBTQ). Notice who is on hiring committees, promotion committees, review committees, and do what you can to increase diversity.

    Do your own scut work, and let younger men, including your children, if you have any, see you doing it. Make your own copies. Do your own stapling. Be the person who bothers for the crappy, boring low-status job every now and then. Have those jobs rotated around, rather than fob them off on the nearest available woman. At home, do the boring, crappy scut work jobs without having to be reminded. Treat your female partner (if you have one) with respect.

    When women tell you something is happening, believe them.

    When you are around other men who don't believe women, challenge them.
    posted by dancing_angel at 10:12 AM on November 17, 2017 [12 favorites]

    I'm one of the friends Lyn mentions above, who is watching a ex publicly do a song and dance about how woke he is. And maybe he is. We haven't been in touch in a long time. But when we were together, there were multiple occasions when he did exactly the sort of thing he's now decrying, to me.

    I don't want to hear from him. I don't need any detailed public accounting of the way he behaved. I'm glad he's saying the right things now. What I would want from him if I could have anything would be for a simple acknowledgement when he writes an essay or tweetstorm that he was not born understanding this stuff but came to it after listening and learning and thinking about it. Ideally with a pointer to some victims' writings and a place or two to donate money. I'd like to see him directly engaging with other men on these issues.

    If he can't or isn't ready to do those things then I would rather he shut up, stop centering his narrative of how much better than other men he is, and to keep listening and learning until a time comes when he can engage more honestly with his past and boost the voices of harmed people above his own.

    I'd also like a pony.
    posted by Stacey at 10:16 AM on November 17, 2017 [22 favorites]

    Cis woman here. In my view, the best thing you can do is gather your close male friends. Tell them that the recent public allegations and revelations of sexual assault have got you thinking about your own past behaviors and actions. Invite these other men, with whom you are close, to join you in beginning to think about and process their/your experiences as men in a patriarchal society. Make room for yourself and for each of the men gathered to review and consider instances in which you/they abused your/their power. Make room to talk about how it feels to sit with that. Make room to talk about all of the feelings that will come to the surface: guilt, shame, self-righteousness, defensiveness, indignation, fear of consequences, etc. Help each other process those emotions and decide where they most rightfully/effectively belong in this larger process of reconciliation. Make commitments to each other about how you will each strive to further educate yourselves to understand how patriarchy works, what belief systems are necessary to uphold it, and how you all can challenge and unlearn the sense of entitlement and alienation that patriarchy has bred in you.
    posted by sleepingwithcats at 10:22 AM on November 17, 2017 [15 favorites]

    I truly hate the public Facebook "for whatever I may have done wrong" stuff.

    I view the public Facebook performances to be on the same spectrum as the harassment itself: men feeling entitled to women's deference, men insisting that women take whatever they feel like dishing out. (Also on the spectrum: offering opinions about womens' appearance/behavior etc; talking over women; jumping into discussions about womens' experiences; &c.)

    I think it's great that you're taking a good look at yourself and that you're going to behave decently going forward. That's ALL you need to do and all you are entitled to do, as far as women go. And step in when you see bad behavior on the part of other men. That would be nice. But don't run around performing your mea culpa.
    posted by fingersandtoes at 10:25 AM on November 17, 2017 [10 favorites]

    Thanks for asking this question.

    I am thinking about several people who have sexually harassed me and imagining what, if anything, I might want from them. I guess I would feel somewhat vindicated if any of these harassers issued a public statement admitting their history of being sexual harassers -- without naming the names of their targets. Even a simple public admission of their own complicity with sexual harassment and toxic power dynamics might be appreciated. However, I would not want or need an unsolicited personal message from them, though -- because I don't want to be in contact with people who were sexist assholes to me in the past.

    With all of that said, I think you should examine your motivations. If your goal is to "feel better", then perhaps you should question why you think you deserve to feel relief from your guilt and discomfort. You might also consider that even if you express a public acknowledgement, that you might still feel guilt and discomfort for your past behavior. Are you capable of sitting with that discomfort?

    I echo others who emphasize the importance of deciding to behave differently in the future--and the importance of speaking privately to other men about your own 'awakening' as well as intervening when you observe sexist behavior in public or private. That - in addition to committing to treating women better -- is the most important thing you can do.
    posted by Gray Skies at 11:11 AM on November 17, 2017

    All I want is the people who did this to me to not do it to other people in the future, and I also never want to hear from them again. Obviously other people's mileage varies, but I would really not want to get an apology note from anybody.

    Thanks for recognizing what you've done, and for committing to not do it again.
    posted by sockermom at 11:12 AM on November 17, 2017 [9 favorites]

    the necessary question about confessing, after "confess to what" is "confess to whom?" Women, or feminist women, do not have a priesthood or the finances and infrastructure to sustain and pay one. I sometimes think this is a pity. because what I think you are wishing for is someone to perform what people might label emotional or maternal labor but is really properly the duty of a priest: to hear you and instruct you on what penance will bring forgiveness. but like I say, there are no priests of women, only priests of god.

    the thing that you must do and must not talk yourself out of, first, is telling the truth when directly asked. followed closely by correcting people's false assumptions about you when to let them be would be deceptive.

    an example of what I mean is: suppose some female friend of yours is enraged about the latest famous man to do terrible things, and pauses her tirade to say apologetically: Anonymous, I hope you don't feel attacked -- I'm not angry at all men, I know you're not like this! I'm only talking about this to you because I know you're a good and righteous person.

    In such a case, I think you would be morally obligated to correct her -- without offering distressing or prurient details, say that you have in fact done such things, and although you are sorry now and know better now and no longer do them, you did do them, and were never punished. I think realistically you can expect this to lose you some friends, and the ones you don't lose will be properly resentful of you for ruining their illusions about how well they know the men they know.

    I do not think that contextless public declarations are a good idea or helpful to women in general or the specific women you may have wronged. they will come across as attention-seeking, self-aggrandizing, or punishment-seeking. I have seen some such declarations and they come across as the behavior of self-centered masochists strategically using the anger they incite to get the kicks they like. you don't have to really be like this to come across this way.

    I do not think you should ever seek to hold a position of power in any women's rights/interest organization or anti-harassment or anti-domestic-violence or anti-discrimination organization. though support for them in whatever way you are able is nice. this is distinct from actively attempting to get fired from your current job.

    Whether you should apologize to individual women you still talk to is so completely individual and context-based a decision that you have to make it entirely on your own on a case-by-case basis. . be prepared for them to be more creeped out or offended by the apology -- which is evidence that you've been thinking about and obsessing over what may have been, to them, a trivial incident, for years -- than the original offense. if you judge some particular thing you've done to be so egregious it absolutely demands apology and accountability, bear in mind that the recipient of the apology may understand it as an attempt to prolong a completely one-sided intimacy with them that they never sought. I would not ever want to know, for example, that the guy who grabbed my chest in high school has been thinking and ruminating about it ever since. it would be a sickening experience.
    posted by queenofbithynia at 11:33 AM on November 17, 2017 [11 favorites]

    Ijeoma Oluo just posted an article on this yesterday.

    So You’ve Sexually Harassed Or Abused Someone: What Now?
    posted by matildaben at 11:49 AM on November 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

    I invaded their personal space.
    I touched/poked them without checking to see if it was okay.
    I brought up topics that would not be appropriate to talk about with how long/how I knew them.

    Hi! I've had people do this to me in the past! I do not want them to ever contact me again, in any capacity, regardless of reason. Respect these people's boundaries and do not contact them. No, seriously. If you contact them now you are still invading their personal space. Do not do this. Omg I'm shuddering thinking about all the creepy dudes I've known sending me a fucking email. Do NOT do this.
    posted by capricorn at 12:18 PM on November 17, 2017 [12 favorites]

    Agree with most of the above. As a woman, I have also been harassed a lot and honestly I never want to see or hear from those men ever again. They can go fuck themselves. They will not be forgiven and I hope they suffer from their guilt. It doesn’t even come close to the level of suffering and fear I’ve been through in my day to day from male harrassment and bullshit. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s how I roll.

    The most I want is for them to not do it to others and if they truly have changed, to stand up for women and other marginalized folks when possible. If you still feel the need to do something, I like the ideas above about donating time or money to a good cause. But if you contacted me, I’d be pretty upset to hear from you again.
    posted by FireFountain at 12:33 PM on November 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

    Yeah, I spoke earlier about the public Facebook performance, and I'll chime back in about one-on- one apologies. Look. The goal is to avoid unconsensual engagements. I don't want you, as some man in the office, to show me your dick; to tell me what you think of my looks; to touch me; to make crude jokes in an effort to get a reaction from me. Bottom line I do not want you to be making your man-issues my problem. And that's what your question is coming across as.

    Don't make your issues any woman's problem from now on. Do refuse to be part of boys-will-be-boys culture in all its repugnant forms. And if the idea of telling men what to do strikes you as less appealing than that of telling women all about your feelings, well, that's exactly where your reformed character is going to help you suck it up.
    posted by fingersandtoes at 12:52 PM on November 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

    can't believe I wrote a three-volume novel up there and somehow missed the weirdest part of this question: the anonymity.

    I don't know all the ins and outs of procedural possibilities here so if it is because you don't have an account and asked somebody to submit it for you anonymously, fine and good. if it is because you don't want answers to be prejudiced by any feelings about your personality as indicated by your history, or you think everybody likes you and they'll be nicer than you deserve if they know who you are, ok.

    but if it is because you just don't want this confession linked to your persona here, that makes a joke out of the whole thing.

    Other men here have "confessed" to grabbing women's parts here and there, mostly in order to grandstand about how no men are innocent because they, now the loudest of the best, have done wrong, so therefore they can read other men's souls like a dirty book. and I have a memory like a sieve so I couldn't tell you their names, and I wouldn't quote them back to themselves every time I wanted to argue with them even if I did. but some people probably remember, and if you put your name on this, some people will remember this about you. some people who had liked you will stop, some others will never start, and most of them will keep it to themselves because of decorum and site rules but will despise you. so, if that tiny social consequence is too scary and unpleasant to contemplate, you have not thought this out very well.
    posted by queenofbithynia at 12:58 PM on November 17, 2017 [11 favorites]

    I wonder if men must proactively admit what they're done before they're called out.

    There may be good reasons to share this information about yourself with people who don't already know (i.e. not women you have abused), but doing so preemptively to try to neutralize some future "call out" is not one. Admitting you did a bad thing because you hope it will prevent someone from criticizing you is... not great.

    What if I do this publicly and word gets back to work? Would I get fired for it? Should I get fired for it? Is this just reaping what I've sown so many years ago?


    How can I interact with anyone in my life that thought of me well and that I was a "good guy"?

    If people in your life give you credit that you don't deserve, you can tell them the truth, which is that you don't deserve it. If they are men, maybe further conversation can help them recognize and stop harassing and abusive behavior that they have been ignoring or perpetrating. If they are women, they are owed the truth of knowing what you have done, but don't expect them to assuage your guilt or give you a cookie for changing.

    The most important question, which you didn't actually ask as such—What should I do?—has already been well answered: confront men who harass and abuse women, confront men who make excuses for harassing and abusing women, believe women, and leverage your own power to support women.

    On preview: I would also like to heartily second queenofbithynia's observation about your anonymity. This observation also prompted another of my own: despite many commenters weighing the pros and cons of you apologizing to the women you have harmed, the word or the notion of an "apology" never actually appears in your post. You only ever use the words "admit" and "confess." I suggest you think through the implications of that, as well.
    posted by CtrlAltDelete at 1:10 PM on November 17, 2017 [12 favorites]

    Yes, the more I think on this the more I can't help but liken it to the people who cheat on partners and then ask "should I tell my partner?" The answer is almost always no, because the confession is not about them -- it's about you, and about making your own burden lighter by asking the person that you hurt to carry it.
    posted by sockermom at 2:03 PM on November 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

    Don’t seek out women who are no longer in your life and make them tend to you and relive what is not the first hundredth or last male intrusion on their lives. Try to really really really understand what that means, all this intrusion.

    Apologize to any of them who still care about you and be specific.

    Nothing is going to happen to you but IMO if anything you did rose to the level of sexual harassment, then yes, your image and career ought to be at risk. But nothing is going to happen unless you’re a pubic figure and maybe not even then.
    posted by kapers at 3:30 PM on November 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

    I'll chip in some thoughts and advice. To you, the straight white 30s man, figure out where your responsibility ought to be.

    In a manner of speaking, the work you are asking for help with here doesn't seem so different than the work women are asked to do in recovering from sexual harrassment. Figure out how to better attune to your own gut-level awareness of situations, and be able to articulate how you know you choose the wisest course of action.

    The behavioral tactics you've made explicit in your list above is actually quite excellent. How/When did you know those interactions were going to become uncomfortable? How could you tell? At what point did you use your voice -- or some other aspect of your personal power -- to change the outcome for the better? What do you like about how you handled it? What would you do differently next time? What advice would you give to a younger man (5-10-15 years younger), to help him out in a similar situation? What advice would have been most helpful for you to hear from another man?

    I strongly encourage you to find a supportive group of men to further develop these (observational/awareness/respectful conduct/?) skills. You sound like you deserve to be among men friends who are humble enough to listen and validate your efforts to be a man invested in cultivating healthy instincts so that in his lifetime, he may better serve the higher collective good (i.e. a society free of unnecessary sexual harassment, which is no little feat considering it's never existed before).

    From above: I feel like we're going to see a new movement from harassers publicly apologizing...

    [How I would finish that sentence]:... to seeing every person on Earth develop the maturity to recognize and hold themselves accountable for how their behaviors impact those around them. To seeing every person value the dignity of those around them in practices based on cultivating healthy instincts.

    IMO, this is (a very big part of) what we need in humanity moving forward, if we don't want to euthanize ourselves from the planet in the next few decades. Good luck on your journey, OP!
    posted by human ecologist at 5:01 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

    In Al-Anon (and probably other 12-step groups) there is this notion of making amends for the wrongs you have committed. Interestingly, you are making amends not to make the wronged party feel better (although it's awesome if it happens) but because it will make you feel better. The thing is, you are not supposed to make direct amends if it will additionally harm the other person(s), as roughly a zillion people above say it would. The alternative is a "living amends" which means you clean up your act and stop doing the shitty stuff you used to do. In my case, I work hard to offer a living amends to my daughter and myself. Which has also been recommended above, although not by name.

    How can anyone ever do good when they cannot admit, publicly what they're done wrong, how they've hurt others?

    Follow the advice above. And maybe go see a therapist. Publicly announcing what you've done wrong won't actually help the women you harmed and may well harm them further. Figure out how to deal with it. Figure out how to model good behaviour. Figure out how to do the right thing. There's a ton of great advice about that above. If you need to confess, go find a minister or priest or counsellor for that. Do not put that shit on women, not the ones you treated badly nor ones you have not treated badly. That is emotional upchucking that will make you feel better and make us feel ill. Don't do it. Thank you.
    posted by Bella Donna at 6:22 PM on November 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

    Also: I'm okay that this is an anonymous question. If I get a vote, I would prefer *not* to know who you are.
    posted by Bella Donna at 6:24 PM on November 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

    One thing to keep in mind is things that are big in your mind may not be big in someone else's, especially as time has passed. You're not as important to other people as you think you are.

    That's not to diminish the pain or anguish someone experienced. I've had horrible things done to me years ago that I really don't give a shit about anymore. If the folks who did that stuff to me apologized, I'd be confused, realize over the next 20 minutes what the hell they were talking about, ignore them, and forget they existed again. From what you said, I really don't believe anyone would actively remember your behavior.

    Be a better person, and don't dredge up past shit unless someone specifically asks.
    posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 8:17 PM on November 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

    I would recommend reading Doctor Nerdlove, who used to be some kind of jerk back in the day but improved. Relevant column: How Do You Find Redemption?
    posted by jenfullmoon at 8:32 PM on November 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

    So, invading women’s physical space/violating their boundaries/etc. is a microaggression BECAUSE it puts all the onus on those women to act like it’s no big deal for the sake of your feelings. When you see a guy catcalling strangers, or manhandling his colleagues, or trying to chat up a teenager on the subway despite her headphones and the book she’s trying to read, he is taking advantage of this power imbalance.

    HOWEVER. The same can be said of the following things I see my born-again-woke friends (male and otherwise*) doing now:

    - Making a biiiiiiig public production of repenting of any harm they might™ have caused, and then looking around to see who gives them cookies or nookies in response

    - Calling out “problematic” behavior at the top of their lungs every chance they get, and then looking around to see who gives them cookies or nookies in response

    - Asking others for their “input” on these matters, then completely missing the point or deflecting when those responses don’t flatter them sufficiently, then moping passive-aggressively about how they could really go for some cookies or nookies right about now

    Thing is, it’s a new twist on the same old problem: it’s still behavior that demands attention and validation and accommodation. Moreover, it requires tremendous emotional labor from those it’s imposed upon, either to tolerate it OR to confront it. It eliminates the option of simply opting-out, because not-engaging is seen as acquiescence. This drains the target’s time and energy.

    I do not think this is your actual intention, but it will be the ultimate effect. Think of it this way: y’ever see one of those unintentionally ironic “modest is hottest!” t-shirts? True humility doesn’t formally announce itself. You can just be better without a wronged party making you feel better or endorsing your betterness.

    *Just so we are clear, I’ve also had women trample my physical and emotional boundaries in these ways. But they have generally been, and continue to be, lonelier and more awkward than the men who’ve done it, because society at large holds them to a different standard.
    posted by armeowda at 10:40 PM on November 17, 2017 [10 favorites]

    The idea of a whole bunch of male offenders publicising their remorse is really off putting to me. It's time for the women to be heard.
    posted by jojobobo at 11:32 PM on November 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

    I appreciate the courage behind the fact that you are re-thinking your past behaviour and realizing that you did wrong. However, as a woman who has experienced her fair share of gender-based harassment and discrimination, I see this kind of apology, public or private, as yet another demand for emotional labour on my part. You need to do this work on your own.

    There's a lot of good advice here about what that work looks like. Mostly, listen more than you talk, stand up for women and marginalized people, and talk to other men about how damaging this kind of thing can be. If a woman you know approaches you and wants to talk about an incident, hear what she has to say, ask her what she needs from you, and express your sincere remorse. Then do what she asks of you.

    The best apology is doing better, even if you never get cookie for it.
    posted by rpfields at 9:16 AM on November 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

    it’s still behavior that demands attention and validation and accommodation. Moreover, it requires tremendous emotional labor from those it’s imposed upon, either to tolerate it OR to confront it. It eliminates the option of simply opting-out, because not-engaging is seen as acquiescence.....True humility doesn’t formally announce itself. You can just be better without a wronged party making you feel better or endorsing your betterness.

    On preview, said so much better by Armeowda.
    posted by rpfields at 9:20 AM on November 18, 2017

    This upcoming documentary promises to broaden the conversation on this subject: A Better Man.

    That said, we should keep in mind that the filmmaker chose to contact her abuser. I would not recommend that anybody who abused others in the past get back in contact with their victims to issue apologies and make amends (unless those victims reach out first).
    posted by theorique at 1:50 PM on November 18, 2017

    My friend, a man, has been posting to Facebook a series of descriptions of times he didn't live up to his standard for being a positive person for women to have around. His main messages are that he's learning, he's flawed, and this is incredibly important. Within that, he shares about how his thinking is changing, the fact he's still not got it all together, and his weaknesses here. He writes about how important it is for men to have this conversation and stand up to speak, to say "It's on me to address this; I'm complicit." And he explains that that's why he's doing this -- not out of hope for people to tell him, "Hey, you're not so bad," but because it's important for there to be safety and precedence and a norm to acknowledge and discuss and learn. He shared examples from his childhood all the way up to things that he's done or not done recently, from knowing an assault might be taking place and not saying anything, to hearing friends objectify a woman on TV and not saying anything. This kind of writing and public example-setting is something I appreciate a lot and I see it as something that men can uniquely do. So, even if you aren't specific about what you've done, perhaps you can consider ways to share your experience with other men. Bring up this conversation. Just open the space by modeling how to show up with vulnerability and questions and an unchanging commitment to do better. Perhaps the women you interacted with will see it, perhaps not, but that's not the point.

    With all this, be wise in how/with whom you share. But I think a slightly more generalized list than the one you provided should be fine and relatable to most people.
    posted by ramenopres at 2:49 PM on November 22, 2017

    If you're bound and determined to bare your soul on Facebook, you can create a list of only your male friends and set the privacy for that post to only them. At least you won't (re)traumatize anyone and you won't be cookie- or absolution-seeking. Men are the ones who need to hear this behavior isn't acceptable anyway. If you hesitate to limit your audience to only men, re-examine your motives.
    posted by AFABulous at 3:14 PM on November 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

    Maybe the people you've hurt have told you want they want and you're not listening.

    A little while ago I posted here about a former best friend who I cut off contact with after some harassment allegations came to light, shared to me by someone who was worried that I would be victimized the same way they were. (That's a massive oversimplification and there's more to it but that's the gist.) A week or so after that AskMefi post, the friend got back in touch and wanted to resolve what he called a "colossal misunderstanding" so that we can "get along again". I told him that I'd need him to take some personal responsibility for his side of things, including some things he said to me that were crossing the line with me, and for that alone I would appreciate a direct, personal apology. Not even for what he did to other people, because apologising to me about that wouldn't do anything. But for how he treated me? Yes.

    Nope. Wouldn't budge. Told me that me asserting my boundaries were "impossible preconditions" (while complaining that I wouldn't respect his). He's totally in the right and I'm totally in the wrong and I'm doing this to harass him or punish him. Control and gaslighting all over the place. The closest he got to taking responsibility was "I see that I've hurt you and I'm sorry" but he's not willing to see how he hurt me. I told him off, pointing out the controlling and gaslighting; I haven't heard from him since and I doubt I ever will, which at this point I don't mind as much really.

    If you're being told by the people you hurt (or the communities therein) what they want from you, listen to them.
    posted by divabat at 12:41 AM on December 12, 2017

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