Men and #MeToo

Community conversations are a key tool of organizations such as Moving Traditions in the fight against sexual abuse and harassment. One year after #MeToo became a movement, these conversations have proliferated and, organizers say, are starting to show results.

The #MeToo movement has served as a powerful vehicle for women around the world to share their stories of sexual harassment, assault and abuse. But #MeToo’s reach into everyday life, politics and pop culture has left some men wondering, “What, if anything, can I do?”

From safe-space discussions for teenage boys to coed-led education sessions for college fraternities, the social prominence of #MeToo has become a relevant part of conversations about dating and sexuality across the Jewish community.

Rabbi Daniel Brenner, chief of education and programming for Moving Traditions, an organization committed to the health and wellbeing of Jewish teenagers, wrote about the very question of what men can do through a Jewish lens.

“Men have a responsibility to work with people of all genders to bring about cultural change,” he wrote. “In the Jewish community, that means that men who lead, work within or serve on the boards of Jewish institutions should be advocating for clear policies regarding sexual harassment across all levels of the organization. They should learn to watch out for common signs of harassment and abuse, and encourage efforts that make for safer workplaces and volunteer organizations.”

Shevet, a national program by Moving Traditions, provides Jewish teenage boys with space to explore their post-bar mitzvah Jewish identities. Healthy masculinity and issues regarding relationships and substance abuse are often discussed.

Since #MeToo, Brenner has seen teenagers become more willing to discuss sexual consent.

“Seven years ago, when we launched the Shevet program, we had content in the curriculum that focused on sexual objectification and sexual consent,” Brenner said. “It was typical that the mentors would say a lot of the guys weren’t ready for it. But I think now,

especially this year, that even eighth graders are engaging in these topics.”There are also programs to prevent sexual assault for college-age men. Jewish Women International, an organization that works to empower women and girls through civic participation and community engagement, has a set of programs called Change the Culture that address sexual abuse, bystander invention, women’s empowerment against sexual violence and prenuptial agreements in Orthodox marriages. The organization also works with historically Jewish fraternity Zeta Beta Tau on Change the Culture’s coed-led Safe Smart Dating seminars at college campuses across the country.

“We want people to understand that enthusiastic consent is what you’re looking for,” said Deborah Rosenbloom, the vice president of programs and new initiatives. “Our understanding around Greek life and fraternities is that there are fantastic values: leadership, mentorship, friendship. What we do with the fraternity is try to elevate those values to have positive outcomes.”

Rosenbloom hopes that in and out of fraternity life, Jewish men will be aware of the power they hold at work, home, synagogue and other Jewish spaces. This includes believing survivors and holding other men accountable, even if they are one’s superior.

“There’s always push back, but we’ve learned how to respond to it. Some guys will just be doubtful that these are real issues or that they have responsibility around it, but I feel like that’s changing,” she said. “My feeling about it is that guys are more understanding of the larger issue, and that they know what we’re talking about is real.”

No matter the age level, conversations with boys, teenagers and men about respect, consent, personal barriers and bystander intervention have proven to be entry points for male involvement in the #MeToo movement. Brad Cohen is director of education at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, one of Moving Traditions’ 200 partners nationally. Cohen said creating the environments to have such conversations is an important place to start.

“To have these kinds of conversations, you need to be in a safe space with people you trust,” he said. “Not every guy comes from the same place in understanding the #MeToo movement, but at the same time they come from a place of openness and want to be able to have a voice within in it.” JN

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