How to be a good man: what I learned from a month reading the feminist classics

A year after the first Harvey Weinstein revelations, how can men show solidarity with women? One Swedish professor decided it was time for some deep reading.

“He covered my mouth with his hand and introduced his penis. I thought my last hour had arrived. I had the feeling my stomach was turning.”

These are not the words of a woman testifying as part of the #MeToo movement, and they are not the words of Christine Blasey Ford, who testified against the US supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh last week – although the hand over the mouth, if not the reference to the penis, mirror her words. (Kavanaugh denies the allegations.) This is, instead, the experience of a young woman as recounted by the French feminist and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir in her 1949 classic The Second Sex.

I took that book down from the shelf about a month ago; it had sat there, untouched, for years. How many times had I pretended to have read it, nodding knowingly when someone mentioned it at a dinner party, or in a seminar at the Swedish university where I work?

A year after the first revelations about the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, I wanted to to sit down and read about women’s experiences, to stay silent for a while, and hopefully learn something. It has been painful to listen to the stories of systematic sexual abuse that have emerged as a result of the #MeToo movement, and also an education; it has forced me to see things I had failed to see in the past. Before, I knew sexual assaults were endemic, but I didn’t realise they were this endemic. I also understood that the blame is often put on the victim. But I had never really seen this, not in such a concrete and shockingly visible way.

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