In a so-called post-#MeToo era, we have become accustomed to seeing women dare to speak out about the exploitative men they’ve worked with. But it has unfortunately been far rarer to see men follow these women's fearless lead.
That’s most likely why actor Seth Rogen revealing new details about his ruptured friendship and long-time partnership with James Franco, accused of sexual misconduct by five actresses, is getting the attention it is. (Franco denies the allegations.)
The irony is that women, who are statistically more likely to speak up, have a lot to lose when they call out abuse, while men, who are more likely to stay silent, often have a lot to gain. Women routinely face retribution, punishment or worse, get completely shut out of their industry. The backlash is far worse for women of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+, and since roles for disabled women are virtually nonexistent, silence is often the only option. But men in Hollywood — especially the wealthy, white, cisgender and heterosexual ones — have so much unused social capital that goes to waste when they don’t speak up.
We often talk about checking our privilege, but when it comes to powerful men in Hollywood, it’s shocking that so few of them invest some of that privilege. Men with influence even often get accolades and high-fives when they speak out about sexism. So why do they remain so tepid to do it?
One of the reasons we don’t often hear men talk about gendered violence is that it’s still falsely seen as a women’s issue because of our patriarchal programming. In a sexist society, women are held responsible for men’s behavior; it fuels the belief that women are the ones who must fix broken men.
But in a patriarchal society, it’s not just women who fear men — men also fear other men. And the idiotic "bros before hoes" male code means men feel afraid to stand up to other men. A recent report showed that 94 percent of men experience “masculine anxiety” when they’re at work, which researchers defined as “the distress men feel when they do not think they are living up to society’s rigid standards of masculinity.” The men in the study who felt the most worried about proving their masculinity to other men were the least likely to act when they spotted sexism.
In other words, the more insecure a man is with his performance of masculinity, the more he’ll be afraid of other men’s opinions about him. And the strongest men are the ones who are loyal to themselves rather than to other men.
In an interview with The Sunday Times to promote his new book "Yearbook,” Rogen said it’s “not a coincidence” that he and Franco haven’t collaborated in years, and that he regrets downplaying allegations of Franco’s misconduct. Rogen explained that he wished he hadn’t trivialized Franco preying on a 17-year-old girl in a "Saturday Night Live" sketch and in some of his past responses in the press.
“I also look back to that interview in 2018 where I comment that I would keep working with James, and the truth is that I have not and I do not plan to right now,” he said. “What I can say is that I despise abuse and harassment and I would never cover or conceal the actions of someone doing it, or knowingly put someone in a situation where they were around someone like that.”
Rogen’s confession comes on the heels of Franco settling a sexual misconduct lawsuit in February without admitting wrongdoing. The two women in the case accused him of “widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior,” and said that he created Studio 4, his acting and filmmaking school, “to provide him and his male collaborators with a pool of young female performers that they could take advantage of.”
While Rogen’s response was greeted mostly positively as a rare example of men standing up to male violence against women, actor Charlyne Yi, who says Franco exploited and abused her, isn’t letting him off the hook. In an Instagram post, she called Rogen out for marginalizing vulnerable women “by publicly siding with an abuser further damaging their careers and safety.” Yi also created an actionable list of demands on Rogen’s part that included apologizing directly to Franco’s alleged victims and committing to hiring survivors in his future projects.
Earlier this year, she accused Rogen of “enabling” Franco. “Seth Rogen literally gave a statement saying that men’s opinions don’t matter about a men’s issue, but went on SNL using his white male voice and power to do a sketch with Franco normalizing preying on underage girls,” she said.
Because instances of men challenging their abusive male friends in Hollywood are so few and far between, it’s hard to point to examples of men getting it right.
Of course, just because we don’t see men breaking this toxic male code doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Michael Kaufman, the author of “The Time Has Come: Why Men Must Join the Gender Equality Revolution”and the co-founder of the international White Ribbon Campaign, a men’s group devoted to ending men’s violence against women, says that there is no one-size-fits-all model for men who have friends or family who reveal themselves to be abusers. “If a woman is in immediate physical danger, I might say that friend should call the police — but if you’re Black, that may not be safe for anyone,” he said. “So, I’m reluctant to make a general statement.”
While every situation is different, it’s imperative that men understand that saying nothing isn’t passive. It’s active — it enables the abuser to act without impunity. “Most men don’t use violence in our relationships. But most men have been silent about physical, sexual and emotional abuse,” Kaufman said. “Since men look to other men to define our ideas of manhood, our silence allows the violence to continue. It’s critical that all men speak out against violence against women, and other forms of gender-based violence including against LGBTQ people. Whether in our homes, on the streets, or in our workplaces, men must stand shoulder to shoulder with women to say this violence must end now.”
If men need new models of bravery to develop the courage to challenge other men, they should look to all the indomitable women who already do.