Men sound off on #MeToo: 'I definitely look back and cringe'

This week's "Modern Ruhles" podcast looks back at how the #MeToo movement has changed our dating culture … and how it hasn't.
The worst thing that can come out of the #MeToo movement is that we stop talking — and listening. Conversations about the changing status quo can be awkward or often uncomfortable, but they are essential to progress.
The worst thing that can come out of the #MeToo movement is that we stop talking — and listening. Conversations about the changing status quo can be awkward or often uncomfortable, but they are essential to progress.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News; Getty Images
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By Julie Brown

This is Modern Ruhles, a podcast from Stephanie Ruhle that features compelling conversations for culturally complicated times. Listen to podcast, read the stories and share your thoughts.

Next month marks two years since the sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein came to light, setting fire to the #MeToo movement. From Wall Street, to the news media and the military, no industry has come out of this movement unscathed.

“Undoubtedly the workplace is better for women than it was three or five years ago,” former Cosmopolitan editor in chief Joanna Coles told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle on the latest installment of her "Modern Ruhles" podcast. “It's a welcome relief to say, 'Actually, it pisses me off when you put your hand on the center of my back every time we have a meeting,'" Coles says.

But what about our personal lives? Has the #MeToo movement changed the way men and women pursue one another at bars, on apps and everywhere in between?

A new Match.com study says yes. This year's ninth annual “Singles in America” report surveyed more than 5,000 single men and women living in the United States. More than half of male respondents said the movement has caused them to change their behavior — with 37 percent of millennial men reporting they now act more reserved on a date.

Helen Fisher, Match.com’s Chief Scientific Advisor, highlighted just how notable these results are: “Public health professionals have been studying social change for decades. Time and time again, they find it’s very, very hard to change social behavior. Here we have 51 percent of men saying that the #MeToo movement has caused them to act differently. This is a sea change in behavior.”

These are positive developments — no doubt about it. But as a 20-something woman living and dating in New York City, I wanted to go to the source. So I asked my own peers, men who consider themselves active daters, how the movement has changed their thoughts and behaviors when it comes to dating — if it has at all.

>> Listen in to this week's episode of Modern Ruhles

Men who were changed by #MeToo

In general, most of the men I spoke with were open to the dialogue the #MeToo movement inspired.

“When [the movement] started I had the initial reflection on 'Have I ever been apart of the problem either directly or indirectly?' And then when not really knowing if I’ve hurt or offended anyone, there’s a level of frustration in possibly doing something wrong but never being told. It’s not easy to find a balance as a man in asking questions and having a dialogue without being perceived as not listening or trying to commandeer.” — A 25-year-old male in Los Angeles

“The #MeToo movement has actually opened up and made the conversation between partners about consent and expectations easier. It is now expected in new relationships, and should be the norm when navigating the early stages of dating. I find myself asking for permission and making sure the consent is reassured minutes later.” — A 24-year-old male in New York City

“Dating and hooking up, I think, have gotten more thoughtful in a post-#MeToo world. Even those of us who don’t feel like we’ve ever been guilty of inappropriate behavior have been forced to look back at our previous encounters with more scrutiny. We all have had to ask ourselves, 'Could they have seen it differently?' If men everywhere are asking themselves that same question with each forthcoming encounter, that’s a good outcome.” — A 29-year-old male in New York City

And their dating behavior has evolved since the movement launched in 2017

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“I think the way the movement has changed how I approach relationships with women ultimately boils down to how it has increased my awareness. ... I am more aware of my words and actions around women, especially those who I don’t know well and may be meeting for the first time.” — A 25-year-old male in New York City

“I don’t know if I have anything specific on how #MeToo has changed the dating scene for me other than that it certainly has me actively thinking very hard on how to appropriately approach women.” — A 26-year-old male in Los Angeles

Others weren’t so sure #MeToo sparked much change at all

“Honestly, my biggest surprise has been how *little* has changed post-Me Too. I don’t think the average 20-something male is going to change his behavior because of Jeremy Piven’s comeuppance, or from some boardroom horror story about a white-haired exec that runs online. The only thing that will predict dating behavior is an individual’s value system.” — A 25-year-old male in Chicago

Some were more interested in how female behavior has changed by #MeToo

“It’s a delicate balance for men. The end result is societal norms will shift and women will have to make the first move and express interest in some cases.” — A 26-year-old male in New York City

“I think the reality is if you want to make an impression with a woman, you have to make a little contact. Women deserve to be respected and choose whatever relationships or interactions they want to engage in, but I think for most of them, there’s still a deep desire to be chased and pursued.” — A 29-year-old male in Los Angeles

Some feel that #MeToo has had a bigger, far-ranging impact

Many of the men I spoke with mentioned consequences far beyond their own dating behaviors, including how the movement has made them more aware of inappropriate behavior around them, and its impact on their future parenting practices.

“For me, I definitely look back on college in particular and cringe at some of the blackout drunk nights where I stalked a girl around a party or whatever. ... With maturity, I started to be more respectful as I got into my 20s, but it’s good to analyze past behavior. If/when I have kids, it would definitely be an emphasis as they got into high school/college to be like, “Listen, son, don’t be a creep.” — A 27-year-old male in Los Angeles

“A big takeaway for me is that I now feel a sense of importance and awareness to not only support women against negative behavior in public, but also to discourage other men from those negative behaviors. An example: being out at bars and being able to recognize when a girl is being hit on to the point that she is actively uncomfortable. I’ll cut in and try to help her out of the situation while making it clear I don’t expect anything in return from her.” — A 25-year-old male in Los Angeles

Life After #MeToo: The New Rules of the Road

We’ve certainly come a long way since 2017, but we still have a ways to go before we'll know how large of an impact the #MeToo movement will have on our broader dating culture. In the meantime, here are three takeaways about life (and dating) after #MeToo from this week's podcast.

What's so important about everything that’s happening right now is that the questions are okay ... we have to be curious and open to ideas.

Amber Tamblyn, actor, author and activist

1. Don’t assume anyone’s intentions

We are living in complicated times and "wars begin with miscommunication,” Ruhle says. “When I look back on my investment banking days, I do remember a lot of inappropriate behavior on the trading floor. It often felt like I was in a locker room. But I don’t think my male colleagues intended to make me uncomfortable. ... To them, I was just another peer.” Ruhle says dating isn’t so different: “While inappropriate behavior is always unacceptable, I am optimistic — I don’t think the majority of people out there are bad actors. There are a whole lot of people living in the middle, just trying to figure out a better and smarter way forward.”

2. Ask questions

The worst thing that can come out of the #MeToo movement is that we stop talking about issues like this. This week's guest, actor, activist and author Amber Tamblyn, emphasized the importance of honest, open dialogue: “What’s so important about everything that’s happening right now is that the questions are OK. ... We have to be curious and open to ideas." Conversations about the changing status quo can be awkward or often uncomfortable, but they are essential to progress.

3. Women need to step up when it comes to dating

Dating behavior is changing ... and so are the rules of engagement. “When it comes to dating, women are more traditional than men,” Fisher says. “Seventy-five percent of men today would be perfectly comfortable if a woman initiated the conversation on a dating app, yet only about 19 percent of women actually do it. Ninety percent of men would be perfectly comfortable if a woman asked them for their telephone number, but only 14 percent of women do it. Women are stepping up and saying what they want when it comes to sex, treatment in public, treatment on a date and treatment at work. But when it comes to actual courtship, men are leading the way.”

So, women, don't be afraid to make a move. Chances are, he will be into it ... and there's some cold, hard data to prove it.

Julie Brown is an anchor producer for MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle.

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