A few weeks ago, with the revelation that Harvey Weinstein is a sexual predator, I reposted something from a female friend on my Facebook page. Sadly, I was not surprised at the reaction from so many women who have experienced fear and worse just because they are female. I’ve decided to post it again, here in this month’s column, because it serves as a reminder that there are men who you know and men who you don’t who consider the women in your lives to be theirs for the taking. They see value in women and girls only as sexual objects. You can’t protect the women you love unless you and the large majority of men who aren’t predators, sexual harassers and domestic violence abusers stop the minority who are giving all men a bad name.

This is Carolyn Gage’s story, and it is reprinted here with her permission.

“Thinking of men and the scariest one I ever met. I had been hiking for maybe 3 weeks on the Appalachian Trial. When I got to Harpers Ferry I decided to hike into DC on the towpath … The towpath is easily accessible by car, which means the predator to hiker ratio is greater…I pitched a tent and then I saw him. He was not a hiker. He was like a sales rep or something, business-man type … he started talking about us swimming in the canal … he kept talking about me taking my clothes off.

“Now, understand, this was about the 600th man in my 25 years of life who had spoken to me like that because I was someone who wanted to have an adventurous life on low income … you know … asking for it by my lifestyle … Anyway, this guy was different. I mean I had heard about this from women I knew who had been nearly killed … about how there is this terrible sense, the hairs on your arms stand up and on your neck. Like an animal alarm. I had it. This man was terrifyingly violent. It was a sense … There was nothing about his actions or anything. It was almost like a smell. I mean terrifying. And there was no one there and the sun was setting … and I knew that he was enjoying drawing out the period of time before I knew I would be killed, so I knew it was terribly important not to show any fear. So I went into what I used to call my Suzy Creamcheese act … and I was just babbling and buying time. I had a knife, but I never even thought of it … this was just the most horrendous terror.

“And then I see this man biking down the tow path. The last person on it, because it’s dark now … And I go running up to him and yelling about how late he was and I was so glad to see him … and where the hell had he been … I was waiting, etc. etc. … and here’s the thing. He was perfect. He never even looked surprised or confused. He IMMEDIATELY acted like a hiking buddy. I mean, immediately. He saw the predator and just I mean in less than 2 seconds he got the whole thing. And we just did a whole movie about trails and maps and where he had been and the predator left. And this guy pitched his tent by mine for the night.

“And I tell this story because that man saved my life … He thought like a woman. Why? How? When most men have no idea. He just knew. Anyway … I always thought of that as a miracle. And I contrast that guy to all these enablers, and all these look-the-other-wayers, and all the men who are so shocked … like Tarantino who thought it was hilarious to have a dead prostituted woman stuffed in a box spring … what a visual punch line … and can’t make connections.

“Be like the guy on the tow path who saved my life. Get it. And get it in 2 seconds. Because of that guy I actually know it’s possible, so the rest of you have no excuse.”

While you may not experience an opportunity like this one, there are other opportunities you probably experience most every day. Don’t just ignore your friends’ inappropriate comments about women, tell them you don’t agree. Speak out in public — letters to the editor, in your church, in your peer group, wherever it’s uncomfortable — about your belief that women deserve to be treated as equals. Post this column and start a conversation with your peeps on Facebook.

Have conversations with your sons about demeaning ads while you are watching sports on TV together. Financially support Boys to Men, Hardy Girls, domestic violence shelters, and sexual assault agencies and get your friends to support them, too.

It might not be easy because your manhood will no doubt be called into question when you first start on this path. But be like the guy on the tow path because until the culture begins to shift from objectifying women to treating us as equals, you cannot prevent the myriad dehumanizing experiences from happening to women and girls you love. Your voices are needed, for all of our sakes.

Karen Heck is a resident and former mayor of Waterville.

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