Which sounds better?
I heard about Matt Lauer and Garrison Keiller, the latest men behaving badly…
I heard about Matt Lauer and Garrison Keiller, the latest victims of this sexual harassment witch hunt…
I’ll tell you what I think; the first sort of trivializes what is happening by framing it as a part of the current zeitgeist–as if that is the most important part of this, and the second is what you think if you are completely insensitive to what the actual victims go through and never read beyond the headlines.
There are questions I want answered, that you might want answered to, that I think should be explored.
- What does this say about where we are right now?
- Where is this headed? Should decent people be worried?
- What is the real story behind these cases? Is there actually a witch hunt?
- Should we be talking about this as a democrat/republican thing?
- What should we do about it?
When this… thing first became an inevitable part of conversation, something on the forefront of our minds that we are compelled to ask our closest what they think, my thoughts were manifold. First I was shocked that it seemed like sexual harassment was happening more frequently than it used to. Then I got myself worked up wondering, worrying, if I had ever done anything that could be considered sexual harassment.
I do a little too much navel gazing and like most people I have my knee-jerk reactions.
To the first point: No, sexual harassment isn’t itself happening more now than it used to. It is probably happening less. One need only read beyond the headlines to find out that most of these cases we’re hearing about involve things that happened years, maybe decades ago. Obviously that does not speak to where we are now.
What does speak to where we are now is the fact that this is such a big part of our national conversation. There’s the cynical aspect, the desire of news organizations to report on things that probably wouldn’t have been big news in the past, and there’s the earnest aspect, the desire of people to talk about this, to understand what it means, to ask themselves if they’ve been involved in this on either end of the act.
What does this say about where we are right now?
When did this start? It seems like it started with Bill Cosby. It seems like Bill Cosby was a big shocker that kept shocking us as more and more people came forward. People became quickly crystallized in their sensibilities. Some narrowed their eyes at the women and doubted. Some couldn’t talk about it without spitting out Cosby’s name venomously.
It seems that some people are inclined not to believe women who come forward about being victims of sexual assault. Some of them are simply shitheads. My two cents, but I think some are only mildly shits, and the real issue is that they aren’t considering the whole context. They think these women are “coming out” to the news media. They see the women talked about sympathetically and they make an array of assumptions. They think money is or will become involved. They think the celebrity these women might be getting is enviable.
In reality though, most of the time these women come out to no one but the police. There is no money to be had in coming forward, usually the money is in agreeing to staying silent. These women get support, but they also get victim blaming, mockery, suspicion and outright hostility for daring to impugn the good name of a beloved celebrity.
Sadly, the people with the flawed perspectives have no real reason to broaden that perspective, and their habits do not lend to them broadening their perspective. They are comfortable with not reading below the headlines and making knee-jerk reactions
They decide immediately and without real information or context that these women are suspicious and not to be trusted. Meanwhile they talk about this dark time we live in where men are judged immediately and without real information or context.
Meanwhile the people that are prone to trust the women and judge the men have zero reason to re-evaluate their position either.
Where is this headed? Should decent people be worried?
We’ve endured witch hunts. America is really good at witch hunts.
On the other hand, rape and sexual assault are issues over which the media has already endured egg-on-the-face screw-ups and scrutiny. All of the recent cases where some media outlet has broken a big story or some company has fired someone involve satisfactory investigation. Lauer did not deny the accusations. More than 30 people supported the allegations against Roy Moore, and he himself did a piss poor job of acquitting himself on Fox News.
The other day a women tried to bamboozle the Washington Post, and she was caught out before anyone but she was embarrassed.
So should decent people be worried? Yes. That’s what makes them decent people. I worry that I offend people. So when I notice some sign that I may have done so I inquire and apologize. It is indecent people that can’t or don’t care to read discomfort or offense in their family or co-workers.
I’m not saying decent people don’t make mistakes, and I’m not saying that nobody is going to be unjustly thrown into the fire on this. Since even decent people make mistakes, it’s likely that some well-meaning person or organization is going to make one at an innocent person’s expense.
Or will they? Decent people have supporters. They have character witnesses and employers that trust them.
That’s just a thought. It’s completely possible that people will be too afraid to support and employers will be too afraid to consider nuance or anything but their own reputation. But it won’t just be that innocent person who is harmed in this. It will be this new move toward punishing predatory behavior and trusting women.
Red and Blue Witches.
I’m torn on this one. On the one hand there is the typical sensibility of the democrat versus the republican. Republicans are more likely to support a strong masculine father figure and believe that people who are successful are virtuous. This tends to mean that rich and powerful men are afforded more respect and credibility than the whores who would dare to bring them down for their own fame and financial gain. Democrats are more likely to be bleeding heart liberals who… Yeah, there is nothing about democrats that demands they have higher ethical standards than republicans, regardless of what self-righteous democrats like me think. The real issue is that family-values republicans think this is a democrat problem, and self-righteous liberals think this is a white male privilege problem, when it’s actually a men-with-power problem.
I’ve heard people say that women would be doing this just as much as men if they were the ones in power.
My thought is, shit, why don’t we find out?!
What should we do about it?
If you’re reading this, you’re obviously not the never-reads-below-the-headlines type. So keep up the open mind and consider what I’ve been saying. I’m just a guy. I’ve said insensitive things. I know I’ve felt the heat rise up my neck after realizing I’ve said something crude or hurtful, lord knows what I haven’t realized.
But I’m also the self-reflective type who runs a magazine and teaches civic awareness.
So I am a qualified doofus. Take that all the ways it can be taken.
Consider what it is we’re actually considering here: Women, and men, victimized by those with power. Rape isn’t about sex, it is about control. By extension sexual assault and sexual harassment of all degrees is about control. People without power cannot do this to the powerful, whether that power is physical or political or corporate or cultural. Typically it has been men with the power. It is still overwhelmingly men in political and corporate power and their targets are usually women.
Men get to do whatever they want in some respects. In my self-reflection I can think of many times in my life that I’ve enjoyed the privilege of being a man. Women have been taught by family and society to acquiesce. The fact that we have a torrent of cases coming to light reflects on that tradition, since, as I’ve said, most of the cases are related to things that have happened many years ago.
So this is a demonstration of power. A new demonstration of power. Men who have been victimized by other men are often the most humiliated, since they are themselves expected to not be victims. Women who have been victimized have overwhelmingly more often than not have kept their shame to themselves. When women have tried to see the predators held accountable, they have either been silenced, bought off, or not taken seriously.
This is a torrent because the water has been pressing against the levees for generations.
So what should we do about it? We should drown. We should flounder. We should tread water. We should pay the price of being such a traditionally inequitable society. We should shut the fuck up and listen if we’re used to doing the talking, but we should also participate in the conversation and try to learn something. Or teach something. We should read below the headlines.
The worm isn’t just turning, it’s shuddering in the grasp of change.
Be self-righteous if you’ve gotta be. And I’m not just saying that because I’m real comfortable being self-righteous. I’m saying that because certain shouters need to be shouted down. I don’t think they’re going to go willingly. I think the only thing that remains an option is for them to deal with to the new landscape left after the flood passes away. Or not.