Among the many things shared by Harvey Weinstein and Al Franken, Kevin Spacey and Roy Moore, is that none of them have been convicted of a crime. Weinstein might, but he hasn’t yet. Another thing shared is that they have seen their jobs, careers, ambitions and positions lost or put at risk of being lost.
But since these are all bold-faced names, and their actions are parsed by media so that everyone knows they’re guilty regardless of evidence or argument, we don’t lose sleep over this minor detail that they’ve not been convicted of anything. Charles Blow reminds us that the shit is about to flow downhill.
It is impossible to say too often or loudly how important a moment this is, when many women feel brave and empowered enough to speak up about being sexually assaulted or harassed by powerful men.
It feels like a watershed, like something is fundamentally shifting.
But the greatest measure of fundamental change will be when everyday offenses by everyday people are also named and shamed, the trickle down of speaking up.
What if you go to the office today, like you do every day, only to learn that Dolores in accounting informed HR that you sexually harassed her? You never touched her, but after searching your memory, you recall that she was walking past the water cooler when a few of the guys were talking about how horrible it was that someone used the word “boobs.” Dolores heard a snippet of the conversation, specifically the word “boobs,” put her head down and kept walking. When she got back to her cubicle, she cried.
Or Dolores just doesn’t like you for some reason. Or any one of a million other possibilities, and Dolores is singularly sensitive, whether for good reason or no reason at all.
But she went to HR, emboldened by the power given to fragile women who are now brave enough to complain about every hurt, real or imagined. And HR sends you a note to come to them, and put all your belongings in a box.
But you didn’t do anything? There’s no denial. There’s no due process. There’s no fairness. There is fear and loathing, and HR isn’t taking any chances. They don’t ask you what happened because no one cares. You’re a man. Dolores is not.
For most, the decision to speak up will still feel fraught and without sufficient benefit to outweigh the possibility of negative repercussions.
That is where the majority of this battle must be waged, among the ordinary, the powerless, the invisible. These women (and some men as well, it must always be noted) are the true Silent Majority of victims.
Whether Dolores is part of the “true Silent Majority of victims,” or just over-sensitive, mistaken or self-serving, was once the subject of scrutiny that included due process. You remember due process, Al, which is what you would vehemently deny a college freshman who was accused of half of what you did under Title IX before he was expelled and branded a rapist, right?
Speaking up, and even pressing charges when the law allows, will send a powerful message and will definitely have a chilling effect on this kind of behavior. Loss of livelihood and liberty after bad behavior is a strong deterrent.
“Even”? See what Blow did there? Your conduct may not be criminal, but if it hurts a woman’s feelings, isn’t it worth your job, your income, your children’s source of food? And the beauty is that things that hurt another person’s feelings have nothing to do with whether you did something objectively offensive, but merely that they felt offended. There is no challenging another person’s subjective feelings. If they say their feelings are hurt, then hurt they are.
But I believe that something far more fundamental has to take place. We have to re-examine our toxic, privileged, encroaching masculinity itself. And yes, that also means on some level reimagining the rules of attraction.
And Charles takes charge of this reimagining.
We have to focus on the fact that jokes that objectify women are not funny.
And we have to focus on the fact that society itself has incubated and nourished a dangerous idea that almost unbridled male aggression is not only a component of male sexuality, it is the most prized part of it.
We say to boys, be aggressive. We say to our girls, be cautious. Boys will be boys and girls will be victims.
It’s not that Blow hates girls and thinks them too dainty to be as responsible for their actions as boys. It’s that he’s into victimhood, where it’s not only not a failing to be weak and irresponsible, but it’s a virtue. Maybe he was raised to rape, and is paying penance for his “unbridled male aggression” now by elevating female fragility to new heights, but if so, his projection isn’t universal. I didn’t raise my son to rape. I didn’t raise my daughter to be a victim.
This is the list of oppressions that women are read with religious rigor. These are the rules of the road. This is the outrage.
Women are not responsible for men’s bad behavior. The idea that horny men can’t control themselves is a lie!
Men have been so conditioned against emotional intelligence — that’s for women, we are told — that they are blithering idiots at reading the subtleties of allure or aversion.
Let’s assume that Blow is right, that there is no such thing as equality and that guys are “blithering idiots.” Let’s assume that he’s right that women are not responsible for men’s bad behavior, which they’re not. And let’s assume Blow’s tacit assertion that women are emotional puddles of irrationality, weak and incapable of dealing with “horny men” and living with a “list of oppressions” that constitute the rules of the road.
Say good-bye to Dolores on your way out the door. Better yet, don’t say anything to her, since no matter what you say it can be misconstrued because you might mean no harm but you’re a blithering idiot ruled by your horniness. Then again, if you don’t say “bye,” Dolores’ feelings may be hurt anyway. Whatever, the guards will walk you out of the building now.
Update: Since this morning when this post was written, Glenn Thrush of the New York Times and the venerable Charlie Rose have been taken down. I hear there’s a job opening at CBS, but you have to work with Gail King.