So this daily shaming of predatory men is disconcerting. Today it's Matt Lauer's turn on the naughty step. I've made jokes about ”Wonder who goes tomorrow?” and I am seldom left without my daily dose of schadenfreude. There is someone nearly every single day (although some of the more surprising ones like Charlie Rose get more days). It feels a lot like a witch hunt or McCarthyism, but I keep telling myself, ”These are actually communist witches!” These bastards deserve what's coming to them. Burn 'em at the stake or do whatever one does to communists for all I care.
I am imaging future HR interviewing questionaries will include an item that asks, ”Are you now, or have you ever been, a sexual predator or serial harasser of women?”
And there's the rub. I'd answer that question with ”Fuck if I know.” I can say I don't do so now, but these daily accusations have many men asking themselves, ”Have I ever done this?” and ”When is it my turn for a time out?” I’m not convinced these are bad questions to ask oneself, and if you anser “Yes,” well then it’s hard to have sympathy. But again, I’m not immune to fear of consequences from past actions. I’ve done a lot of stupid shit in my life, some of it I don’t even remember, some of it I did sober. I’m not making excuses, nor am I confessing. I honestly don’t remember, but I’ve had 47 years on this planet. I know my behavior hasn’t always been exemplary.
There but for the grace of god and all that. Because that’s where the fear comes from. These sorts of allegations would be far more damaging to me than it has been to most of these guys. Lauer and Rose’s careers may be over, but neither of them are going to be missing a meal any time soon. Many of these guys will make the public confessional forgiveness tour whereby they go on TV and make the story about them, squeeze out a few tears, say how they have changed, say what reparations they have taken, and how they will never never do this again (until the next time). And most of them will make the story about themselves, and they wil be forgiven. This is not a bad thing.
I could throw thousands of more words at this, but then I would be doing exactly what I just said these assholes will do. I’d be continuing to make the story about the men, and how they deserve to suffer, or deserve to be forgiven. The story should really be on the victims. These women should not have to be props in a man’s redemption play.
So rather than schadenfreude I’m going to suggest men learn a different word: fremdscham. Because if men took less delight in the fall of men like Louis C.K. and Harvey Weinstein, and started feeling more shame and embarrassment, and perhaps even a little fear, then the world can start to become a bit of a better place. And make no mistake, this is a problem for men to address. You can say, “Hey asshole, I don’t do these things,” and this may even be true, but there are guys out there being complete a-holes, and they need to be held accountable. Something needs to change, and I don’t think the daily parade of shame is the best way to go about it for anyone.
What happens when the news cycles move on to something new? (And they will.) Why are we paying attention to these accusations now? Why are they headline news now? Women have been making these accusations for decades (probably since the dawn of time), so why is this the current zeitgeist? Why are people only now listening? I don’t know. But I do know we need to figure something out, and preferably before we move onto our next national outrage.
Part of me wants to just dismiss the behavior of these men, to suggest that they are anomalies, and this is what happens to some people when they become powerful and wealthy, to say those without sin cast the first stone, and all that, to say, “Hey asshole, I don’t do these things. Fuck Weinstein. Fuck Louis C.K.,” but instead, I will say, I am sorry for any past errors in judgement or failures to call out problematic behaviors. I’ll listen, and I’ll try to do better in the future.
At the end of the day, this is a negotiation and needs to be a dialog. I also think we need to differentiate between the caddish and the criminal. While harassment is a black and white issue. The severity isn’t. An ass grabber isn’t the same as a rapist. Lumping someone like Al Franken in with Weinstein doesn’t feel right to me. This seems like a diservice to Weinstein’s victims. Both have engaged in inexcusable acts, but I think most people wouldn’t argue that Franken deserves prison for what he’s done, while if what Weinstein is guilty of what he’s accused of he needs a lengthy sentence.
This shouldn’t be a political stance. The John Conyers and the Roy Moores of the world need to be disavowed equally. Sadly, we live in a world where many are more afraid of being called a racist, than of being one. More afraid of being called out as a sexual harasser than of being one. Men are afraid of being misconstrued, of having a joke that didn’t land, or of a socially awkward advance not only being rejected and rebuffed, but seen as some sort of firing infraction. But near as I can tell, no one is making the case any of these men were just ah shucksing around. Above all men fear the false accusation, but again, few are doubting the veracity of these stories. In most of the cases the men themselves have corroborated the accusations (or the events are on tape).
We live in a world where the Vice President of the United States won’t be alone with a woman who isn’t his wife, and some people laud him for this policy, and point out how smart he is, and how none of these dudes would be in any of this trouble if they subscribed to this same moral code. Personally, I see this as an additional victimization. That’s some sharia law fundamentalist bullshit right there. That’s putting the blame exactly where it doesn’t belong. None of these women were such temptresses that the men were rendered incapable of behaving. Denying women access to power is how we got into this situation. Pences is only perpetuating the idea that women are easily offended untrustworthy traitorous tarts delighting in taking powerful men down.
We live in a world where the President of the United States sexualizes, demeans, objectifies, and brags about being able to “grab women by the pussy.” He said it on tape. He admitted to saying it. He sort of kind of even apologized for having said it. Now he is questioning the veracity of the recording, and his followers are literally saying, “Prove he said it.” And we wonder why women don’t come forward. Moore has a line out the door of women who say he creeped on them, and yet he stands a chance of being elected. Trump has a slew of accuses as well, and he was actually elected. Bill Cosby has more accusers than I have pairs of underwear and still people refuse to believe.
I’m a pessimist. I don’t see any of this changing until we change wealth and power structures, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.
So I guess we get to see whose turn it is tomorrow.