Four Things #MeToo Has Revealed About The Way Some Men View Sexual Harassment
Brett Kavanaugh. Leslie Moonves. A bunch of public radio hosts. And probably a guy that you work with.
In recent weeks, all of them have been affected by the #MeToo movement. Kavanaugh faces an accusation of attempted sexual assault in high school. Moonves lost his job at CBS over numerous women who say he made unwanted advances and/or derailed their careers.
A series of male hosts fired from public radio jobs have tried to get back in listeners’ good graces, apparently forgetting that a good portion of listeners are women.
And certain men all over the map now wonder if their boorish behavior will come back to bite them.
I’ve been reading and listening to all this, and it has given me a picture of how a number of men see sexual harassment.
Listening to them has been much more revealing than I think they realize. I can sum up my observations in four points.
- Many men are worried.
- Some men think that if they let enough time pass, they can return as if nothing happened.
- Certain men define sexual harassment as actual assault, and anything less doesn’t count.
- And a few think that if society gives them an out, their past behavior shouldn’t be judged.
Men are worried
Pretty much everywhere, men are talking about #MeToo, and the ground beneath their feet has been shaking.
That absolute assurance that so many had that they alone had power is beginning to ebb away.
There may be just as many male chauvinists as there always have been. But they’re realizing #MeToo has meant they can’t just skate, any more.
An “innocent” joke in a Facebook comment or a meeting or to a restaurant server may once have produced eye rolls. Now, it won’t necessarily be laughed away.
Things are starting to revert to the way it was when the women’s movement caused women to call men on outlandishly sexist things.
That faded as more women joined the workforce, and mistakenly thought they could let down their guard.
Well, the guard is up again. Women are speaking up, and it’s making men uncomfortable. Good.
Letting Time Pass
But, not everyone is getting the message and interestingly, disgraced public radio hosts are among those who aren’t able to read the room.
In recent months, three of them — Tom Ashbrook, John Hockenberry and Jian Gomeshi — have all tried to plead their way back to respectability.
They’ve shown an epic lack of regret.
Writing in The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino said, “ In all of the cases that I heard about, it seemed to me essential, as a bare first step, for the man in question to understand that his experience is not inherently more important than the experiences of women, to acknowledge what he did, and that it was wrong.”
You’d think that men whose lives depended in part on interacting with the public might be more sensitive to the fact that at least half the public just doesn’t want to hear what they want to say.
And you’d also think that editors would be smart enough not to lend their pages to harassers.
People have asked me why I think they’ve all tried to sneak back into the conversation as if nothing had happened.
Here’s my theory. When you’re the star of a public radio program, it’s better than being a movie actor or appearing on TV. You don’t have to look good. You only have to sound good.
You can show up looking like hell, and still have a staff running around trying to meet your needs. You can even rage at your staff, but the listener will never be able to tell, as long as you sound smooth on the air.
You can use the power that those listeners give you to be as dominant over interns and others as you want. That is, until somebody finally gets sick of it, and sues, or complains so vehemently that you are thrown off the air.
Even then, you won’t get the message, because your ego is too convinced that listeners still love you, if all this distraction hadn’t gotten in the way.
Time will tell whether Ashbrook, Hockenberry and Ghomeshi are able to talk their way back onto the air, the way Lewis C.K. has been able to return to stand up comedy.
But one thing is clear: they all want to make comebacks, because they’re convinced that they’ve done nothing really wrong.
UPDATE: the editor of the New York Review of Books, who defended his publication’s decision to print a Jian Ghomeshi essay, has resigned.
Only Violence Counts
One of the most interesting aspects of the #MeToo debate is defining what counts as abuse.
It’s clearly on the front burner as the Senate prepares to hear from Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of allegedly attempting to choke and rape her when they were teens.
I actually spotted a Facebook comment from someone who excused Kavanaugh’s behavior by saying, “Boys will be boys.” Really? You raised a generation who thought rape was okay?
Others contend the alleged assault took place too long ago to matter, and have asked why Ford didn’t come forward sooner in the nomination process.
Of course, the situation has brought up comparisons with the harassment that Anita Hill endured from Clarence Thomas, and next week’s Senate hearing, if it takes place, could be equally as dramatic.
I think there are some pretty simple questions to ask in order to decide whether Kavanaugh’s alleged behavior was abuse.
They are, “Were the people involved old enough to have sex? Did both parties willingly participate?”
According to what Ford has said, the answers would be yes, and no. He insists it didn’t happen, or that he didn’t remember it, but it’s definitely real to her.
And a fifteen-year-old, as she was, is plenty old enough to have a clear memory. For instance, I remember almost every moment of the time I was hospitalized with meningitis.
I remember what my symptoms felt like: a blinding headache. A high fever. A stiff neck. No energy. Feeling that I was constantly going to faint.
I remember having a spinal tap as soon as I arrived in the hospital. I remember that my wrists could not hold an IV, so the nurse had to put the IV in my ankles, where I still have visible scars.
I remember a troupe of Shriners coming to visit, and that the patient in the next bed would not talk to nurses, but she would talk to me.
I was six years old.
So, it’s very, very possible that Ford’s memories are true, and haunting.
Everybody Did It
But some men will find a way to dismiss her memories, and others, by contending that what happened was okay for the times.
In the 1980s, many young women felt there was no one to tell if a young man tried to abuse them. Many young women still feel they won’t be believed if they speak up.
Likewise, you’ve heard numerous men excuse harassing behavior in the 1990s and even more recently, by saying, “That’s how things were.”
I feel so sorry for the women who encountered these creeps. I feel badly that they didn’t feel they could speak up, until recently.
And I feel badly that there are plenty of men who feel that #MeToo is an attack on them, because it shows they simply aren’t hearing what we’re saying.
Sean Penn apparently thinks it’s just a way for women to get revenge. “The spirit of much of what has been the ‘MeToo movement’ is to divide men and women,” he said on the Today Show.
If nothing more, #MeToo has opened our eyes, to you. All this has actually been helpful to us, in knowing who we can trust, who we want to date, and who we want to work with.
As the expression goes, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
Micheline Maynard is a journalist and author who tweets @mickimaynard