backlash and progress

Combatting misogyny could be my full time job, but I am glad that it is not.

The United States are currently going through a bit of a re-shuffle with regards to national identity, which is pretty obvious to everyone on the world stage.  We’re kind of like your neighbors who are constantly fighting with each other and you’re never quite sure whether or not to call the cops and report potential domestic abuse.

Just to be clear – if you hear something that you think might be domestic abuse, you should call it in.

I kind of wish someone could call the cops to get us out of our current set of problems.

Anyway – the issue that I want to talk about is the spate of recent revelations in the media about men in positions of power acting badly towards women.

The list of influential men being accused of sexual misconduct seems to grow every day, and my suspicion is that it will continue to do so for some time – at least until the backlash comes.

It seems like every politicized event in US current events eventually results in a backlash.  We’re already seeing some of it with these sexual misconduct allegations – a lot of powerful men who fear reprisals of their own are being silent for the moment, but I predict that they’ll gather around whoever has the audacity to stand up and make the claim that this is reverse discrimination or something else just as silly.

Firstly – this is not an example of reverse discrimination.  Women are not forming mobs and lynching men.  In fact, they’re not even really calling for the lynching of the men who are actually responsible for acting like perverts, which would be mob justice, but still not discrimination.  In most cases, they’re merely coming forward to tell their stories and not calling for any action at all.

Now, I do think that actions should be taken in most of these cases.  However, we’re losing sight of the most important part of what is happening.

In case you missed it – my opinion is that the most important part of this is that women are beginning to come forward and tell their stories.

This is important, because until recently they haven’t felt safe enough to do so, and that represents a huge failure on our part as men who care for women and as a society in general.  We must capitalize on the opportunity that this is affording us.  We must do what we can to prevent the backlash and keep this forward progress.  We must empower every person to tell their story so that we can all learn and grow – together.

Some of these stories are horrible to listen to.  Some of them are just plain weird, and as a self-proclaimed pervert of the highest order, for me to say that is … something.  But no matter whether they are hard to hear or weird or even just ordinary (I’ll leave that word there for a moment…) the fact is that women are finally feeling like the social narrative will permit them to come forward and speak about the things that they have had to endure.  It is long past time that we take such things seriously.

Do I think that every man who has had allegations of sexual misconduct come out is guilty of those things?  No, I do not.  I think that a small percentage of the stories that are coming out are falsified, but I think that is a rare exception rather than the rule as many of these men would like you to believe and as men have insisted is the case since society began to view women as people.

Despite a more receptive climate than in the past, I think it would be a massive stretch of the truth to say that society is open to such things yet.  There is still a strong stigma associated with coming forward with allegations of this type, and the women who do so are courageous and in many cases, desperate.

Part of the blacklash story is that these things happened decades ago and it is not fair to the accused to have to defend their actions from such a long time ago.  There is some small amount of merit to that argument – but only because human memory is fallible.  It is very likely that the facts of an event that happened years or decades ago will become distorted in the memory of those who were involved over time.  This is a proven concept in modern psychology practice – human perception is fallible, and it changes over time.  This is one of the reasons why crimes often have statutes of limitations.

That being said, I think every single case should be investigated – even those that happened 40 years ago.  I think where there is sufficient proof of misconduct that there need to be serious consequences for those involved.  This is how progress is made.  These consequences may only be a loss of social capital in some cases, but in some cases, that may be sufficient.  If you take a man who abuses his power and remove that power from him, he may not be able to continue his abusive practices, or he may learn that his actions – while tolerated in the time when he committed them – were never really acceptable and will be tolerated no longer.

Ignorance of the law is not seen as an excuse for committing a crime, and while I look at the things that some of these men are accused of and wonder how it is possible that they ever felt justified in some of these things, I can kind of see the argument that opinions on what is acceptable have changed over time.  I can maybe see where posing for a photo with your hands someplace they ought not be without consent could be mistaken for humor – because much of the purpose of humor is to make the unbearable, bearable – but I don’t know how anyone ever felt like nonconsensually locking a woman in your office while you jack off is anything but creepy and sad.

Empathy is the thing that would have prevented all of these problems.

Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are interacting with.  Try to understand her motives and fears and then think about what you are about to do.  Just because you might think it would be awesome for a woman to lock you in her office and masturbate while you sit there trapped does not mean that she will feel the same way.   You have to not only put yourself in her place, but you have to put yourself in her mind.

The fact that she is on the other side of the desk means that the right thing for you to do is to go out of your way to be respectful, honest, and engaged.  You have all of the power – don’t abuse it.

One thought on “backlash and progress”

  1. Outstanding post! And I agree with you that the most
    important part of all of this is that so many women are
    coming forward to tell their stories. You’re a gifted
    writer, Rant.

    Senator Al Franken is ashamed. Not so ashamed that he will resign or admit guilt. But so ashamed in a nebulous way in
    which he admits nothing, except for the one case of the now
    six accusers, in which there’s indisputable photographic
    evidence.

    The Gaslighter of the Senate “can’t say that it hasn’t happened.” In “crowded chaotic situations, I can’t say I haven’t
    done that.”

    Departments of Human Resources are not always on the
    employee’s side. Why? Because employees of HR departments, across industries, are getting their pay checks
    from the company they represent. It makes sense these folk,
    are not exactly on the victim’s side, in some instances. HR
    departments, with vested interests that keep a case closed
    and out of the Court of Public Opinion. The powerful
    protect the powerful and can create roadblocks to justice
    and restitution. Perhaps that too is changing.

    In industry, the media, as in politics, there is an enormous power dynamic at play and the career repercussions are colossal. For years, women who have worked in these fields
    and most recently Silicon Valley have felt trapped. In fear of
    losing their livelihood they do not speak out because if they
    did their life-line would be jeopardized.

    For the moment, it really does feel like something is changing
    in the culture, in the US. We’re winning! In numbers, there
    is strength. Sisterhood is finally showing some power. So why
    do I feel anxious? Partly, it’s the sheer weight of so many
    awful revelations of so much terrible behavior over so long
    a time. Halperin was at ABC for 19 years; Landesman’s tenure
    lasted for more than 35. Partly, it’s the grossness and ease
    with which they got away with it, and the way people in a
    position to do something about it turned away.

    It’s not as if we haven’t had large numbers of women claiming
    abuse before. Think of the military, where rape and harassment seem to be endemic and are repeatedly exposed,
    only to fade back into the woodwork.

    Look at Trump. Just a year ago, some two dozen women came out to accuse him of of various forms of abuse, assault and harassment; some 20 of them did so publicly, in their own names. A few weeks later, he got elected president, and many of those in politics who expressed horror at his actions now compete abjectly for his favor.

    It’s just hard to believe that a country that elected Trump is
    going to take a permanent no-tolerance attitude toward the
    mini-Trumps all around us. Matt Taibbi, who boasted about
    molesting teenagers and constantly harassing staffers in The
    eXile, the memoir he co-authored with Mark Ames about his
    years as a would-be gonzo journalist in Moscow, has gone on
    to an illustrious career at Rolling Stone, and now claims that
    he and Ames made the whole thing up as “satire”. Silly people,
    what made you think that a book labeled as nonfiction by its
    publisher was true?

    What troubles me the most, though, is what all these episodes says about who has been shaping our politics and culture. For all their bravery, the victims who speak out can’t fix the
    institutions and whole industries that harbored these
    wrongdoers by themselves. We can all fight for clear sexual
    harassment policies and protocols, truly functioning HR
    departments, and sanctions on the bullying behaviors that
    can hide harassment.

    To intervene takes courage. Our cultural predilection to defer to those in authority makes the social pressure to conform very powerful. Many factors contribute to the likelihood of bystander effect. The way in which observers perceive and react to sexual harassment differs according to organizational culture. The ‘bystander effect’ has been used to help explain
    why people who witness or know of sexual harassment don’t
    intervene to help the victim.

    What is clear from the outpourings on social media from victims who have suffered sexual harassment is that bringing this issue into the public consciousness helps victims to find the courage to talk about it. A wealth of research supports the idea that talking about sexual harassment rather than simply having policies in place can help displace the bystander effect.

    It’s stunning that all this has been happening in the highly visible, highly public fields of politics, media and entertainment, pretty much right out in the open, in liberal
    settings as well as conservative, think about where else it must
    be happening. In big cities and small towns, Fortune 500 companies and neighborhood restaurants, factories, and
    charitable non-profits, in Congress and state legislatures —
    everywhere, every day.

    In reading multiple victim accounts, I’m struck by how alike
    they seem, although to each individual it must have seemed
    like their own very personal nightmare. In every case, you
    see the casual, confident cruelty of the perpetrator. These
    men liked to toy with their victims as if they were cats
    playing with a mouse they captured. They appear to revel
    in their power to do whatever they wanted without fear of
    consequence and certainly without concern about the impact
    on their disposable victim.

    You also hear the stories from those who suspected and to
    their shame did nothing; you hear less from those who knew
    outright and did nothing. Those too take on a sameness, perhaps because there are only so many ways to describe a
    debasement to power. But I’m shocked most by how institutionalized the predation had become. People knew; a
    lot of people knew and even participated in various ways.
    Lawyers, public relations people, private detectives, human
    resources personnel…entire systems were created to
    facilitate the abuse, to then silence and intimidate the victims,
    and if that failed, to then secretly pay off victims and force
    the signing of non-disclosure agreements, so that it could
    all continue and no one would lose their place on the gravy
    train.

    Look at Trump. Just a year ago, some two dozen women came out to accuse him of of various forms of abuse, assault and harassment; some 20 of them did so publicly, in their own names. A few weeks later, he got elected president, and many of those in politics who expressed horror at his actions now compete abjectly for his favor.

    Victim after victim, year after year, settlement after settlement, they got away with it. Sexual predators don’t
    target just one woman; every woman is prey. If you’re a
    victim, share your story and ask whether others have had a
    similar experience. Band together, document the behavior
    and take action.

    Present your findings to the company’s HR department, which
    should launch an investigation. You can also file a complaint
    with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
    and the state Fair Employment Practice agency.

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