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This post is a continuation of last week’s post, which was about… Well, right off the bat, I should mention that one of the topics which didn’t make it into the last post was my annoyance that there is no blanket term for what’s been happening, no word which encompasses the sudden explosion in accusations, the long buried stories, the people losing their jobs, etc. This is not to say that no one is trying. I think the most common term is the “#MeToo Movement”. But I’ve also heard the terms “Harrasocaust” and “Pervnado”. As I said “#MeToo Movement” is the most common, but that term seems more about the experiences of the victims than the actions of the perpetrators and while the experiences of the victims are an important aspect, even the most important aspect, that’s not really where my focus is (also some people have pointed out that the victims shouldn’t be responsible for publicizing the problems of sexual harassment on top of having to suffer it) Also, let’s be honest, can it really compete with the “Prevnado”?
This lack of an umbrella term is just one of the smaller topics and observations I plan to cover in this post because they didn’t fit into the previous post. It’s possible that within all the topics I’ll be able to pull out some overarching theme, but probably not. It’s more likely that this post will just be a series of somewhat disconnected observations.
To begin with, I’d like to start with something that I’m curious about. When is someone other than the accused/perpetrator going to be fired? Which is to say that most of these people have bosses right? What’s their responsibility in all this? For example, let’s look at Matt Lauer. The second result when I search for who knew about Matt Lauer is an article from Vanity Fair titled “Everybody Knew”. And yet, as far as I can tell none of the higher ups at NBC have suffered any consequences, no one else has had to resign, or anything similar. They are conducting an investigation, but it’s being handled internally, and my strong suspicion is that if someone else was going to be fired that it would have happened already.
If we look at Weinstein, we see a similar situation, though, to be fair Weinstein didn’t have a boss in quite the same way Lauer did, but when the search Weinstein “open secret” turns up 6000+ news articles, one thinks that somebody should have done something, particularly people like Quentin Tarantino, who admits he basically knew what was going on. Though perhaps not, since he’s probably the only person who’s not actually lying about how much they knew. Everyone else is shocked (Weinstein Co. Board) and saddened (Ben Affleck) and totally not complicit, and why would you even think to bring that word up?
Part of the reason this topic didn’t make it into the last post, other than space, is that it didn’t fit in as cleanly as some of the other examples. I have never claimed to be objective, and this is a great example of that, though the fact that I’m including it now should count for something.
One of the ways it doesn’t fit in, is that, at first glance, it doesn’t fit the narrative of the incipient witch hunt. If people are motivated to treat the perpetrators as harshly as possible during the Pervnado why would they restrict this harshness to just the perpetrator? Additionally I see a lot of people talking about structural sexism (and racism), and however powerful Matt Lauer and Weinstein were, they aren’t a structure, if you want to go after structural sexism, it’s not enough to get the one bad perpetrator, you really should be casting a wider net, and looking for people who had the power and responsibility to stop it but didn’t. Particularly given how obvious it is that these people existed. As part of this, it’s my impression that, in the past, it was more common for bosses to resign when something they were in charge of went badly, even if it wasn’t directly their fault. If so, I’d like to bring that back. I think the fact that (probably) no one else at NBC will face any consequences for Lauer’s behavior, is one of the factors that enabled the behavior to continue for so long, and caused the eventual Pervnado.
Basically what it comes down to, is that the lack of calls for bosses, co-workers, assistants, friends, etc. to resign, would appear to be strong evidence against a mania for making snap judgements, ignoring due process and exhibiting a lack of proportionality. The question is why? Why have these people been spared? As I pointed out even if we’re not in danger wandering into “Madness of the Crowds” territory with the Pervnado, if you’re worried about harassment being baked into the structure (and there is strong evidence for this.) Then you would expect at least some examples of this happening. There’s got to be some particularly egregious example, some particularly permissive boss, that should be enough to attract the attention of a corporation eager to avoid yet more negative publicity. So again, why have these people been spared by the Pervnado?
I’m not sure, but my best guess is that there is something of an implied understanding. You have one side saying, “This is a bad guy. We want his scalp. It has gone on way to long. He needs to be gone yesterday. If you immediately fire him then we’ll turn a blind eye to your own role in things, but say anything about due process or an investigation, and we’ll take your scalp as well.” And the other side says, “Whatever you say! Just leave me out of it!”
Certainly there are examples of the opposite happening, of people (like Scott Rosendall from last week) who have gotten in trouble for urging restraint, or caution. Thus, despite, looking, on the face of it, like an argument against the mania it could be feeding it. If you take your time, conduct a thorough investigation, actually get Garrison Keillor’s side of the story, etc. Then that’s when the committee for public safety comes for you. But if you’re “Shocked! Shocked I say!” and claim that you had no idea, and that you fired the individual the very second you found out, then maybe that’s the best way of saving your own scalp.
That said, if it is part of the mania, it’s hard to imagine that this sort of thing will protect them forever. If this is anything like the past, one day you’re running the guillotine the next you’re in it.
After considering how wide the Pervnado will go, and wondered why it hasn’t gone wider, I’m also curious how deep it’s going to go, which is to say how far back? Roy Moore lost the election last Tuesday, largely based on allegations which date back to the late 70’s early 80’s (with one outlier in 1991). I said largely based on the allegations, but it’s also it’s important to remember that he was a pretty poor candidate beyond all that, which certainly contributed to things. But perhaps the most damning thing may have been the (R) after his name. That may seem like an extreme statement to make, but consider that even the 1991 allegation (which as I said is an outlier) was the year before Bill Clinton was elected, two years before he took office. And most importantly, two years before he was accused of sexually assaulting Kathleen Willey, and four years before his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
And, of course we haven’t even mentioned the most damning allegation: Clinton’s rape of Juanita Broaddrick. To be fair this was all the way back in 1978, but that’s still right around the same time as the majority of things that Moore was accused of and more severe on top of that. And yet, you have Hillary jumping on the anti-Weinstein bandwagon (after he had raised $1.4 million for her) and talking about how shocked she is by the allegations. Am I the only one struck by the irony of this?
I understand that Clinton is not currently running for election, like Moore was, and I understand that does make a difference, I also understand that Clinton was a great candidate as compared to Moore who, as I said, was kind of an awful candidate, and that that also makes a difference. (Though I think we all agree it probably shouldn’t.) But before I get too partisan. My central question is, can anyone honestly tell me that if we applied the same standard to Bill Clinton that we applied to Moore, or Franken, or Weinstein, or Lauer, that we wouldn’t also make him part of the Pervnado? Another thing that didn’t fit neatly into the last post, and so I left it out.
Moving on, since I’m doing a follow-up, that gives me the opportunity to respond to some of the comments people made. Particularly those that were critical of my previous post. I’m not surprised at all that people were critical, but I was surprised by the content of some of the criticism. In particular, one of my readers felt that I was implying that all feminists have abandoned due process in favor of the witch hunt, and that I further implied that all feminists were fine with people losing their jobs for minor, or non-existent infractions.
The surprising part, of course, was the fact that I had been very careful to not use the word “feminist” anywhere in my previous post, specifically in an attempt to avoid exactly this accusation. Needless to say it didn’t work.
When I asked him where he got the idea that I was talking about all feminists, he mentioned that I had used the word “some” in several places, and that if I wasn’t referring to feminists who was it referring to? For example, these statements from the last post:
- some on the fringe truly believe that all men engage in true sexual harassment
- I could certainly imagine some people saying well this isn’t an example at all of harm being caused to innocent people
- I don’t think I should be forbidden from talking about this issue (as evidenced by this post) but I can understand why someone might make that argument.
I replied that all that I meant by “some” is that the attitudes I was talking about are held by enough people that it was appropriate to use that term rather than “one”, or “few”, or “many”. And that if, as I argued, this “some” holds a harmful opinion, then I am concerned that they either might have the power to implement this opinion in a way that increases the harm (which has probably happened already) or that the “some” will continue to grow until they become “many” and have the power to cause harm simply by virtue of their numbers.
But it is interesting to consider the feminist position, and in the course of his response he did link to a couple of very interesting articles. The first was from Ms. Magazine and it acknowledges the possibility of what the article calls “sexual panic”. It’s an insightful article and insofar as this represents the feminist position (For the reasons I discussed earlier, I hesitate to apply that label on my own authority). It brings up some excellent points. Here’s some of the things that jumped out at me:
- The description of elements which separate “the Harvey Weinsteins and Louis CKs and Roy Moores of the world” from “innocent and misunderstood dudes” would appear to put Bill Clinton in the former, rather than the latter group.
- Like me the article makes a compelling argument that there is a continuum of harassment:
These “small” acts are not, therefore, benign or inconsequential. But they are also not synonymous with assault. A cat call is not a rape. Al Franken’s hand on a butt during a state fair photoshoot is not equivalent to the systematic trolling of underage girls by Roy Moore or decades of quid-pro-quo workplace assaults by Harvey Weinstein.
- Interestingly she also references the satanic daycare panic, but declares that:
There was no there there. But there is very much a there here.
By which, I assume, she means that there is an underlying problem now, but there wasn’t then. I’m not sure I would agree with this. My memory is that child abuse, in a similar fashion to sexual harassment was very much something which happened far too often without being noticed or reported, and that the satanic daycare incident happened when there was a huge push to be more aware of child abuse in general. Also I’m not entirely sure this is a point in her favor. You would expect, that in situations where there is an underlying problem that it’s easier for it to turn to panic, because you can always retreat to that foundation as justification for even very extreme actions. (Observe that the excesses of communism followed from the very real problems of inequality/poverty.)
- Finally, the article ends up being light on recommendations, mostly urging greater nuance. An opinion I certainly understand and even share to a certain degree, but I think the difference between nuance and subjectivity is harder to define than people think. And once we allow a completely subjective response, what keeps us from going overboard?
It’s this subjectivity that worries me. Both because it’s so open to abuse, and because it has such a chilling effect on all interactions. Where do you draw the line between awkward flirting and sexual harassment? I think all too often it’s draw based on the attractiveness of the person involved. Like that classic SNL sketch where you have Fred Armisen and Tom Brady starring in a PSA for sexual harassment. In the end Fred Armisen can’t say “hi” without being accused of something bad, while Tom Brady can walk up to a female coworker in his underwear and be fine. Because Fred Armisen is a giant nerd, and Tom Brady is a fantastic specimen of human perfection. (Interestingly SNL just did another, similar video, though not quite as on point.)
Obviously I’m not the first person to mention that one woman’s harassment is another woman’s flirting. Others have done it before me and more comprehensively. In particular I want to draw your attention to an article by Claire Berlinski. She covers many of the same points I do, including the idea that by our current standards Bill Clinton has to be considered a serial predator. This is one of those articles where you can’t go wrong reading the whole thing. But I particularly appreciated the fact that she has experienced exactly the sort of thing everyone is talking about, but that she reacted completely differently than those who are leveling accusations.
In recent weeks, I’ve acquired new powers. I have cast my mind over the ways I could use them. I could now, on a whim, destroy the career of an Oxford don who at a drunken Christmas party danced with me, grabbed a handful of my bum, and slurred, “I’ve been dying to do this to Berlinski all term!” That is precisely what happened. I am telling the truth. I will be believed—as I should be.
But here is the thing. I did not freeze, nor was I terrified. I was amused and flattered and thought little of it.
She then compares this to the accusations leveled against Michael Oreskes of NPR (I guess this is the fifth NPR employee I’m aware of.)
Harvey Weinstein must burn, we all agree. But there is a universe of difference between the charges against Weinstein and those that cost Michael Oreskes his career at NPR. It is hard to tell from the press accounts, but initial reports suggested he was fired because his accusers—both anonymous—say he kissed them. Twenty years ago. In another place of business. Since then, other reports have surfaced of what NPR calls “subtler transgressions.”
She then goes on to provide other examples, stories apparently involving no more than a hug, a request for someone’s home address, or an inappropriate comment, and points out that no matter how minor these might be, if the person felt uncomfortable then the new standard is that these people should be fired.
As I said in the past, I am not urging that there should be no consequences, but it appears that, unless the police become involved, there is only one possible consequence, professional obliteration, and it’s applied uniformly and irrespective of the severity of the crime. And, as I speculated in my last post, the binary nature of the punishment could be making people hesitant to apply it. Meaning that some (my example last week was Woody Allen) are getting off scot-free (so far) because not enough people are comfortable with obliterating their life.
All of this finally brings me to the other article my reader sent me. This one was in the Guardian and urged Don’t let the alt-right hijack #MeToo for their agenda. The article pointed out, as Berlinski did, that they have created a powerful new weapon. One that could easily take down an Oxford don or half a dozen NPR employees (in the last few paragraphs I came across another one.) And this weapon is indiscriminate enough, that it can used against those it was intended to exclude just as easily as those it was intended to target.
The biggest example of this, though it was eventually unsuccesful, was when some people on the right used a tweet to get Sam Seder at MSNBC fired. It’s good that it wasn’t successful, but it’s also a single example of sanity in an ocean of panic. The author’s solution is to claim that if the people currently in charge will just step aside, and put the people who have been victimized in charge, that there will be investigations and due process. Which, honestly I read as, if we don’t do these things, then we’re providing ammunition for our opponents to use against us. Which I completely agree with.
In the original back and forth with my reader, I mentioned that I would really like to see examples of this (investigations and due process). And perhaps the MSNBC guy is an example of just this (though saving the job of someone at MSNBC is hardly swimming against the stream) and I had hoped that Al Franken might actually stick around. (The more I think about it the more I wish it had been put to the voters.) But instead what I see is a constant stream of “madness” over the tiniest things. Just today an article came out with Matt Damon saying, as I have, that there’s a continuum of harassment. That:
you know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?
Both of these points seem impossible to dispute, and yet people have almost uniformly jumped down his throat. The Berlinksi article was not immune from this either, and she spends a significant amount of time talking about how hard it was to get the article published and how many friends urged her to not even try.
It’s evident to me that I could continue writing about this for awhile, I mean I still haven’t managed to fit in the Pence Rule (He doesn’t dine alone with women who aren’t his wife.) And the idea that, in light of the Pervnado, rules like this would appear to be a no brainer. (Though surprisingly this is not an opinion shared even by all christians.) There’s also much more to be said about the potential chilling effects on courtship and dating, particularly when people have the option of unlimited pornography. Finally, there’s the worry that women who do not feel victimized will decide after the fact that they were victims (see the Natalie Portman quote in the Berlinski article). But next week I am going to move onto another subject, and so those loose threads will have to wait. Though I’m sure they’ll be topical for quite awhile.
The key thing I hope people take away from this, is that if you’re opposed to sexual harassment, as I assume we all are, then recent tactics in the fight against the Pervnado have the possibility of backfiring. Of making some offenders less likely to be punished at all, of creating a weapon which can be used indiscriminately, of making interactions between the sexes more fraught than they already are. Of hurting more than they help.
The number of men you can safely support without worrying about whether they’ve done something bad continues to decrease. But I assure you, you can support me without fear, I mean after all I’m someone you’ve most likely never met writing under a pseudonym, so of course I have to be trustworthy.