Good morning, good morning. How are things where you are this morning? It’s quite chilly in my house today — I’ve got the heater on my feet, trying to thaw out my toes. (Please note: this is my California-acclimation talking — in Midwest or Maine-winter terms, it’s balmy today.)
I feel like I should be responding to each new story, each new guy, each new revelation of some prominent figure’s past (or present) sexual violence. Of course I am grateful they are being called out, called forward, called to account, and I am grateful that a certain portion of society has decided that these reckonings are worthy, that we should pay attention now when (some) victims come forward with their stories. We tell ourselves that we are in a moment of change. And maybe we are. I hope we are. It would be a powerful thing if we are. But I keep thinking about the number of tellings that are still ignored, denied, squashed, the number of victims and survivors who have told and are telling now and are being denied or punished.
In Sacramento, there are male politicians who are refusing to take meetings with female staffers or lobbyists — because they are afraid of what will be said about them after. This means that they believe the women who are telling about their experiences of assault and harassment and abuse are lying. that they, as men, must protect themselves from these lying women. And they are punishing the women who have told. They are communicating exactly this: ok, if you don’t want to play our game by our rules, then we’re going to shut you out. Again.
Those in power do not like to be told that they cannot do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it.
And yet women and men and folks of all genders are taking courage from the survivors who have spoken up already and are, at least for the moment, being listened to and (mostly — well, sometimes) believed.
I feel doubtful. I wonder, what’s happening under the surface, behind the scenes. Whose voices are we not hearing? Who do we still not believe?
Last night I listened to part of an interview with Caitlin Flanagan, who has written about Bill Clinton getting away with rape and harassment for years, and reminded us that powerful women and feminist leaders excused his behavior. We look at the voters in Alabama who are excusing R.M.’s actions and ask, how could you? We look at the people who voted for Trump and ask, how could you, when you know what you know? But we who call ourselves Democrats or leftists, if we excused Bill Clinton or thought of Paula Jones that she was a liar and a gold digger and a white trash slut or we listened to Hilary Clinton call Monica Lewinsky a — what did she call her? Oh yes, a loony toon — and didn’t call foul, we are the same.
You can see, right, that we are all the same? We want to excuse the one we believe in. We want to make excuses for them. We want to believe that they didn’t really mean it. that they will do better next time, that they said they were sorry, that they won’t do it again, that they didn’t do it at all. We want to believe the lies. The folks in Alabama who are supporting R.M. — I want to judge them — and, of course, I do. I am enraged that anyone would listen to a woman (and then another, and then another, and then…) describe this man’s actions toward her when she was a child or a very young woman and make excuses drawn from religion (Well, Mary was just a teenager when God raped– I mean, when she had Jesus) or call the woman a liar or decide that nobody actually holds on to experiences of terrible assault or shameful harassment for decades without reporting it or telling anyone (which is, of course, patently absurd — and how many of the men who are accusing R.M.’s victims of being liars are at the same time sending veiled or not-so-veiled threats to the women and girls that they themselves harassed once upon a time?)…
Take a deep breath, Jen. If we are going to hold men to account for their behavior, it has to be all men, not just the ones we aren’t politically aligned with. I remember being astonished and disappointed that left-wing women excused Clinton his assaults and harassment.
Women across the political spectrum have shamed and silenced women who came forward to tell the truth about men we admired and wanted to believe in. If we want to see a change, if we want this to be a moment of real change in our society, a moment in which we can see the tides of history begin to turn, the moment when it stopped being acceptable or even positive for a man to harass, assault, or otherwise wield sexuality as a weapon, when men stopped treating this violence as just part of masculinity, part of being a man; when men said no to other men, when men began to push back against this particular aspect of masculinity, and when men also began to fear the larger consequences of his harassing , assaultive behavior and actions, when it became too risky to take the action — not because he didn’t want to do it, not because he didn’t still feel the desire, but because he was too afraid of the actual consequences in the eyes of other men (it will be an even greater step when one day men care about the opinion of women, but that’s not a day we’ve reached yet) — then we have to hold all perpetrators accountable. Period. Bill Clinton doesn’t get a pass. Fucking Al Franken doesn’t get a pass. The Pope doesn’t get a pass for covering-up rape in the Catholic church system. Men across the political spectrum engage in these acts. Spiritual leaders, social justice warriors, queer folks, transmen, men taking women’s studies classes, men who call themselves feminists, men who say things we really want to hear men say, men who are standing up in public for women — folks who will perpetrate sexual violence show up all around us all the time.
Why am I reiterating all of this? I know I’m preaching to the choir, as it were. I guess I’m disgusted this morning with women across the political spectrum who excuse the behavior of assaultive men in order to get their own political capital, for expediency’s sake, women who will throw women under the bus or step on their heads just to get a leg up. We do it to ourselves. We do it to each other. We don’t want to listen. We don’t want to have to believe this thing about daddy, about our husband, about that nice guy we liked so much, about our friends, about our pastor or priest or minister or rabbi or imam or guru or leader. We don’t want to have to believe it about the actor who is so pretty and seems so nice. We don’t want to have to believe it about the nice guy up the block who just doesn’t act like a bad guy when we’re around him — how could he do all those things that women are saying?
But men are doing all these things that women are saying. That children are saying. That other men are saying. That folks of all genders are saying. If this is a tipping point, that would be a beautiful thing. Only time will tell. We’ve certainly got a long way to go before women aren’t walking armored into every interaction they have with men. A far better solution, in Sacramento and everywhere, would be for women to stop taking meetings with men until men prove they can “behave themselves” — that is, not engage in sexually harassing, dismissive, hostile, or violent behavior. Let this be how it works in business, in the media, in Hollywood, in politics, let women rise in power while leaving the perpetrators behind. Let those men scramble to prove themselves. Let those men feel left out in the cold. What a day that would be. Can you imagine it? I can imagine it. I think we can get there. Of course, ideally, we would all rise together. But let’s be honest. There are some rapists and abusers who are not going to want to or be able to let go of — and those men are going to have to be left behind.
Be easy with yourselves today. Write if you can get to it. Play music loud in the car or in your room and sing along. Let the tension, the rage, move through your body however you need to. I’m going to try to do the same. Thank you for your power and your ferocity today. Than you for your words.