Wankers, Rapists, and Pedophiles, Oh My!
We are in the midst of a genuine cultural moment, one that will leave some bruises and change relations between men and women forever. Whatever you thought a few weeks ago, by now you will probably agree that the upheaval isn't pretty. And it's far from over. Harvey Weinstein was the perfect symbol of a twisted, brutal patriarchy. Al Franken is more complicated.
As I write this, Franken is being roundly denounced by both US political parties, for forcing a kiss on an unwilling model and pretending to grab her breasts for a stupid photo prank. An ethics investigation seems imminent, even though the US President has admitted to sexual assault without repercussion.
Meanwhile, we have a child molester running for the Senate in Alabama, where the governor says she believes the charges against nutcase Roy Moore but she's voting for him anyway. It appears that there really are two Americas, and in one of them you can stalk schoolgirls as long as you wave a Christian bible and rant about gays.
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
In the saner America and the rest of the civilized world, woman used the hashtag #MeToo to form a Greek Chorus in support of the first brave voices against powerful men. The MeToo got a little uncomfortable when some started complaining they felt diminished or annoyed that sexual harassment isn't rape. A brief Twitter scuffle broke out but the MeToo was an effective strategy for the most part. It revealed to men what females already knew: All of us have been harassed, belittled, groped or assaulted in the course of a normal day.
We never thought our stories mattered; we told our sisters and our friends but we didn't expect things to change. Now that the patriarchy is listening, we are demanding consequences. Entertainers, reporters and CEO's are dropping like flies, losing their jobs and book deals in the blink of an eye. No judge or jury for them: They are banished like lepers. In the post-Weinstein age, it's a witch hunt.
Don't get mad at me for saying witch hunt! In this case, there are real witches, masturbating for the discomfort of captive audiences, but there are no trials and no second chances. Keven Spacey is toast, and he deserves it. I'm not that sure about journalist Mark Halpern, co-author of “Game Change” and political analyst on MSNBC. Twenty years ago, he had a habit of rubbing up against female underlings and insisted that one young reporter sits on his lap. Boom! Now married with a young child, Halpern apologized for being a jerk but received no mercy. For now, his career is over.
Should there be a distinction between different types of sexual misconduct, or should we insist that wrong actions be treated alike? Who is qualified to judge, anyway? Feminists are adamant that all women's voices should be believed, full-stop. We need to create an unbroken circle of support. But now Lena Dunham has stepped in it by refusing to believe an actress who is accusing “Girls” writer Murray Miller of raping her at age seventeen.
By defending Miller, Lena has unleashed an uproar on social media, and this time, rightly so. As a self-styled paragon of feminist rectitude, she is practicing what she has preached against. In August, Dunham tweeted “Things women do lie about: what they ate for lunch. Things women don't lie about: rape.” Now, when the charge concerns a male friend, she is not so sure. Now she says this is an instance of “taking down the wrong target.”
If women turn on each other, our Moment will shatter into splinter groups, and our message will be muted. If minor offences are blown up into crimes against humanity, I fear we may lose our moral authority. We need some standards and sense of proportion if we want this movement to go forward.
Every woman has her own level of sensitivity and definition of harassment. Let me stop here and say I’ve been the victim of rape, date-rape, and the usual workplace indignities. If Louis CK forced me to watch him masturbate, I would be disgusted. I can't even think about it on a full stomach. But the whole culture needs a thorough cleansing. Louis Brandeis made his statement that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” back in 1913. Transparency is still the best answer.
Years ago I worked for a movie production company where I was hired on condition that I never wear sleeveless shirts. I had long, luxurious underarm hair, and the male partners were horrified when they saw it. That's how delicate they were! I just felt sorry for them. Funnily enough, that's where I first heard the name Brett Ratner. He had just made a hit movie and the guys at the office couldn't stop talking about his nude swimming parties. And the hot young models at Brett's parties were all waxed, the guys noted appreciatively.
Nearly 20 years later, it's nice to know that Ratner's career is ruined, and I maintain my natural armpits. As it is said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
Art Illustrations by Amber Vittoria for MIISTA