Felling a man of Harvey Weinstein’s stature was undoubtedly going to create aftershocks. It must help that the actresses coming forward with accusations against him are famous, people we recognize, people we believe we love even if we don’t actually know them. It helps us to care about them and, as female crew members afraid to come forward about their own abuse told The Hollywood Reporter, it helps the actresses:
“We don’t have the power that Rose McGowan or Angelina Jolie has,” says one female below-the-liner, and others agree that it is a lot easier for a production to replace a woman on the crew than it is to lose a bankable actor or director.
The female crew members told THR they’re afraid to come forward, lest a producer deem them “a liability” or “a troublemaker.” It’s not the men who abuse that are liabilities, it’s the women who would be so inconvenient as to not shut up and take it. One crew member says what many of us know about human resources departments: “Human resources is not there for us; it’s there for the company. To protect it from a liability.” Again, here, the liability is the person who tells the truth, not the person who behaves wrongly.
Still, since the New York Times and the New Yorker published their Weinstein exposés, less famous women have revealed abuse by powerful men. Men have followed with apologies. (The best one came from Ryan Gosling, who said he was disappointed in himself for not knowing about Weinstein’s treatment of women sooner — we’ll come back to this.) Kim Masters was finally able to get an outlet to publish a piece she’d been doggedly working on for months, in which a producer on the Amazon show The Man in the High Castle came forward to report harassment by a top Amazon executive, who has since resigned.
The #MeToo campaign on social media — originally created by a black woman activist, Tarana Burke, 10 years ago and popularized in the wake of Weinstein by actress Alyssa Milano and others — brought out even more stories beyond the entertainment industry. The #MeToo campaign also seems to have been eye-opening for a lot of men. Maybe you think we should be pleased about this, but I feel more like Alexandra Petri, who wrote in the Washington Post, “I am sick of having to suffer so that a man can grow.”
I received a late-night email this week from someone who crossed a line with me 13 years ago. He wrote that he “struggled for a while tonight” with the email, which made me laugh, that he thought I should care that he “struggled” for a few hours that night, after 13 years. But of course he thought that. His whole email was about him. He wasn’t sure if he had done anything wrong, but thought maybe he had. He appeared to not remember that 10 years ago, I had written him an email of my own, telling him how his violation had hurt me. He had dismissed it then, telling me — a college student who had worked up a tremendous amount of courage to even write him that email — that I was overreacting. Hysterical woman, your feelings are incorrect. He wants forgiveness now, but can’t be bothered to go through his email and see that I told him, a decade ago, exactly what he did wrong and how it hurt me.
Laura June wrote, for The Outline, about the deeply flawed “apologies” of powerful men. Weinstein’s word salad of an apology; the equally nonsensical “apology” of venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck, accused of sexual harassment by six women he had worked with. June wrote:
Both of these apologies also carry with them the truly mind-boggling suggestion that we — the public, the reader, the company shareholders, whomever — are concerned about the welfare of the guilty sexual assaulter who just got caught. Caldbeck wrote that he would be “seeking professional counseling” as he took “steps to reflect on [his] behavior with and attitude towards women.” Weinstein assured readers that he’d put together a “team of people” to help him out, and that he had “brought on therapists.” As if anyone cared, as if their welfare matters more than that of the people they’ve harmed.
I caught my breath reading that. I’m a big believer in therapy; I think just about everyone should do it. The more you don’t want to do it, the surer sign you should. I’m glad these men are seeking therapy, I hope they do the hard work of it in earnest. Therapy involves a lot of self-reflection, which these men certainly seem to lack.
But I don’t care. I don’t care what happens to them. I don’t care if they end up at the bottom of the ocean or in Anthony Weiner’s horse rehab or hunkered down somewhere in Europe with Roman Polanski avoiding extradition. The unbelievable entitlement, the belief that we should care, that they should matter to us after the callous disregard for others they’ve shown, fills me with a monstrous amount of rage, maybe 13 years’ worth, probably more.
It’s good that men are reflecting, are thinking about the things they’ve done, the behavior they’ve excused in their friends. A striking thing in all the accounts women are sharing is how much the women reflected, how much they looked at what was done to them and said, “I shouldn’t have let that happen. I did something wrong.” It stuns me that men seem to lack this impulse. As Laurie Penny wrote in a short piece for TIME: “That’s what rape culture is. It’s not just a system that allows rapists to get away with it. It’s a system that allows them to feel okay about it afterwards.”
Penny describes the Hollywood movie equivalent of the moment we’re in thusly:
There’s a moment toward the end of every classic protest movie when — just as it looks like the baddies have won, that they’ve finally crushed that secret part inside our hero that wants the world to be different — suddenly, one ordinary person stands up and says, no, this is not right. They say: “I am Spartacus.” They say: “Oh, captain, my captain.” They put down their tools. They drop their guns. The camera closes in on this person’s terrified face as they realize the consequences of the crazy, stupid thing they just did.
And then, somewhere in the crowd, a stranger stands up and says something that means “Me, too.” Then another person. Then another and another, and suddenly everyone is getting to their feet, and the camera pulls back as the whole restive crowd rises to say, “Me, too.” And me. All of us. Things have been so terribly wrong for so very long, and we’ve had enough. That chill of excitement runs down your spine, and the music soars as you watch all those people realize that they’re not alone anymore.
Reading that, I was reminded of how I felt when I saw the “Shitty Media Men” spreadsheet. The short summary is, some women made a Google spreadsheet, wrote down the names of men who had done bad things, and the bad things they’d done. They became concerned about the security of the document, especially after learning that a BuzzFeed post was being written about it, and took it down. But for the short while it was allowed to exist, some women felt powerful, after so much powerlessness. There was something invigorating about it. It felt like that movie moment Penny described. (Notably, it seems to have resulted in the recent firing of an executive at Vox Media.)
Much ink has been spilled over the spreadsheet since; I think Kate McDonough did the best job at Splinter News. Many criticisms were leveled against it. In particular, people chafed at the fact that some of the allegations struck them as relatively minor. “Creepy af in the DMs” was an oft-cited example.
It’s easy to dismiss creepy messages as a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things, when the grand scheme of things includes forced drug use during sex or Weinstein-style quid-pro-quo offers (“do this for me and I’ll help your career, don’t do it and I’ll tank your career”). But what if we stop for a minute and consider why creepy messages might bother a woman so much she feels the need to write it down? What if, instead of worrying about the feelings of men who might chafe at being on that list, we consider the lived experiences of women?
Women are taught a lot of things about our bodies from a very young age, almost all of them negative. Our bodies are not our own, they are for the enjoyment of men. Our bodies are not attractive in their natural state; we are meant to be hairless and smooth and fawn-like, to resemble women on websites with headings like “barely legal” and “sexy stepdaughters.” From a young age, we are catcalled and leered at. As a young teen in New York City, I used to seek out nearby police officers to tattle on grown men who spoke to me inappropriately. Invariably, I would be told every time that their distasteful behavior was normal and if it bothered me, that was my problem. I remember telling a teacher about a man who gawked at me on the train, only to have the teacher point out my strappy tank top and short skirt, leaving me feeling both disgusting and stupid.
Our boundaries are constantly being violated, and creepy messages are just one more violation. It’s one more thing to remind you that you are not a person deserving of respect, but an object to be ogled and eventually, if found suitable, fucked.
And it’s not just our bodies. As Laurie Penny wrote in an essay on this website, both men and women learn early on that women’s “instincts about what we feel and experience are not to be trusted.” If a woman feels she had a bad sexual experience, it is probably her fault for being in a position to have had it and also for having emotions instead of just being cool. Just be cool. We are told to consider the feelings of men, as many women did after the Shitty Media Men list, lamenting that someone who didn’t deserve to be on the list might be on it.
The pendulum has been stuck so far in one direction, favoring the experiences and feelings of men, for so long, in myriad ways. Even feminism has told us that we achieve more by being more like men. Girls are now allowed to join the Boy Scouts. But maybe boys should join the Girl Scouts, and learn how to earn badges for things like “Responsible for What I Say and Do” and “Finding Common Ground.” The reason Ryan Gosling’s apology expressing disappointment in himself for not knowing more about his female colleagues’ experiences was so impressive (I told you we’d come back to this) was because it highlighted something men just aren’t encouraged to do: be curious about the lived experiences of women.
Where do we go from here? It’s time to dislodge that pendulum and fling it in the other direction. I’m tired of caring about the lives and feelings of men, of making excuses for them, of rationalizing their bad behavior or their rationalizations of their friends’ bad behavior. It’s time for men to learn about and be interested in the lives and experiences of women. If you are an editor and someone pitches you a story on gender, don’t dismiss it as a women’s story. See it as a story about the human experience, about power, about politics, about everything gender touches and is touched by. If you come across a story about gender, about a woman, don’t click away because you think it’s not relevant to you. You share the world with us. We are relevant to you.