“How do women still go out with guys, when you realize there is no bigger threat to women than men?”
– Louis C.K.
When the first Harvey Weinstein harassment allegations came out, I glanced at the New York Times headline and thought about the relationship between men and power — the distorting, ugly, corrupting influence the two have had on one another. The misery they have wrought together.
This was the wrong thought to lead with. I should have skipped straight to the victims. Empathy ought to have come first. It should always come first in these situations.
When I slowed down to read the rapidly-expanding allegations, and began to understand their width and their breadth, the rejection of the word “no,” the leering, crude sliminess of the accused, I was horrified. I also felt a twinge of relief — realizing how expansive the chasm between the mogul and a more standard-issue shitty male behavior was.
This man is evil in ways I don’t recognize. Thank God.
Though… more and more it seems that chasm isn’t as big as I long for it to be. Not nearly. Maybe it’s like comparing rabid wolves with regular wolves — both scary as hell for anyone walking a country road at night.
Still, as the Hollywood stars began their fall to earth, there was a piece of me — a small, cringing piece of many men, I believe — that wondered “How far will this extend?” What crevices will the sun’s glare reach? Will a boorish line of some rock star echo a drunken sentence I uttered after last call? Will some behavior called out in a Tweet bear similarities to a joke I once laughed at?
In other words:
Since the #MeToo movement began, men have tried to inoculate themselves with calls of #NotMe. This longing to distance ourselves from the horrible actions of our brethren is natural, but it’s also impossible. This is exactly how it should be. No man can be immunized from this scourge. This is us. Us at our worst; us as produced by millennia of patterned behavior; us as shaped by the American cult of “manliness”; but us, nonetheless.
We are witnessing the crumbling of the patriarchy. It rotted on the vine and needs to be stomped into mulch. By nature of our gender and the structure of our society, we have been guilty of propping this failed institution up — either explicitly or implicitly. Now it’s time to be part of the rebuilding effort, and step one in that process is accountability.
I’m sorry. These seem to be the two words that no powerful man can bring himself to say once outed for sexual harassment or assault. Weinstein didn’t say them. Kevin Spacey didn’t either. Even Louis C.K. — who seemed to understand the need for complete remorsefulness better than most — didn’t say those two words. This is interesting because men clearly want forgiveness. We want our bad behavior to be absolved and washed clean. We want the slate scrubbed. And yet… just about every apology thus far has had a limping, deflecting tone.
That’s not to say that there’s no context to pair with the scores of accusations rolling in. There are societal and cultural factors to why men in America show such historic disregard for female agency and autonomy. But understanding this context is basic. Everyone knows it and everyone lives under it. I haven’t met a woman yet who’s clamoring for more context from dudes. They want genuine, “I’m sorry”-level contrition. And more than that, systemic change.
It’s not the job of men to add qualifiers to these stories. Talk of “different eras” is wasted. It’s the job of men to focus on the shifting the culture, without delay. Even slowing down enough to say “the world I was raised in” is egregious.