Vive la Révolution

No one expects a revolution.

Oh sure, uprisings are almost always the result of powder kegs of inequity and frustration built up over time, but no one can accurately predict the stray match which lights up the night. Who would have predicted a dearth of French cake or a shipload of too-taxed tea would be straws that broke the camel’s back?

Or a Hollywood mogul.

Glance around girls and boys, we are in the midst of a revolution, though it’s not the one promised or predicted. It’s not the one coveted by ethno-nationalists or the one hoped for by far-left socialists.

Don’t be fooled. The cascade of sexual assault allegations which are coming down as thick and fast as Niagara Falls? It is nothing short of a revolution. It is a seismic shift in the conscious thought of a nation, or at least, a good chunk of a nation. To move, seemingly overnight, from dismissing the concerns of women to not only believing them, but holding the men responsible….well, responsible?

That is a tectonic shift of attitude. That is a revolution.

Sexual harassment is nothing new. Women have been coming forward with allegations of contact ranging from inappropriate to rape for decades. They were kind of/sort of/maybe/sometimes believed. Yet even when we, as a society did believe them, the power structure remained intact. Nondisclosure agreements and arbitration, out of court settlements and gag orders, or just garden variety misogynistic I think women make shit up for the hell of it. Maybe there was a slap on the wrist or a reprimand, a closed-door meeting with HR. But more often than not, not only have women’s concerns, allegations, and evidence been largely sidelined, covered up, and ignored, but the men accused have faced zero consequence.

In fact, not only have they never faced any real consequence, they’re often rewarded.

Casey Affleck settled two sexual harassment suits. He was awarded an Oscar. Chris Brown beat the shit out of Rhianna. He sells out concert venues. Roman Polanski raped a 13 y/o girl. He’s the recipient of several lifetime achievement awards. Woody Allen. Mel Gibson. Charlie Sheen. That’s just Hollywood. That’s before we get to publishing, finance, tech, academia.

Congress.

Like the roving hands of a serial groper, sexual harassment is everywhere. And powerful men who have had their hand in the cookie jar of women’s bodies, psyches, and pockets? They’ve been allowed to slide, chocolate chip crumbs all over their face.

Yet now, suddenly, there are consequences. Real ones. Not just financial settlements, but actual consequences. Powerful men who have abused their power and victimized women are being outed, fired, shunned, dropped.

Fox News’s Roger Ailes was a chink in the damn. Harvey Weinstein blew a whole in it.

And here we are, drenched in the downfall.

Women have long become accustomed to not having their stories believed, to having their motives doubted, their pasts dragged through the public. To suddenly have people believe them is both shocking and confusing. It is a welcome change, a long overdue and needed change, but one which drags with it in its wake a host of questions and uncertainty.

Perhaps there are women who were expecting it. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t. And like those street urchins standing below a tri-colored flag at the end of Les Mis, I don’t quite know what to make of it all.

It’s glorious and affirming, but also scary as hell.

****

Human beings are complex and flawed. Both men and women. Add the dimensions of sex and power to that and our relationships become even more complex.

And here we are, standing in suddenly abandoned enemy territory, a flag ready to plant. New map lines must be drawn. What is acceptable, what is not? There will be gray areas that are fought over as fiercely as Kashmir. Does a photo depicting a violating act = a violating act itself?   Does a forced kiss = grooming a fourteen year old? Is there a hierarchy of shitty male behavior? And more importantly, the realization that we, as women, must turn inward and contemplate our own questionable feelings and shitty behavior.

What we need is time to figure it all out.

In a revolution, time is a luxury you don’t have.

****

In any major cultural shift, there is a period of panic and disorientation. There are snap judgments and on-the-ground decisions, some of which will turn out to be wrong. When you start dredging the depths, you’ve got to wade through a lot of muck and sludge. You’re going to take a bit of it with you, no matter how hard you try to scrape it off.

Revolutions are a messy business. People are going to get hurt. There will be fallout. Once the dust has settled, a lot of soul-searching will be required. It will take a massive amount of long, hard work to remold the status quo.

And this is where we must be smart. We must take our time and redraw the map of acceptability and accountability. And that requires women to look at their own behavior, their own process, their own complex relationship with sex and power. Because if history has taught us anything, it is this: if you drag out a guillotine and start demanding heads, you run the danger of having that guillotine sharpened and readied for your own.

These are terrifying and exhilarating times. The potential seeds for great change are being laid. All that remains to be seen is which way the wind blows. Away from us, toward that arc of justice…or back in our face, dirt and all.

 

 

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The Absence of “No” is Not Enough

For the last week I’ve been watching the #MeToo movement rise and fall in the media. Women are sharing, in great detail, personal experiences in order to highlight just how pervasive the problem of sexual harassment and assault really is.

What I’m also noticing is that men, on the whole, have been largely silent.

Now, I hope–sincerely–the relative silence is about allowing a safe space for women to talk about their experiences without trying to interrupt or explain why those experiences are wrong or mistaken or taken out of context. Sincerely.

My worry, however, is the silence is due to many men not hearing what women are shouting over the chasm. The chasm which exists between the way women define and view sexual assault, harassment, and consent, and the way that men do. That chasm is so wide and deep when you shout across it no one on the other side can hear you. All you get in return is a fading echo.

Generally, there are things which both women and men see as obviously and categorically wrong. A woman raped and beaten by a stranger. A child sexually molested by an adult. They tick the boxes of what we agree is defined as rape or sexual assault.

We go down the list. Is it any better if the person who rapes and beats a woman is someone she knows? How about if it’s her spouse? How about if the child is thirteen and the adult in question is twenty-two and swears she told him she was eighteen?

How about if a woman doesn’t bear any marks from her rape or assault? Rape is a crime of violence against women, regardless of bruises or ligature marks. Yet some feel a woman has to have noticeable marks of that violence as evidence of a man raping her. She must bear physical evidence of having ‘fought back’ in order for some to believe her consent was not given.

Already we’re wading into murky territory. And that’s just rape.

What about a man who badgers a woman into some sort of quasi-consensual act? I know women who have had sex because having sex was safer than continuing to be bullied, badgered, stalked, or harassed. I know women who have had sex because it was easier to have sex than to keep fighting against it. Think about that for a moment. Women, especially young women who are still defining their own boundaries, will sometimes have sex simply to shut men up, to stop further harassment, to control the situation, or to be able to walk away. 

If you don’t see that any of those as wrong, it’s a good indication of how wide the chasm really is.

If a woman has sex or sexual contact with a man because she knows the danger of him forcing himself upon her violently is real, does that make it any better that what we classically define as rape? Does it make it right or ok? How about if a woman has sex or sexual contact with a man because she knows the real danger of him ruining her financially? Does it make it any better? Does it make it right or ok?

Sometimes men will grind a woman down to a point where she does not say ‘no’. She doesn’t say ‘yes’. She simply stops saying ‘no’.  To some, the lack of the negative implies consent. I’m guessing this is where Harvey Weinstein’s defense of the accusations of rape is going.

He’ll argue because his victims didn’t say “NO”, there was implied consent.

This is important and this is where the chasm is the deepest: consent is NOT JUST the absence of ‘NO’. It must be the PRESENCE of ‘YES’. 

This is what sexual harassment is. It is badgering. It is pressuring. It is using the power held over someone else to wear them down, not to the point of yes, but to the absence of no.

And if that absence of no is taken for consent, or seen as ok or justifiable, or not that bad, that’s a massive, massive problem.

What women are trying to do with campaigns like #MeToo is show what all the badgering, the pressuring, the threats, the bribes, the blackmail does. They are showing, with their own stories, how the very real potential for serious harm–bodily, psychological, financial–plays out in real life. Women are not dumb. Women will do what they need to do to take control of the situation in any way they can to mitigate the damage.

Out of all the articles I’ve read recently, this paragraph from Lupita Nyong’o’s account of her time with Harvey Weinstein, stood out to me, yet it will likely get lost in the shuffle of more salacious details.

“Harvey led me into a bedroom — his bedroom — and announced that he wanted to give me a massage. I thought he was joking at first. He was not. For the first time since I met him, I felt unsafe. I panicked a little and thought quickly to offer to give him one instead: It would allow me to be in control physically, to know exactly where his hands were at all times.”

Harvey Weinstein will use that as evidence of consent. Many men will read that as evidence of consent.

Women who have experienced a similar situation will read it for what it is: a woman swallowing a smaller indignity to save herself from a larger one.

All of the lewd comments, the innuendo, the leering, the lurking, the touching, the insinuation? All of that is done without a woman’s consent. No man on the street has ever asked a woman if she wanted her booty to be commented upon. No boss has ever asked a female colleague if she wanted him to opine on what she’s like in bed. No supervisor has ever asked a woman if she wanted to view his porn collection or hear about the dirty dream she featured in.

Harvey Weinstein did not ask Lupita Nyong’o if she wanted a massage. He announced what he wanted, to the complete and utter disregard of the woman standing before him. She was nothing more than a vessel for his sexual gratification. Not dissimilar to the potted plant he allegedly ejaculated into in front of a female reporter.

Women do not exist for the sexual gratification of men. Women do not exist for the viewing pleasure of men. Women do not owe men sex, sexual acts, sexuality, politeness, smiles, sashays, exposed legs, cleavage. Women are not human repositories for male sexual fantasies, they should never be expected to bear the weight of those fantasies outside of consensual relationships. And by consensual, I mean one which is clearly marked by the presence of yes, not just the absence of no.

We need to have an open and ongoing dialogue about sex, about power, about violence. About consent. And that conversation needs to between women AND men, not just women shouting ME TOO in an echo chamber. And not just men shouting NOT ALL MEN in their own.

Maybe #MeToo will be the rickety, dinky little rope bridge that allows a few people at a time to cross that chasm.

One can hope, right?

 

 

 

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Harveys

I’m getting whiplash from the continually breaking and increasingly disturbing allegations against Harvey Weinstein. And each day more women (and men) are coming forward to tell stories of their own. Stories of harassment at the hands of the powerful.

Same old song and square dance. In case it’s been a while since you heard this one, (who was the last? O’Reilly? Cosby? Ailes?), let me remind you how the old grab your partner do-si-do goes.

Grab your partner with your left hand! Powerful man sexually assaults/abuses/harasses women. Back to the Partner for a Right and Left Grand! Women are silenced by payouts, nondisclosure agreements, threats, bribes, and the harsh reality of bringing accusations against those in power. Ace of Diamonds, Jack of Spades! Excuses are made, justifications proffered, denials scattered like seed on the wind. Women are blamed for enabling the behavior. Meet your Partner and All Promenade! More women come forward. They are routinely accused of doing it for the fame/money/press. Men complain.

The dance ends. Until the music starts up again.

You see that neat do-si-do trick there? Men abuse. Women get the blame. Oh sure, we focus on the star-quality name for a hot minute or two. We all tsk-tsk and oh, isn’t that awful, but it always–always–comes back to bite women in the ass. Because by the end of it, the media, the powerful, the ignoramuses with Twitter followers (Et tu, CNN?) still put the burden on women to speak out and put a stop to this behavior.

It’s up to women! They must report it! They must stop enabling and allowing it! They must stand up to rich and powerful men (or just regular old asshole men who sign their paltry paycheck every week). They must create a culture at work which does not allow for this! They must understand not every creepy hand on a shoulder is sexual harassment!

They, they, they! Women, women, women!

Fine. You want to put the onus on women? Do it this way:

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Harvey Weinstein.

Or Ben Affleck. Or Casey Affleck for that matter. Or Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Clarence Thomas or any of the thousands of nameless, faceless men across the world who feel the presence of a woman gives them carte blanche to grope, proposition, grab, belittle, demand, leer at–oh hell, use a damn thesaurus if you’re not sure what I’m trying to say here–women.

Once upon a time there was a seventeen year-old girl, working in an office for the summer. One day she had on a vintage green dress, the color of Sprite. Darted at the bust line, scoop necked, below the knee. She liked the way she looked in it. So did the man whose office she walked into. He liked the way she looked so much he backed her into a corner with his chair. He never got up, just sat, wheeling that chair from left to right so she couldn’t leave without brushing past him. There were suggestive comments about the lemon-lime dress. Most of them went over her head. Because she was seventeen.

First, she panicked. Is this real? Was she imagining this? Did she miss something? Then she planned. How would she get out of this? She could scramble across the desk but if she does her pretty, lemon-lime colored dress will ride up, exposing her underpants, her ass. Would he grab her? Would he put his grown-man hand, the one that looks like her Dad’s, on her skin? Too risky. If she told him to stop would he call other men over to laugh at his joke, laugh at her who’s not in on the joke? Too risky.

So she stood there. Because she was fucking seventeen and this man was an adult and should know better.

But he didn’t. Because–well, why didn’t he? No one taught him? Do you really need to be taught that crude sexual innuendo aimed at a seventeen year-old girl is wrong?

So she stood there. And she felt dirty. As if she’d done something wrong. As if she wasn’t getting the ‘joke’.

Do-si-do and around we go.

Let’s be clear. That seventeen year-old girl didn’t ask for a grown man to corner her in his office. What was she supposed to do? Who was she supposed to tell? In the end, she did what women have been doing for decades.

Nothing.

Seventeen year-old girls may be young, but they intuit the way the real world works. Which is why men mostly get away with it. Because no one is going to believe a seventeen year old girl over a grown man.

Just like no one wanted to believe a nineteen year-old Rose McGowan. Or maybe they did, but it was more important to protect the big, important man who held all the power.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Harveys.

This is not rocket science. This should not be hard. It shouldn’t take having a daughter to realize that forcing women into a corner, literally and metaphorically, is wrong. That soliciting women is wrong. That asking women to perform for you, on a casting couch, in a board room, in a work shop office that smells of metal and machinery oil, is not ok.

Teach your sons it is not someone else’s daughter’s fault. Or her responsibility. Teach them the lemon-lime color of a pretty, vintage dress makes no difference. Do not make excuses and justifications for the Harveys, the Clarences, the Bills. Because every time you do-si-do around the truth, you make it easier for the next guy to get away with it.

There are a lot of Harveys out there. Weinstein is not a one-off. His is just the biggest name..today. Most of them have no damn clue what they are doing is wrong. They lash out because they feel confined by political correctness.

Sure, because it’s political correctness telling your grown-ass, should-know-better self it’s not ok to corner a seventeen year-old. Or promise an actress a career-making role if she gives you a blow job. Or to talk about porn with your law clerk, or dazzle your White House intern with your power.

This is not about ‘how it used to be’. This is not about political correctness or not being able to ‘say anything anymore’. This is about power: who holds it and who doesn’t.

There are thousands of thousands of women with stories about their own Harveys.

Don’t let your sons grow up to be Harveys. And don’t let your daughters grow up to think they’re responsible for them.

I don’t remember that asshole’s name. But I can tell you the exact hue of that Sprite colored dress. And how I never wanted to wear it again.

 

 

All quotes from 21 Harrowing Stories of Sexual Harassment