A response to the editorial piece in the New York Times: Publicly, We say #MeToo. Privately, We have Misgivings, written by Daphne Merkin January 5th of 2018.
First off, who does the author mean by we?
Is “we” women and men who have bought and sold the package of patriarchy on bent knee? I am not sure, but I know that “we” does not include me nor the women I know who have a dog in this fight; the fight for gender equality.
I do agree that movements, if fortunate enough to gain acceleration, can go too far, sometimes. Give it up for momentum. There is, after all, such things as harmless flirtations, and as the author writes, expressing sexual interest can be messy. It’s nerve wrecking, right? I’ve been there. I think most adults have. You’re interested, you’re not sure if they are, maybe you lean in for a kiss, maybe they kiss back, or perhaps pull away. So, in that respect, I completely agree with the author. It would be a disservice to women, and men if every flirtation, advance or come-on was policed. Cupid is confusing enough, without adding mandatory applications just to play the game of love, but, let’s be fair, that is not what the #MeToo movement is about, now is it?
The author states:
“Expressing sexual interest is inherently messy, and frankly, nonconsensual—one person, typically the man, bites the bullet expressing interest in the other…”
This is where I feel begin to feel dizzy. Firstly, I’m a woman and have bitten the said bullet, one apparently only men bite, expressing interest, only to be served rejection, cold. Secondly, sexual interest is sometimes unrequited, yes, sometimes mutual, yes, but how can it be non-consensual? Since when did one need consent to have interest in someone? It’s the acting on the interest that can be nonconsensual. It is when unwanted sexual interest is taken from script to action that we have a problem. We as in all of us who have been victimized. However, for many young girls and women (and frankly, some young boys and men), pulling away means nothing. The word NO means nothing. Unfortunately for young girls and women, we have an entire culture that drowns out all of our No’s. We (as in women) are living and breathing a culture that blatantly encourages sexual harassment.
That is why the #MeToo movement is needed. The #MeToo movement is not a witch hunt. It is about damn time, a day late, and one that needs to keep adapting and evolving until women can recognize gender equality as something more than a daydream, and not just for women in the United States, but for women all across this globe, and let’s take it a step further: Eliminate all -isms from society (racism, classism, speciesism). This is our (all of us) march.
One example that the author uses to back up her point that the #MeToo movement is going too far is what I will refer to as the “Balthus problem.”
“Consider the fact that the campaign last month against the MET (Metropolitian Museum of Art) to remove a Balthus painting that shows a young girl in a suggestive light was organized by two Manhattan feminist. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful. This is kind of censorship practiced by religious zealots.”
In one fell swoop, the author dismisses the whole petition against the Balthus paintings without ever telling you anything about Balthus’s obsession with young girls, whom he painted in sexually suggestive ways. These prepubescent models were, also, oftentimes taken as his lovers. Balthus’s is quoted describing his interest in one such younger girl whom he eventually married, a girl twenty-nine years younger than he: “Empire of a Girl: I just have to enter it to be completely lost. And she is as I would like a girl to be. Adorable atmosphere of tasting precocious children, cups of hot chocolate with cream and love.” His second wife, Setsuko Ideta, was thirty-five years his senior. The particular painting two New York women petitioned against, “Therese Dreaming,” features an eleven-year-old girl with her legs open, panties showing. Petitioning against such paintings is not, as the author writes, “the kind of censorship practiced by religious zealots.” It is a rational reaction to images of young girls being depicted in sexually provocative ways, girls who were more than likely also sexually assaulted by Balthus.
The author writes:
“It goes without saying that no one is coming to the defense of heinous sorts, like Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer. But the trickle-down effect to cases like those of Garrison Keillor, Johnathon Schwartz, Ryan Lizza, and Al Franken, in which the accusations are scattered, anonymous, or, as far as the public knows, very vague and unspecific, has been troubling.”
Again, another fell swoop and the author dismisses legitimate allegations without presenting any hard facts for the reader. Let’s take Al Franken for a moment. What floats around on Facebook memes, with captions such as, “Fake Grabbing Boobs is Not Rape,” is what appears to be a nonsensical photo of a man pretending to grope a woman’s breasts while she sleeps. At a quick glance, honestly, it looks harmless. And honestly, it’s a pose I have done to others, in jest- albeit while they were awake. However what makes Al’s incident a bit more than harmless play is three-fold 1). This was not a woman he had an established relationship with, and actually one, who had made it clear to him that she was not interested in any sexual conduct with him after he had tried to forcibly kiss her during a comedy skit (A skit including, conveniently, a kiss that he wrote into the script, and one that she stated she was uncomfortable with). 2). The picture was taken while the woman was asleep, and therefore unable to object to the way the photo was poised. 3). Eight other women have come forward, so far, against Franken for very similar allegations (unwanted sexual contact, groping) made by his first accuser.
The author goes on, “In our current climate, to be accused is to convicted. Due process is nowhere to be found.”
I agree with the author that heads should not roll without investigation or due process, but I would like to have an example of a man who has had his empire crumbled based on a vague unsubstantiated allegation. I can provide numerous examples of men who have committed sex crimes, and walked away scot-free, as the saying goes. The author uses the word, “flirtation.” What man has been ran out his castle for a flirtation? If there is an example of cases like this, present it to the public for scrutiny. Inventing a phantom to rally around with the intention of discrediting a legitimate movement is at best a misjudgment and at worse corruption. It reminds me of the Right’s creation of the Welfare Queen. Apparently, this Queen, a woman (conveniently), has several children, eats expensive shrimp daily, and drives a Cadillac, all while sucking the government boob bone dry. So far, this Queen remains elusive, and from the fog, all we can really glimpse are wealthy white men in suits collecting corporate welfare checks in the billions.
The author then asks:
“What happened to women’s agency? That’s what I find myself wondering as I hear story after story of adult women who helplessly acquiesce to sexual demands.”
She then goes on to state that she has known plenty of women who have been propositioned for intimacy and from their own agency, said No. Yes, this happens. I personally have been in situations where I have turned down offers for sex, relationships and all that lies in between the two. However, I have also been in situations where a NO meant nothing. Many of us have. And I can guarantee that the missing variable was not our lack of courage or inability to fight, but rather a predator/s in the mist. The difference between situations where a simple NO worked and situations where it did not work is NEVER a sign of weakness on the part of the survivor but rather a sign of weakness within the abuser/s. To place the blame on the survivor is not only ridiculous, it is cold. Engage in a short thought experiment for a moment: If someone was robbed, how silly would it sound if the detective asked: “I know people who were able to beat the robber up, and keep their stuff, why weren’t you able to do this, too? And then went on, “Perhaps, you are just weak, or lack agency.”
There is one other thing I agree with the author on. She states:
“Stripping of sexual eros isn’t the solution. Nor is calling out individual offenders, one by one. We need a broader and more thoroughgoing overhaul, one that begins with the way we bring up our sons and daughters.”
Hands down, touching toes, I agree. And it highlights my main beef with the #MeToo movement. I just don’t think toppling every man who has allegations in his closet will solve the problem of sexism. Sexism does not exist in a vacuum nor does it reside in the hearts of a few misguided men. It’s in the broth, baby. Sexism is so embedded in our society that it has rendered itself nearly invisible. Women cannot turn on a TV, flip through a magazine, or play a pop song without a very distinct message: women are sex objects, and men are the doers of those objects. A quick scan of our billion dollar porn industry shows exactly where women sit on the totem pole; we don’t sit, we kneel and with a glob of cum on our face, appropriately called, “the money shot. “Appropriately because our bodies and our desires were bought and sold a long time ago.
Signaling out every man who grabs a woman’s bum is just a band-aid job. Men who engage with women as if they were nothing more than objects for male pleasure are only playing by the script society has given them. If we want to solve the problem, we have to get to the source; society is the source. Society needs a trial, not every Tom, Dick and Harry. Let me be clear, society, not the #MeToo movement, needs a trial.