What do you think?
Rate this book
182 pages, Paperback
First published September 3, 2019
The watershed called #MeToo in October 2017 was not that people spoke; it’s that other people listened. Many had spoken up before—the victims of the gymnastics doctor, the victims of R. Kelly—some over and over, and their testimony was ignored or disregarded. So #MeToo was not the beginning of women speaking up, but of people listening, and even then—as we’ve seen in the case of Christine Blasey Ford, testifying against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh—continuing to be rendered inconsequential. One measure of how much power these voices and stories have is how frantically others try to stop them.From "Cathedrals and Alarm Clocks"
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, we were told that we needed to be nicer to the white working class, which reaffirmed the message that whiteness and the working class were the same thing and made the vast non-white working class invisible or inconsequential. We were told that Trump voters were the salt of the earth and the authentic sufferers, even though poorer people tended to vote for the other candidate. We were told that we had to be understanding of their choice to vote for a man who threatened to harm almost everyone who was not a white Christian man, because their feelings preempt everyone else’s survival. “Some people think that the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and deplorable folks,” Bernie Sanders reprimanded us, though studies showed that many were indeed often racists, sexists, and homophobes.From "Whose Story (and Country) Is This?"
We live in a world where uncountable numbers of women have had their creative and professional capacity undermined by trauma and threat, by devaluation and exclusion. A world in which women were equally free and encouraged to contribute, in which we lived without this pervasive fear, might be unimaginably different. In the same way, a United States in which people of color did not have their votes increasingly suppressed, in which they did not also face violence and exclusion and denigration, might not just have different outcomes in its recent elections but different candidates and issues. The whole fabric of society would be something else. It should be. Because that is what justice would look like, and peace, or at least the foundation on which they could be built.From "Let This Flood of Women’s Stories Never Cease"
Rebecca Traister and others have made the important point that we should not mourn the end of the creative lives of the men being outed as predators; we should contemplate the creative contributions we never had, will never know, because their creators were crushed or shut out. When Trump was elected we were told not to normalize authoritarianism and lies, but the losses due to misogyny and racism have been normalized forever. The task has been to de-normalize them and break the silence they impose. To make a society in which everyone’s story gets told.
This too is a war about stories.
"If you think you're woke, it's because someone woke you up, so thank the human alarm clocks. It's easy now to assume that one's perspective on race, gender, orientation, and the rest are signs of inherent virtue, but a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently, through the labor of others."
One measure of how much power these voices and stories have is how frantically others try to stop them.
Comfort is often a code word for the right to be unaware, the right to have no twinges of one’s conscience, no reminders of suffering, the right to be a “we” whose benefits are not limited by the needs and rights of any “them.”
Perhaps the actual problem is that white, Christian, suburban, small-town, and rural America includes too many people who want to live in a bubble and think they’re entitled to, and that all of us who are not like them are considered menaces and intruders who need to be cleared out of the way.
One way we know whose story it is has been demonstrated by who gets excused for hatred and attacks, literal or physical. Early in 2018, the Atlantic tried out hiring a writer, Kevin Williamson, who said women who have abortions should be hanged, and then unhired him under public pressure from people who don’t like the idea that a quarter of American women should be executed for exercising jurisdiction over their own bodies. The New York Times has hired a few conservatives akin to Williamson, including climate waffler Bret Stephens. Stephens devoted a column to sympathy on Williamson’s behalf and indignation that anyone might oppose him.
This misdistribution of sympathy is epidemic. The New York Times called the man with a domestic-violence history who, in 2015, shot up the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, killing three parents of young children, “a gentle loner.” And then when the serial bomber who had been terrorizing Austin, Texas, was finally caught in March 2018, too many journalists interviewed his family and friends and let their positive descriptions of the man stand, as though they were more valid than what we already knew: he was an extremist and a terrorist who set out to kill and terrorize Black people in a particularly vicious and cowardly way. He was a “quiet, ‘nerdy’ young man who came from ‘a tight-knit, godly family,” the Times let us know in a tweet, while the Washington Post’s headline noted that he was “frustrated with his life,” which is true of millions of young people around the world who don’t get a pity party and also don’t become terrorists.
The Daily Beast got it right with a subhead about a recent right-wing terrorist, the one who blew himself up in his home full of bomb-making materials: “Friends and family say Ben Morrow was a Bible-toting lab worker. Investigators say he was a bomb-building white supremacist.”
And then there are the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. We’ve heard from hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women about assaults, threats, harassment, humiliation, coercion, of campaigns that ended careers, pushed them to the brink of suicide. Many men’s response to this is to express sympathy for men. The film director Terry Gilliam was the voice of the old ways when he said, “I feel sorry for someone like Matt Damon, who is a decent human being. He came out and said all men are not rapists, and he got beaten to death. Come on, this is crazy!” Matt Damon has not actually been beaten to death. He is one of the most highly paid actors on earth, which is a significantly different experience than being beaten to death. The actor Chris Evans did much better with this shift in perspective, saying, “The hardest thing to reconcile is that just because you have good intentions doesn’t mean it’s your time to have a voice.”
But the follow-up story to the #MeToo upheaval has too often been: How do the consequences of men hideously mistreating women affect men’s comfort? Are men okay with what’s happening? There have been too many stories about men feeling less comfortable, too few about how women might be feeling more secure in offices where harassing coworkers may have been removed or are at least a bit less sure about their right to grope and harass. Men are insisting on their comfort as a right. Dr. Larry Nassar, the Michigan State University doctor who molested more than a hundred young gymnasts, objected, on the grounds that it interfered with his comfort, to having to hear his victims give statements during his criminal trial, describing what he did and how it impacted them. These girls and young women had not been silent; they had spoken up over and over, but no one with power—sometimes not even their own parents—would listen and take action, until the Indianapolis Star reported, in 2016, on the assaults by Nassar and many other adult men in gymnastics. It was not the women’s story until then. It seldom is. Or was.
Imagine that we were, decades ago, a society that listened to women, and that the careers of Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Bill Cosby, Les Moonves, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Louis C. K., and so many others had been stopped in their tracks. Hundreds of lives would be better, but also the very news and entertainment world we live in might be different, and better. Jill Filipovic noted, in 2017, “Many of the male journalists who stand accused of sexual harassment were on the forefront of covering the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.” She notes that “these particular men hold deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent sex-object status” and speculates on how it influenced the election.
Feminism and capitalism are at odds, if under the one women are people and under the other they are property. Despite half a century of feminist reform and revolution, sex is still often understood through the models capitalism provides. Sex is a transaction; men’s status is enhanced by racking up transactions, as though they were poker chips. Basketball star Wilt Chamberlain boasted that he’d had sex with 20,000 women in his 1991 memoir (prompting some to do the math: that would be about 1.4 women per day for 40 years). Talk about primitive accumulation!
The president of the United States is someone who has regularly attempted to enhance his status by association with commodified women, and his denigration of other women for not fitting the Playmate/Miss Universe template is also well known. This is not marginal; it’s central to our culture, and now it’s espoused by the president of our country.
One sentence I come back to again and again is James Baldwin’s: “It is the innocence that constitutes the crime.” He’s talking about white people in the early 1960s ignoring the violence and destructiveness of racism, their opting out of seeing it.