Monday, July 23, 2018

"In this age of 'Me, Too'"

(Warning: I’m mad as hell, and I swear in this entry. I could apologize, but I’m not actually sorry, so.)

I keep hearing people say things like “In this age of #MeToo, men have to be so careful.” “Nowadays, men everywhere are looking over their shoulders, worried that they’ll be accused.” Afraid that they’ll be the next Harvey Weinstein, Mario Batali, Israel Horovitz, Garrison Keillor, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, Roy Moore, Donald Trump. (ad infinitum)


This is not some new time, when men have to be extra careful to not sexually harass women, to not get caught in their sexual misconduct. Men should have been this “careful” the whole damn time.

I am 12 years old, a child, leaning over a drinking fountain. A strange man says something to me about how I’m bent over. Says something leering about the shape my body makes as I lean forward to drink from a water fountain. I am almost 33 now, and I feel shadows of shame every single time I lean over in public. Careful to make it quick. Careful to tuck my pelvis so my ass isn’t on display to be commented on.

I hear people make jokes about it sometimes. Dismissing this "Me, too" uprising with that kind of benign misogyny that is insidious not because it rapes women behind dumpsters, but because it pays more attention to sports scores instead. Laughing when they accidentally bump up against you, their hands suddenly invasive. It's become a punchline for some, when unwanted touch comes up in conversation.

I am 23 years old, working for a vacuum company in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s before morning meeting, and Carlos is at the white board with a marker. He’s drawn a big bed, and labeled the stick figures in it. “Hot bitch.” “Hotter bitch.” “Carlos.” The words “LAST NIGHT” are scrawled across the top. He draws squiggles to indicate the movement of these characters, making obscene noises to accompany his obscene gestures, then sits down next to me. When he catches me shaking my head, he grabs my knee. “You know what I’m talking about, Liz! That shit is hot!” I smile at him briefly, that careful smile so many of us women have perfected. The one that is polite, but closed off. The one that carefully smooths over the moment and waits for it to pass. Eventually, he moves his hand away from my knee.

This narrative of women accusing powerful men of sexual misconduct in order to “take them down” doesn’t make sense to me. It never has. It’s based on two premises that are difficult for me to accept. That A, women are consistently listened to and believed when they make accusations of sexual assault and harassment, and B, that men are consistently held accountable for their actions. Because historically, until recently, neither of those things have been true.

I am 23 years old, sitting with co-workers on a break. Michael and I have kissed a few times in the last few days. He’s sitting now with his arm over the back of my seat, his hand dangling close to my breast. In order to move it away, I take his hand and compliment it’s shape. “They are nice hands,” he replies. “They should be here”—he hovers over my breast—“or here”—he starts to reach between my legs. I grab his hand to stop him. “No,” I say. “Why not?” he asks. “My body,” I say, “ My body, my rules.” Later, another co-worker tells me to not lead Michael on. “If you’re not going to fuck him, don’t lead him on.” He tells me to be careful about how I treat Michael, to be careful to not waste his time.

Women’s accusations are not often believed, and men are not often held accountable. Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed actress Ashley Judd in 1997, and eventually, the New York Times uncovered nearly three decades worth of allegations. Weinstein remained in place at the Weinstein Company until October of 2017. Bill Cosby raped women starting in the mid-1960s, and didn’t face trial or even suffer commercial consequences until 2015. Donald Trump has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by at least 15 women since the 1980s, and has been recorded bragging about assaults. And he’s the fucking President of the United States. Why be careful in the way you treat others, the way you cover up what you do? Why bother?

I am 27 years old, and exploring Rome by myself. A man at least twice my age stops me on the street to tell me that I’m very attractive. I use that smile again, the one that says, “I am nice. I don’t want any trouble. But let this moment pass.” He keeps talking. I move away. He follows me. He eventually tells me that we should sleep together on the last night of the year. I quickly walk away, move down the street. I’m freezing, but I take off my bright orange, easy-to-spot jacket, careful to disguise myself so the man doesn’t follow me.

Of course there have been cases where men have been falsely accused of rape. (Historically, in the United States, these have been predominantly men of color, and racism is a major factor in many of these cases.) But most studies show that only between 2% and 10% of rape accusations are false. Correction: Only between 2% and 10% of REPORTED rape accusations are false. There’s no way to know how many rapes go unreported. And that’s just rape—not assault, not groping, not catcalling, not solicitations, etc. So, if I were a man, I’d be careful about calling myself a victim in this situation.

As a woman, I am so careful. All the time. I carry my keys like a weapon. I lock my door as soon as I get into my car. I don’t lean over public drinking fountains too long. I get the keys to my apartment out before leaving the car, so there’s no fumbling at the front door. I don’t walk alone at night. I don’t leave drinks unattended. I fake phone calls and I smile that careful polite smile and I carry pepper spray and I text friends that I made it home safely. So careful. All the damn time.

Men. We are not asking you to be careful around us. That’s not what we’ve been asking. Not in the past, and not in this “age of #MeToo.” We are asking you to treat us as human beings, and we have been from the beginning. Here’s the best way to avoid being accused of sexual harassment or assault: don’t sexually harass or assault people. It’s that simple. Not sure how those things are defined? Do some damn research. Get online and google “consent.”

#MeToo is decades, centuries overdue. The widespread nature of sexual misconduct that we now see in the media is not new. It has always been this bad. Historically, it’s been worse. The thing that’s new is women saying, “ENOUGH.” We are saying "TIME’S UP." We will not allow this to keep happening. You cannot treat us as less than human anymore. We are tired of being careful around men. We would like to feel like people around them instead.

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