Yesterday, the moment we have all been eagerly anticipating finally arrived! Andrew Sullivan’s hot take on The Reckoning and the #MeToo movement.
Surprise! He is on team “OH MY GOD THIS IS A MORAL PANIC AND FEMINISTS ARE VICTORIAN MCARTHYISTS WHO HATE CLUMSY FLIRTING!”
A month or so ago, a friend and I mulled over when exactly the backlash to the then-peaking #MeToo moral panic would set in. Mid-January, we guessed, and sure enough here we are.
Well, here you are, anyway, Andrew Sullivan.
While initially praising the “beginnings” of the Reckoning, with “actual abusers” like Bill O’Reilly, Weinstein and Roger Ailes facing consequences for their behavior, the majority of Sullivan’s screed is dedicating to fretting that the movement itself has gone “too far” and fearing what will happen if it goes further. Will we burn men at the stake for simply asking a woman what her sign is? Probably!
Sullivan looks to compare The Reckoning to the Red Scare and McCarthyism, as well as other moral panics, a comparison many have attempted to make before. This only makes sense if you literally do not know anything about any of these things other than that they involve people being accused of stuff.
Allow me to make some things very clear here. The women in the Salem Witch trials were not actually witches. The McMartins were not actually Satanists who were molesting children in underground tunnels beneath their daycare. In the case of the Red Scare? Sure, some of those people may have actually been Communists or Communist “sympathizers” — but there are some pretty significant issues with that comparison as well. The absurd thing about the Red Scare is that it was ridiculous in the first place to be blacklisting people for being Communists. We cannot say the same, really, about men who sexually harass women.
There is a world of difference between Elia Kazan and others “naming names” of their co-workers before the House Un-American Activities Committee and women sharing their personal experiences being sexually harassed or assaulted at work with other women in their same industry.
But here’s his take, bolding mine.
I’ve read the list — as almost everyone in media has. I felt like taking a shower afterward. It includes charges that have absolutely nothing to do with workplace harassment. Someone is accused of “creepy DMs or texts especially when drunk,” “weird lunch dates,” or “being handsy — at the very least — with women at parties.” One man is accused of “secretly removing condom during sex,” with no claim of workplace misconduct at all. Another is damned for “flirting,” another for taking “credit for ideas of women of color,” another for “multiple employee affairs, inappropriate conversation, in general a huge disgusting sleaze ball.” And this chorus of minor offenses is on the same list as brutal rapes, physical assaults, brazen threats, unspeakable cruelty, violence, and misogyny. But hey, take it all with a grain of salt!
First of all — removing a condom during sex is a form of sexual assault. If consent to sex was given provided a condom be used, then removing the condom nullifies that consent. Our courts are just now getting caught up to this, but it’s been illegal in many other countries for quite some time now. In fact, it was the sex crime that Sweden was investigating Julian Assange for.
To look at this list and go “Look at these women! Saying sending creepy DMs is the same thing as rape!” is absolutely the wrong take here. What Sullivan is ignoring is that all of these things are things that it is absolutely reasonable for women to want to warn other women about. Not every woman is going to go “OH, that guy known for being handsy and sending creepy DMs? I don’t want to work with him then!” — but some will. Knowing that in advance can help those women make informed decisions about who they would like to work with. These aren’t bad things to know and be aware of — just like any other thing that might make a place an unpleasant work environment.
The men who do these things do them because they have long believed they could rely on the silence of the women they did them to. Most of them would not have done these things if they thought there was any chance those actions would come to light. It is not a bad thing that men may now have to think “Gee, I’d love to put my hand on my co-worker’s boob, but it would probably be bad for my reputation if I did.”
This list was meant to be circulated privately among women in the industry. It was not meant to be a list of men that anyone was demanding be fired — as you may know, the list has not lead to any mass firings of clumsily flirty men anyway. It was not intended to be a list of things that had been proven to occur in a court of law. It was simply a whisper network writ large and made more available to women who might not have otherwise had the connections to get that information from those already “in the know.”
Unlike those going fishing for commies, women have not had the backing of any kind of government entity. All we have is each other.
What I’d like to know is what it is, exactly, that Andrew Sullivan and others like him think would be a better solution. Would he find it preferable if women would simply accept and shut up about any untoward behavior that cannot be prosecuted in a court of law? Should women check with him first to see if something is bad enough to warn other women about?
As of right now, there simply isn’t a viable alternative to the way things are being handled — basically all we can do is take in the information (or avoid taking it in!) and decide for ourselves whether or not we find it problematic or believable. If there is, I’m sure we’d all be open to hearing it.