“Tyranny beckons when the principled fall on their swords while the unprincipled keep theirs.” Robert Reich, 12.7.17
Revolution never comes easy. There are no straight lines, no A-to-B instructions that get us from a place of oppression to the vaunted halls of freedom. There is confusion, there is sacrifice; there are broken bodies, bloodied battlefields; blunders, miscalculations, mistakes and missteps. But still...
The movement is forward, always forward, involving noble, essential efforts toward that shining goal, that graspable tipping point where culture irrevocably tilts from unsustainable discrimination, subjugation and abuse, to a place where freedom reigns. Whether the Women’s Suffragette that secured them the vote in 1920, the fractious civil rights movement of the 60s (which is still, on many levels, being fought today); the painful march for LGBT rights leading to the constitutionally-protected marriage equality act of 2015, or the #MeToo Movement of today, progress is measured in small steps that lead to big changes.
We are there. We are at that tipping point with this one. After years of women either not being believed, or being patronized, condescended to, or dismissed, whether in cases involving famous men like Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, and Bill Cosby, or across the board in thousands of situations involving equally abusive men in arenas of business, politics, academia, media, and the military, we tipped. We’re on a new playing field.
While there were many steps leading up to this point, many hopeful moments when a man was held to consequence for alleged or adjudicated abuses (Bob Packwood in 1995, certainly Bill Clinton in the mid-90s; more recently Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly), those individual steps seemed like one-offs, anomalous at their point of occurrence. They pushed in the right direction, but like that inflated clown that never ceases to rise after a hit, our systemic rape culture always emerged intact, capable of ignoring growing incidents of rape and assault in the military, willing to assign “boys will be boys” to high school rapists in Stuebenville; eager to frame Cosby’s accusers as “gold diggers” and opportunists, and, most egregiously, installing as president a man who not only bragged about grabbing pussies but has been credibly accused by at least thirteen women of egregious acts.
This last item was, and remains, a low point for millions of women, not just those who experienced their own versions of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, but by the millions of both women and men who were literally sickened to see a man of such low character escorted to our highest office. But a strange thing happened along the way: while Trump was busy solidifying his status as a blundering, inept, conman incapable of doing the job to which he was nefariously elected, the world outside was changing.
Likely due to the insult of his dubious “election,” tides were turning, voices were getting louder, disgust was transforming into courage, and “the tip” began to gain traction. By the time of Ronan Farrow’s Harvey Weinstein expose of mid-October, the impervious, rebounding clown of impunity had lost its air and lay flattened, triggering a shift in rape culture thinking. Farrow so fiercely ripped the skin off stories told by women who, at this point, didn’t give a damn if they were trolled by “good ole boy patriarchy,” the story shook the zeitgeist like nothing had before. The repugnant, criminal, and deeply systemic abuses of a powerful Hollywood producer were laid bare and, this time, people believed the women.
#MeToo was born.
While the name was created a decade earlier by Tarana Burke, “who founded the ‘Me Too’ movement in 2006 because she, as someone who experienced sexual assault, wanted to do something to help women and girls — particularly women and girls of color — who had also survived sexual violence,” it struck a sharp chord at this more current flashpoint, and was hashtagged as its passionate, fearless banner (thank you, Tarana!).
#MeToo became a clarion call to other abused women who stayed silent after witnessing every harmonic of degradation heaped on accusers in the past, but were now empowered by Farrow’s piece and its courageous champions, particularly the more famous of the bunch — Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano — who used their star power to drag society’s attention to the truth. Following their stories, and those of countless others assaulted by Weinstein, came equally harrowing allegations against other Hollywood power-players: directors James Toback, Brett Ratner, and Bryan Singer; actors Kevin Spacey, Danny Masterson, and Louie C.K. Media stars like Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Mark Halperin, and NY Times reporter Glenn Thrush were shown the door, and political figures were left twitching behind their desks wondering who would be next. We’ve watched a gauntlet of arrogant, high profile men thrown from their thrones based on accusations that ran from sleazy and inappropriate to downright felonious, and we were vindicated.
It’s a new world. A world in which women are believed, sexually assaultive behavior is not tolerated, and boundaries and consent are essential conversations.
For some. Not all. And that’s the current snag in the #MeToo Revolution.
A loud, obvious double standard has emerged. At least in the political world. Polls indicate that Republicans and Democrats have very disparate attitudes on the issue, with the former less likely to “believe the women” than the latter. From Time this week:
The poll of more than 2,300 adults also revealed a stark partisan divide in how Americans view sexual assault allegations. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe accusers: 93% of Democrats say they believe the women alleging sexual harassment, compared to 78% of Republicans. Republicans are also twice as likely as Democrats to think that accused men are being unfairly treated by the media (52% of Republicans think the media coverage of the sexual allegations is unfair, compared to 20% of Democrats). And while 77% of Democrats say the #MeToo movement will lead to meaningful change, 55% of Republicans say the movement is a distraction.
Which translates into a movement embraced by one side, negated by the other, resulting in disproportionate impact depending on party. This is not only inherently unfair, it will lead to an artificial imbalance in government created by the ramifications of Democrats adjudicating their own right out of office, while Republicans celebrate any party member regardless of crimes and misdemeanors.
This moral disparity is not only sparking outrage and rebellion amongst Democrats, it’s having deleterious impact on the psyche of Americans struggling to find where ideals of integrity, honor, and decency fit in an era when the president is one of the most uncouth, corrupt, and ignorant men on the public stage. At a time when standards of decency are most desperately needed, we are, instead, seeing them applied with partisan selectivity. That will, ultimately, topple this movement if it is not fixed.
I’m not going to discuss whether Al Franken should or shouldn’t have resigned. I have mixed feelings, feeling determined by my own life experience, by my perspective on issues of proportion, degree, and nuance; by my personal interactions with good men who self-sabotaged with their own stupid behavior and women who hyperbolized, mischaracterized, or outright lied about mutually witnessed events; by my belief that intent plays a larger role in any incident than is being considered; by my gut sense that, as this nascent movement finds its feet, pendulum swings may slam with insufficient differentiation to be as fair and just as need be. I wasn’t there when Franken allegedly cupped buttocks or squeezed waists; I don’t know his intent in those moments nor the intent of the women accusing him. What I do know is that until full equitability is applied to all men, regardless of party or position, we have a double standard. Which means we have a problem.
I share concerns stated by Charles Pierce at Esquire, including:
“Until the Democrats are willing to think asymmetrically about the very real political danger posed by the president* and his party, the danger will grow until it becomes uncontrollable, and that point is coming very soon, I fear. By the time the Democrats admit to themselves that their political opposition has moved so far beyond shame that it can’t even see Richard Nixon any more, the damage wrought to our political institutions may be beyond repair.”
“They’ve circumvented process and the principle of hearing from both sides. They’ve completely ignored the possibility that a person can reform himself (maybe Franken used to be a sexist jerk but has genuinely changed; aren’t liberals supposed to welcome that?) And they’ve blurred the line, which I think should exist, between different categories of sexual crimes, some of which are obviously worse than others. The day will almost surely come when they’ll regret having established these precedents.”
As a woman, I’m delighted in the “believe the women” meme, particularly since women as a demographic have too long not been believed. I’m empowered by the growing list of women finding the courage to speak out against their perpetrators. I’m encouraged by a society that appears ready to dramatically shift cultural think to reject “locker room talk” and “boys will be boys” as excuses to diminish events of rape, molestation, harassment, assault, and abuse.
And I’m horrified that this all seems to be happening on a partisan basis.
It’s not just that Republican constituents are willing to embrace an accused child molester or applaud a corrupt, predatory president. It’s not just that Republican politicians have set their bar so low that men like Moore and Trump are actually welcome in the party. It’s not just that a contingent of conservative Christians are so cultishly committed to an agenda of religious discrimination, decimation of women’s reproductive rights, and generalized bigotry that they’d rather elect that alleged child molester than a Democrat. It’s also that a large contingent of Democratic senators, many of whom I passionately support, took a rigid stand against one of their own, without investigation, and literally browbeat him from office without making commensurate demands from more egregious abusers on the other side of the aisle. While Al Franken made his hasty departure, I did not hear one of those senators making similar demands of Donald Trump to leave office (Bernie Sanders’ tepid remark that Trump should “consider resigning” doesn’t come close); to Roy Moore to withdraw from his senate race or Blake Fahrenthold to resign his position (though GOP representative, Mia Love, has, in fact, made that demand). Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand readily spoke about how we should now reject Bill Clinton, but I did not hear her say one word about Clarence Thomas. And that is a double standard, one that creates a partisan chasm between who suffers consequences and who doesn’t.
We can’t just believe women who accuse Democrats; women who accuse Republicans are equally deserving of the fierce, unremitting response offered Franken’s accusers. Until Democratic leaders like Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Claire McCaskill and Patty Murray step beyond partisan outrage to extend their “zero tolerance” to Republican abusers, the #MeToo movement stands on shaky ground. To have teeth, it has to be equitable. It has to be non-partisan.
So I call upon them — every Democratic senator and representative, as well as their Republican counterparts — to do just that. Make those demands. Loudly. Unequivocally. Publicly. To all men, on both sides of the aisle and in all branches of government.
I will await those announcements.
Photo by Eneida Hoti on Unsplash