Whether or not you’re an avid reader of The New Yorker, you surely know who Jeffrey Toobin is after this week. That the legal analyst reportedly masturbated on a work Zoom call is one of the buzziest stories at a time when a record number of zany, gross, and off-putting news items are competing for our attention all the time.
In case you haven’t had the good fortune to avidly read all of the Toobin discourse on Twitter over the last few days, here are all the terms you need to know.
If he had a more generic last name, this likely wouldn’t have happened. But because of the relative rarity of “Toobin,” it’s already being used as a verb for surprise video call masturbation. It’s already been entered on Urban Dictionary, of course, with the grammatically dubious example use: “Jeremy was caught Toobin.”
Mercifully, people using this hashtag are not chiming in to say that they, too, have toobin-ed, as we first thought. Rather, most people using the hashtag seem to agree that non-consensually masturbating in front of your colleagues is a bad thing to do, and are adding the incident to the canon of Me Too sexual misbehaviour and aggression.
Apparently, something a shocking number of people participate in. Thirty-nine per cent of respondents to an informal social media poll by Time Out New York in 2016 said they have jerked off at work.
To be clear, though, this wasn’t an official poll representing the entire population — just a question a reporter asked on social media. And, perhaps more significantly, these were people masturbating in the bathrooms, not in places where their co-workers can see them.
Himpathy is empathy that’s directed at powerful men when they display signs of misogyny, but that doesn’t get extended to more vulnerable people. Writer Kate Manne coined the term when writing about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who earned Donald Trump’s sympathy as “an outstanding person” in a “most unfair” situation while Christine Blasey Ford was recounting the time he alleged sexual assaulted her when they were teenagers. Manne also she pointed to a number of examples, like Stanford swimmer and convicted rapist Brock Turner and Canada’s very own Jian Ghomeshi.
She took to Twitter on Tuesday to point out just how the concept was playing out with Toobin.
He had a surprising number of defenders, given that he had — once again — masturbated on a Zoom work call. The New York Daily News wrote that the problem is that everyone is too uptight about masturbation. The Toronto Star suggested we “forget this ever happened.”
And as trans writer Katelyn Burns pointed out, Toobin is being granted forgiveness in a way many other people would not be. She asks us to think about how the public would react if Toobin was a trans woman.
“Besides the fact that there are no trans people of Toobin’s stature in media, the answer is he’d be instantly deleted from public life, and his actions would be cast upon the entire trans community,” she wrote.
The myth that trans women “pose a threat” to cisgender women is often repeated, while the (mostly) cis men who actually cause physical harm or sexual threats are let off the hook.
“Trans women are assumed to possess all the worst predilections of the worst sexual predators the cis male world has to offer, and are pre-punished for it with exclusion from public life,” Burns wrote.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. But cast your mind back to January. Would you have any idea what this meant?
Occam’s razor is the idea that the simplest explanation is usually the most likely. (A razor, if you were wondering, is a philosophical rule or principle that allows you to eliminate certain explanations.)
Naturally, people are trying to figure out what would motivate someone to masturbate on a video call with colleagues, and many of Toobin’s defenders argue that the simplest reason is the most likely: that he didn’t realize he was on camera.
There’s been a lot of pushback to this idea. As one Twitter user put it, “Occam’s Razor would surely inform you not to jerk off on camera as the simplest solution in the first place.”
In a 2017 article for The Week, Lili Loofbourow writes that while a trope of comedy is that women are scheming or manipulative or too inscrutable for men to understand, men’s bad behaviour is often attributed to being “bumbling.”
That’s how some people reacted to the news that comedian Louis C.K. masturbated in front of multiple women without their consent — that he was awkward, bumbling, inarticulate about expressing his desires. He also said he had no idea his manager was enabling him by telling the women not to talk about what had happened. In fact, Loofbourow wrote, C.K. lied repeatedly about those rumours being false, including to his famous friends like Marc Maron and Pamela Adlon.
“Louis C.K. might be any number of things — sick, addicted, depressed, twisted, predatory, egotistical, self-destructive — but one thing he is not is a bumbler,” she wrote.
Or, if you prefer a rawer and more literal explanation for Occam’s razor and its place in this discussion, there’s this one.
Someone Toobin is likely very, very grateful for. We can only imagine he’s glad that the press embargo on the “Borat” sequel lifted on Wednesday, causing the news cycle to be taken over by a whole different situation where a high-profile man allegedly touched himself on camera.