It's Time to Resist #MeToo Male Impatience (Or, My Mirrored Response to Andrew Sullivan's latest piece in NEW YORK Magazine)
[Updated on February 3, 2018]
A month or so ago, a friend and I mulled over when exactly the backlash from famous male thought-leaders like Andrew Sullivan to the then-peaking #MeToo moral panic would set in. Mid-January, we guessed, and sure enough here we are.
No, we were not being clairvoyant, just noting certain dynamics. Men, as a rule, don’t like to be lectured to, especially by women. Neither do they appreciate the rare moments when they are not leading the conversation, as witnessed by “mansplaining” and a tendency to frequently, almost aggressively interrupt anyone with a set of boobs. Men, even gay men like Sullivan, have controlled the dialogue for so long they feel silenced and uncomfortable during the reckoning #MeToo era, and these sensations are both unwelcome and uncomfortable. Never mind that we women are trained from birth to shut up and listen. We know in advance that asking for a few days, weeks, or months of equal time to share our experiences—I was going to say “stories” but there’s a Grimm ring to that word; our assaults, belittlements, and demotions are not fairy tales—and to finally be heard and believed, will naturally have a stopwatch attached to any such catharsis. Tick, tick, tick. And so we understand this righteous exposure of the hideous abuse of power will morph into a more generalized revolution backed by the patriarchy.
We fear this kind of mania will never exhaust itself—the urge for men to kindly put women in their place. We wonder if good men, lecherous men, violent men, and all men in between are merely gritting their teeth and bearing this brief uprising from women, this angry switching out back near the woodshed of powerful men and their bad behaviors. Some men wear pins on their lapels, others nod earnestly at such offenses, but few say anything out loud. If they do, their voices quake with nerves, perhaps in worry they could be named next, or they're already asking when we can put an end date to this madness.
Is this itself a patronization? The unwillingness to truly join the conversation and examine why so many men for so very long have intentionally derailed careers, undermined female authority, abused physical boundaries, snickered beneath their collective breath, and painted women with even a modicum of power as castrating bitches? Listen, Sullivan writes in his most-recent piece: 74-year-old Catherine Deneuve, a symbol of Madonna/whore erotica back in the 1960s, the Belle de Jour herself and every pseudo-intellectual’s black-and-white wet dream, has announced that women can both lead a professional team and enjoy being the sexual object of a man! In the very same afternoon! Imagine that! And comedian Dave Chappelle agrees! Because, you know, ladies, you can always hang up the phone... This is how men turn the conversation around. Trot out one of our own, then dismiss the entire spectrum of grievances, no matter how grand or grave. You hysterical women, lashing out indiscriminately. Can we all just come to our senses and move on?
We know in advance that asking for a few days, weeks,
or months of equal time to share our experiences—to finally
be heard and believed—will naturally have a stopwatch
attached to any such catharsis. Tick, tick, tick.
And in doing so, Sullivan and others like him are all but defending the abuse of power, even as they claim to be thrilled to see so many monsters toppled. You know what’s a crime, even if it lands no man in jail? The thwarting and reduction of so much female potential. Yes, rape is the penultimate tool in that particular toolbox (short of homicide, which, too, is used at alarming rates all around the world) to silence women. But rape of a coworker is the extreme, and is not the only offense against which professional women should be allowed to rage. There are many, many angry manifestations of our culture’s mixed, often misogynistic emotions about women, and they all seep into our mindsets, and our workplaces, too.
The Shitty Media Men list may be controversial and unfair, and its author, certainly naïve not to imagine it would go viral. But I ask you, Andrew Sullivan, and all men who are so dismayed by its non-vetted contents, what, exactly, are we women supposed to do? Even in the current atmosphere, where a scattering of men in prominent industries are facing consequences for their truly shitty actions, most women, and especially young women, have zero recourse. Zero support. Zero choices. And zero power. An anonymous list like this was inevitable. Why is Sullivan’s first instinct to rally to the sides of men whose names appeared on the list, rather than to the sides of women who endured “handsy” groping and drunken texting in professional settings, who had their ideas stolen and their legitimate complaints, some of them criminal in nature, ignored? Most were not raped—although some were—but, again, is rape the sole measuring stick for indignation, outrage, and sounding the alarm? In a world where men roam freely and their female counterparts most decidedly do not, women were warning each other about the creeps out there, which are clearly in plentiful supply. Such a list might not be fair — boo-hoo!— but when have women ever competed upon fair playing grounds? Never. That’s when.
So, with an approving nod, Sullivan trots out Catherine's analysis. And Dave's. And, inevitably, Left Twitter's, too. Because a modern argument whose premise posits a witch hunt cannot be made without involving the social media mob. Am I surprised there exist extremists online who would stifle free speech or make nasty slurs against writer Katie Roiphe? No. I am not. But their inclusion in Sullivan’s generalized thoughts about the cultural arc of #MeToo and the circulating Shitty Media Men list merely underscores what he’s really trying to say here: You hysterical women, lashing out indiscriminately. Can we all just come to our senses and move on?
After reading Sullivan’s latest piece in New York — something I do with regularity and with great ceremony, because I’m generally enthralled with how his brain works, and I like to share his writing with my friends — I felt like taking a shower. Because a growing cadre of men, even informed and socially progressive men like the seasoned columnist in Sullivan, are revealing a simmering impatience. And, thus, their true colors. With cries of McCarthyism Sullivan can only be calling for a shutdown, if not total reversal, of #MeToo, because, in his view, it’s unreasonable and even dangerous, never once putting himself inside the heels or flats of every women out there who is asked to navigate on a daily basis workplaces that are not, and have never been, egalitarian, encouraging, or safe.
(I remember once, when I served as the editor in chief of a magazine, a work email circulated between a group of male colleagues that called me “the biggest bitch they’d ever met." This email found its way to me quite by accident; one of them was dumb enough to hit “reply all” to said missive directly to my inbox. Why was I “the biggest bitch,” I wondered, admittedly wounded, at the time? Because as a boss I often gave orders? Because I expected excellence, and wasn’t afraid to grouse when I didn’t get it? I don’t know; women walk an impossible line. This was the same group of men who allegedly ranked on a scale of one to 10 how “fuckable” the women in our office were, loudly laughing about their brilliant observations amongst themselves over drunken happy hours. Someone privy to the rankings revealed to me that despite my universally agreed upon bitchiness, I’d managed to score highly. Which tells me everything I need to know about the men in question.)
A Human Resources department did not create, nor circulate, The Shitty Media Men list. Nor did a police department, or even Page Six. Whether its circulation was right, or wrong, or fair, or indecent almost seems beside the point. The list was a cry into the void from women, and other women heard it, shared it, and heeded its advice. Vigilante justice or simple self-preservation? The list doesn’t strike me so much as McCarthyism as it does Darwinism. Women are merely trying to survive.
Being named on the list did have a few—very few—professional repercussions, some serious. Seven men who were anonymously named have reportedly been fired from their media companies after independent, internal investigations. One of the seven, political reporter Ryan Lizza, was quickly dropped by The New Yorker and from CNN. A month later, CNN brought him back to do live commentary, saying they "found no reason" to keep him off the air.
A reckoning, this? Seven—sorry, six—media men branded as egregious offenders, officially questioned by those to whom they reported, and then let go? Is this a reckoning, or is it merely seven—sorry, six—cases of simple cause and effect?
So as Sullivan and other male pundits like him now reach a little too eagerly for fire extinguishers to snuff out women’s conflagration-hot anger, and what he deems to be the scorched earth tactics of #MeToo, I might suggest this: resist those impatient, self-protecting reactions for a little while longer.
I know it’s hard. You’re used to holding the floor, and not your tongues. You really, really want to lead this conversation. If you can’t listen to our testimonies any longer, fellas’, well. OK. But we women ask you at least to engage honestly when you do speak. Take a real assessment of your unquestioned entitlement, your preeminent positions, and why you feel so easily justified in minimizing Al Franken’s tush-copping, say, or Louis C.K.’s egregious wanking off, or dozens of media women’s complaints about what they are physically, emotionally, and spiritually subjected to simply for showing up to the job, and only because they are female.
We “left-feminists” don’t want to “burn it all down.” Quite the opposite: we’d like to build it all up, and from the ground floor. We merely wish to torch inequality, a professional deck that’s forever been stacked against us, and ubiquitous bad male behavior. That’s not nihilism. That’s justice. And now that we’ve had a taste of it, don’t imagine we’ll be backing down anytime soon.