Men in a Time of Reckoning

This is my mistake
Let me make it good

R.E.M., “World Leader Pretend,” Green

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry

R.E.M., “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry),” Reckoning

“Believing women about assault,” writes Caitlin Flanagan, “even if they lack the means to prove their accounts—as well as an understanding that female employees don’t constitute part of a male boss’s benefits package, were the galvanizing consequences of Anita Hill’s historic allegations against Clarence Thomas in 1991.”

Flanagan’s piece examines the 1990s and the era of Bill Clinton in the context of our current #MeToo reckoning that appears to involve men great and small in virtually every walk of life.

Flanagan shreds the veneer of party politics and confronts directly:

If it is possible for politics and moral behavior to coexist, then this grave wrong needs to be acknowledged. If Weinstein and Mark Halperin and Louis C.K. and all the rest can be held accountable, so can our former president and so can his party, which so many Americans so desperately need to rise again.

Two powerful aspects of this current flirtation with reckonings now haunt me, even as I am skeptical that any sort of sustained reckoning will occur beyond a few specific men, even as I am cynical that men will suffer any sort of sustained reckoning.

First, as #MeToo has begun to multiply seemingly at an exponential rate, and as more and more men are being named despite the backlash women as victims continue to suffer, a troubling refrain has developed from men, a fear of the unknown as threatening as the alien microorganism in The Andromeda Strain.

After Harvey Weinstein’s reckoning, Woody Allen uttered the most prominent version of this fear—What if this becomes a witch hunt? Allen whined.

Among my peer group, I have heard friends forefront as fact: Innocent men are going to be accused.

And then novelist John Grisham held forth about men like him already trapped in a cycle of unjustified incarceration: “We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody,” these men victims of criminalizing those drawn to child pornography.

That men have responded to this reckoning by being hypersensitive to the plights of the innocent men is just as damning as revelations of so many men being physically and sexually abusive.

Once again, men have turned the daily and life-long terrors of being a women or a child into the irrational fears of men, mostly white men.

Any man who now suddenly fears being “falsely accused” of sexual aggression or worse must check that fear against the lived reality of women and children who exist now and have always existed with a rational fear of the horrors associated with simply being a woman/girl or a child—because men are often monsters, because any man represents for every woman/girl and child the potential for being a monster.

Here is reality: Countless innocent women/girls and children have been sacrificed throughout history, and this continues now. It is likely that most abused and assaulted women/girls and children have never exposed those men due to the very real double fear of being demonized themselves. Far more guilty men go completely free (except for their conscience) than those guilty men who are exposed and held accountable. If this reckoning includes some innocent men falsely accused, and that likelihood remains incredibly small, the balance of justice has still not been swung even minutely toward equal and just.

A second aspect of the reckoning centers on Richard Dreyfuss confessing (while denying) he “thought it was a ‘consensual seduction ritual.'”

This second consequence of the current reckoning is complex, but it offers a possible path toward that reckoning spreading in ways that benefit everyone.

Dreyfuss seems trapped in the norm of sex and love being circumscribed as a struggle of power with its most reductive version being men as predators and women as prey.

That dynamic erases entirely the woman’s role in consent and being sexual, autonomous beings, and it normalizes men as aggressors, initiators, predators.

The irony of Dreyfuss’s wording is that there can never be anything consensual about such seduction rituals grounded in inequitable power and male aggression as well as imbued with a perverse materialistic and idealized view of women’s chastity and sexuality (nested in both their consent and their bodies).

The #MeToo reckoning, then, will be either a passing blip on the radar of men as monsters or something sustained for the good of all humanity.

The latter depends on men’s ability to respond in two ways, two ways unlike the examples above: “I’m sorry,” followed by “This is my mistake/Let me make it good.”

Both are precarious responses requiring men to be essentially better humans than the evidence has shown so far.


See Also

Can Penitent Sexual Predators Ever Be Granted Redemption?, Vanessa A. Bee

Reporting sexual assault

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