Capitalism Creates Cover for Open Secret in #MeToo Era

Novelist Barbara Kingsolver asserts without hedging:

Let’s be clear: no woman asks to live in a rape culture: we all want it over, yesterday. Mixed signals about female autonomy won’t help bring it down, and neither will asking nicely. Nothing changes until truly powerful offenders start to fall.

The #MeToo movement, Kingsolver argues, must not be muted by backlash, especially one that focuses on tone. This commentary coincides with what appears to be a never-ending unmasking of open secrets, recently including Sherman Alexie and Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket).

While the backlash and perverse charges of “witch hunt” are valid elements to investigate and reject, just as discussions of race and racism are often derailed by arguments that our problems are really about social class, the #MeToo confrontation of the open secret about sexual harassment and assault tends to skirt the larger culture that allows the secret to fester—capitalism.

Consider David Perry’s Sherman Alexie and Daniel Handler that includes a very important point that can be linked to Kingsolver’s “truly powerful offenders”:

In my Daniel Handler story, I referenced a series of anonymous comments accusing Alexie. I received a little pushback on that, but felt confident in the appropriateness of citing it. I brought it up because of this twitter thread from Allie Jane Bruce, one of the women who talked about Handler….

Bruce writes, “What you will hear, if you listen, is two cis men who speak the language of liberalism, progressivism, and feminism *perfectly* and are capitalizing on it. Using it to promote themselves and their books.” [1]

The #MeToo movement has been a powerful force for exposing toxic masculinity and rape culture, but we must also come to understand that toxic masculinity and rape culture flourish within an even larger culture targeted by Bruce, capitalizing.

The open secret phenomenon is fueled by, made possible because enough people are somehow profiting from the monsters perpetrating sexual harassment and assault.

This helps more fully explain nearly all of these high-profile predatory men from Trump to the newest revelations about Alexie and Handler.

Gender, race, and social class imbalances of power are created and perpetuated by capitalism (a twisted lottery effect that coerces people to tolerate and hide monstrous behavior because they may profit—even when those chances are slim to none), and as a consequence, open secrets persist because sexual harassment and assault are underreported; for example, as Alexie’s non-apology statement confirms, women sexually harassed and assaulted often remain silent, and silenced:

The majority of sexual assaults, an estimated 63 percent, are never reported to the police (Rennison, 2002). The prevalence of false reporting cases of sexual violence is low (Lisak, Gardinier, Nicksa, & Cote, 2010), yet when survivors come forward, many face scrutiny or encounter barriers. For example, when an assault is reported, survivors may feel that their victimization has been redefined and even distorted by those who investigate, process, and categorize cases. (Research on false reporting)

As Kingsolver implores, #MeToo voices need to press forward, women supported by men as allies. The unmasking by #MeToo can unravel toxic masculinity and rape culture, but even as that important work builds momentum, I think we must not be distracted from the equally toxic influence of capitalism, the allure of profit, that also provides cover for the monsters walking among us.

The powerful preying on the powerless is a terrible curse on humanity; supporting and listening to the voices of victims can serve to restore some of that humanity lost as we must once again admit that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

[1] See How to talk about sex, according to ‘grey-haired’ dads

See Also

In the Shadows of Slavery’s Capitalism


Changing the Odds So No Child Has to Overcome Them

There are several challenging, and therefore uncomfortable, scenes in Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later (2007); however, when I show this documentary in my courses, few students recognize those scenes as either challenging or uncomfortable.

At one point, several black men from the Little Rock, Arkansas community are gathered outside the school, and they speak directly about the need for blacks to take care of their own, clean up their own communities. These men directly mention the damage of black-on-black crime (which is about the same as white-on-white crime, although the latter is almost never mentioned).

Throughout the documentary, as well, a number of black students confront how hard they work and how some of their fellow black students simply do not try—echoing a rugged individualism and personal responsibility narrative that a white teacher/coach and her white golf team members express.

I use these scenes as teachable moments about the negative impact of respectability politics on marginalized groups:

What started as a philosophy promulgated by black elites to “uplift the race” by correcting the “bad” traits of the black poor has now evolved into one of the hallmarks of black politics in the age of Obama, a governing philosophy that centers on managing the behavior of black people left behind in a society touted as being full of opportunity. In an era marked by rising inequality and declining economic mobility for most Americans—but particularly for black Americans—the twenty-first-century version of the politics of respectability works to accommodate neoliberalism. The virtues of self-care and self-correction are framed as strategies to lift the black poor out of their condition by preparing them for the market economy.

…Today’s politics of respectability, however, commands blacks left behind in post–civil rights America to “lift up thyself.” Moreover, the ideology of respectability, like most other strategies for black progress articulated within the spaces where blacks discussed the best courses of action for black freedom, once lurked for the most part beneath the gaze of white America. But now that black elites are part of the mainstream elite in media, entertainment, politics, and the academy, respectability talk operates within the official sphere, shaping the opinions, debates, and policy perspectives on what should—and should not—be done on the behalf of the black poor.

Respectability politics works in conjunction with seemingly innocuous narratives (rugged individualism, lifting yourself by your bootstraps, personal responsibility) to keep the accusatory gaze on individuals and away from systemic inequity. In other words, political and economic elites are more secure if the majority of people believe all success and failure are primarily determined by individual traits and not by privilege and disadvantage beyond most people’s control.

This semester that discussion has coincided with Laura Ingraham attempting to publicly shame LeBron James to “shut up and dribble,” a not-so-clever self-promotion for one of Ingraham’s vapid books.

Along with Kevin Durant’s heated response, James (see video in the link above) stressed, “We will definitely not shut up and dribble.”

Watching James, however, and listening carefully present us with the dangers of his “defeating the odds” motivation (listen to about minutes 1:50-2:15), his own powerful and impressive rise to being King James.

I am not criticizing James, however, and fully support his response, refusing to shut up and dribble.

But a message that suggests anyone can or should be able to achieve what an outlier, James, has achieved is ultimately harmful, speaking through and to the most corrosive aspects of respectability politics.

This call to teach children to beat the odds, in fact, is shared all along the political spectrum from right to left.

The ultimate flaw in a beat-the-odds mentality is, again, that it suggests success and failure lie mostly or solely in the individual, a matter of choice and effort—like having “grit,” a growth mindset, or a positive attitude (all ways to fix inadequate children).

This is a terrible message for children especially since success and failure are mostly determined by systemic forces—except for rare outliers—and the message allows those with the power to change the odds to escape accountability.

LeBron James, I believe, is right about his importance as a role model, as a stellar example of what black success looks like despite the odds being unfairly against him in the form of racism and economic inequity.

And as long as we as a society choose to ignore the odds, choose to allow racism, sexism, and classism to exist, I suppose we should find humane and supportive ways to encourage children to work so that a few of them may hit the life lottery and beat the odds.

But to be blunt, that’s a pretty shitty cop-out for the adults who could, in fact, change the odds so that no child has to overcome them.

It is ultimately a heartless and ugly thing to see children as lacking the drive to beat odds that shouldn’t exist in the first place.

It is political cowardice and public negligence to remain fatalistic about the odds as we watch those odds destroy the hopes and dreams of our children.

If anyone should shut up, that would be Ingraham and her entire cadre of right-wing know-nothings who shovel the very worst narratives that help guarantee those odds will remain in their favor.

And as we listen to James instead, let’s resist demanding that he or any so-called racial minorities somehow erase racism and then begin to demand that those who benefit the most from the odds use those privileges to dismantle those odds.

That, I know, is a powerful ask, but it is one that certainly holds more credence than asking children to be superhuman because we have James dribbling across our flatscreen TVs.

NEW: Comic Connections: Reflecting on Women in Popular Culture

Comic Connections: Reflecting on Women in Popular Culture

Sandra Eckard, editor

Eckard_Comic Connections_Women[1] copy

See my chapter:

Wonder Woman: Reading and Teaching Feminism with an Amazonian Princess in an Era of Jessica Jones, P. L. Thomas

[Sample excerpt from Classroom Connections section]

Women Superhero Costumes and Sexism in Student Dress Codes

“The original Wonder Woman comics included page after page of bondage imagery, scads of cross-dressing villains, and really remarkably unrepressed lesbian eroticism[i],” explains Noah Berlatsky, examining The New 52 reboot of Wonder Woman, adding: “The best Azzarello/Chiang can do, in contrast, is to have their Amazons pose like Playboy models while Eros makes sophomoric cracks about the quest for seminal mortal vessels.”[ii] The tension between the potential for a woman superhero to confront and change corrosive social norms such as sexism, misogyny, toxic masculinity, and objectifying/sexualizing women and the too-often reality of pop culture to reflect and reinforce those norms is throughout Wonder Woman, including how she is physically depicted as a superhero.

While comic books and graphic novels can be effective in classes as ways to reach beyond traditional texts, using Wonder Woman to lead into topics directly relevant to students is also recommended. Consider the controversial issue of dress codes for students as that is dramatized in depictions of Diana Prince and Wonder Woman.

In The New 52 rebooting of Wonder Woman, many have confronted the sexualizing of Wonder Woman in her costume and poses.[iii] These debates about objectification of females as well as slut shaming and body shaming can be introduced through Wonder Woman (Wonder Woman: Blood and the Meredith and David Finch runs before Rebirth), and then, students can research and debate the gender bias often found in school dress codes. Some resources for the latter include:

  • Shame: A Documentary on School Dress Code[iv]. This is a documentary by a 17-year-old student, available on YouTube. This could be a text in this unit or a model for documentaries created by students.
  • “Why School Dress Codes Are Sexist,” Li Zhou (The Atlantic).[v] This is a well-written work of journalism that covers the topic of sexism in dress codes well and serves as a strong model for public writing that uses hyperlinks as citation.
  • “Sexualization, Sex Discrimination, and Public School Dress Codes,” Meredith J. Harbach.[vi] Here, students can examine a scholarly approach to the issues of sexism and dress codes.
  • “The Unspoken Messages of Dress Codes: Uncovering Bias and Power,” Rosalind Wiseman (Anti-Defamation League).[vii] A curriculum resource and excellent overview, this can serve as a guideline for students lobbying for changes to dress codes and/or writing alternative codes that avoid bias.
  • “Baby Woman,” Emily Ratajkowski (Lenny).[viii] Ratajkowski is a contemporary celebrity, model and actress, who takes a strong public position as a feminist, despite her association with provocative and sexualized media (controversial music videos and TV commercials). Her personal narrative is a strong model of the genre, but it also complicates views of feminism and female sexuality as well as objectification.

Using the texts above, students can write persuasive essays, cited essays, and new dress codes; they can participate in formal or informal debates; and they can develop projects around identifying how popular media and culture objectify and shame women based on physical appearance and clothing. A unit on dress code linked to Wonder Woman is a provocative and rich unit that challenges students on many levels.

Finally, in this section on teaching through Wonder Woman, I am listing some additional resources for other units of study:

  • Robert Jones Jr., “Bumbling: DC Super Hero Girls and the White Racial Imagination,” The Middle Spaces.[ix]
  • Eliana Dockterman, “Wonder Woman Breaks Through,” Time.[x]
  • Christopher J. Hayton, “Evolving Sub-Texts in the Visual Exploitation of the Female Form: Good Girl and Bad Girl Comic Art Pre- and Post-Second Wave Feminism,” ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies 4 (2014),
  • Charlotte E. Howell, “‘Tricky’ Connotations: Wonder Woman as DC’s Brand Disruptor,” Cinema Journal.[xi]
  • Mitra C. Emad, “Reading Wonder Woman’s Body: Mythologies of Gender and Nation,” The Journal of Popular Culture.[xii]

Kelli E. Stanley, “‘Suffering Sappho!’: Wonder Woman and the (Re)Invention of the Feminine Ideal,” Helios.[xiii]

[i] Noah Berlatsky, “Comic Books Have Always Been Gay,” Slate, June 1, 2012, accessed February 10, 2017,

[ii] Berlatsky, “Wonder Woman’s Violent, Man-Pandering Second Act.”

[iii] Ryan, “Wonder Woman Takes a Big Step Back” and Berlatsky, “Wonder Woman’s Violent, Man-Pandering Second Act.”

[iv] Maggie Sunseri, Shame: A Documentary on School Dress Codes, YouTube, may 29, 2015, accessed February 10, 2017,

[v] Li Zhou, “Why School Dress Codes Are Sexist,” The Atlantic, October 20, 2015, accessed February 10, 2017,

[vi] Meredith Johnson Harbach, “Sexualization, Sex Discrimination, and Public School Dress Codes,” 50 U. Rich. L. Rev. 1039 (2016), access February 10, 2017,

[vii] Rosalind Wiseman, “The Unspoken Messages of Dress Codes: Uncovering Bias and Power,” Anti-Defamation League, September 2014, accessed February 10, 2017,

[viii] Emily Ratajkowski, “Baby Woman,” Lenny, February 16, 2016, accessed February 2, 2017,

[ix] Robert Jones Jr., “Bumbling: DC Super Hero Girls and the White Racial Imagination,” The Middle Spaces, May 10, 2016, accessed February 2, 2017,

[x] Eliana Dockterman, “Wonder Woman Breaks Through,” Time, December 26, 2016–January 2, 2017.

[xi] Charlotte E. Howell, “‘Tricky’ Connotations: Wonder Woman as DC’s Brand Disruptor,” Cinema Journal 55.1 (2015, Fall), DOI: 10.1353/cj.2015.0072.

[xii] Mitra C. Emad, “Reading Wonder Woman’s Body: Mythologies of Gender and Nation,” The Journal of Popular Culture 39.6 (2006).

[xiii] Kelli E. Stanley, “‘Suffering Sappho!’: Wonder Woman and the (Re)Invention of the Feminine Ideal,” Helios 32.2 (2005).

The Oprah Problem (Nothing New)

As is common in the U.S., there has been much ado about Oprah and all the black-clothed solidarity at the Golden Globes.

Many are all atwitter at celebrity finger wagging at long-entrenched sexism and racism among, well, celebrities. You see, that’s all we have anymore in the U.S. since we have formally elected a reality-hack as president (trace this back to an entire country acting as if Ronald Reagan, hack actor, was a credible political leader, some sort of conservative messiah).

This sort of nonsense is not anything new, and I would note the fawning over Princess Diana as at least a typical example of how we canonize the glamorous in hollow and misguided ways.

Oprah Winfrey’s award and speech have fueled the smoldering notion that she should run for president.

In the context of who has dominated political leadership in the U.S. throughout history (almost entirely constituted by average but privileged white men who have avoided being held accountable for their moral and ethical flaws as well as outright horrible behavior as human beings), let’s note upfront that Oprah as a highly successful black woman exceeds the ridiculously low standards for who can be a political leader—even president—in the U.S.

On a very basic level, the U.S. has elected to high and even the highest political offices Reagan, Al Franken, Jesse Ventura, Donald Trump, and Arnold Schwarzenegger; therefore, anyone who wants to make a sweeping claim that Oprah somehow falls below that line cannot stand on anything other than the thinnest (and possibly racist and/or sexist) ice.


Oprah could be the Democrats’ Reagan, and to be honest, in terms of being president, would likely do a better job than Reagan.

But a related issue is the claim that Oprah is somehow a progressive savior, and that is also different but incredibly thin ice.

In the tradition of Barack Obama (but not Clarence Thomas, for example), Oprah has benefitted from and then perpetuated some really corrosive ideologies in the U.S. that ultimately hurt our pursuit (let’s call it a progressive pursuit for lack of a better word) of equity for women and racial (so-called) minorities.

Oprah has also used her celebrity to create and bolster some truly awful spin-off celebrities—Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil. I mean truly awful hucksters.

In short, while as I note above, Oprah is qualified for all political offices in the U.S. in terms of who we have routinely elected, the Oprah problem is then not about her qualifications but how progressives embrace, or not, her.

Again, although some very credible progressive gains were made under Obama, he is not “leftist,” and is only marginally progressive (using the deeply skewed parameters of the significantly right-leaning U.S. scale for ideology), and Oprah also fits that description.

I have no doubt she would be a powerful symbolic candidate for women and people of color, and she would, like Obama, very possibly drive some progressive policies and offer an occasional bully pulpit for progressive and equitable public discourse.

But Oprah as progressive? Oprah as radical? Those are not her selling points.

Let me offer a few counter-arguments along those lines:

The Oprah problem is a subset of the exact issues the rich and famous were wagging their fingers at during the Golden Globes—in other words, what are progressives and the authentic left to do in a country that has historically and continually elevated the average white man to excessive wealth, celebrity, and power even as those average white men have behaved as abusive and rapacious cowards and monsters?

My thoughts for now are that we on the left must temper our rush to discredit Oprah while making our case for genuine progressive policies (and progressive leaders who practice) and promote equity and justice for all.

If the arc of the moral universe does in fact bend toward justice, as Martin Luther King Jr. implored, at the very least, Oprah as president would provide a recalibration needed after the Trump-led assault on the tepid Obama progressive agenda, and gains.

I see no hope that mainstream politics in the U.S. has the capacity for anything truly revolutionary (I mean we actually touted Bernie Sanders as a socialist) so we must be careful about how we respond to Oprah as presidential candidate—careful that we all on the left do not become as shallow and hypocritical as the celebrities peacocking at the Golden Globes, in fact.

Women’s Voices: A Reader

Fear of the Female Voice, Sarah Gailey

This story is a great summary of the cultural fear of female voices. In a society where men hold power, the most powerful thing a woman can do is to have influence over men. The idea of a member of an oppressed class influencing the powerful is fundamentally threatening to the existing order of society, because it puts some degree of power into the hands of those oppressed people. So, when the Sirens sing and Odysseus can’t resist being drawn in by their song, the reader sees an epic hero displaying a rare weakness: these women are so potent and dangerous that they can bring down a figure as powerful as Odysseus.

This is just one example of a significant theme in Greek mythology. Sirens appear in several different stories from Greek myth, and those stories all reflect and reinforce our societal terror of the influence of women on powerful men.

Truth Matters, Roxane Gay

Words matter. The truth matters. It is incomprehensible that this needs to be said, but this needs to be said. Donald Trump has long been a liar. Mendacity is as familiar to him as breathing. When he was simply a bloviating reality television star, his lies were easy to dismiss because he was simply a man with a bad tan, a bad toupee, and bad business acumen. Then he was running for president. His lies mattered more but were somewhat easy to dismiss because politicians lie. Now, though, Trump is the president of the United States. He is supposed to represent not only the minority of people who voted him into office but the rest of America, too. He is supposed to represent the United States throughout the world. He is shamefully inadequate for what his office demands. There is so much money cannot buy.

When Trump lies, it cannot be dismissed, no matter how frequently he does indeed lie about everything. He lies about his predecessor Barack Obama. He lies about the size of crowds who come to see him speak. He lies about his taxes. He lies about former opponent Hillary Clinton. He lies about the FBI, the environment, healthcare, America’s standing in the world, foreign policy, the economy, what he thinks, what he believes, and even what he says. The frequency and scope of his lies are such that we could easily be numbed to it all but words matter. The truth matters. Most of us still recognize that.

A year in fucking men, Joana Ramiro

You see, I met a lot of men this year. Many of them I wanted for a night, some I came to want terribly, with more than just my body. But all the men I met this year, those who lied with me and those who merely held me close, the ones whose affectations I came to know and the ones who flashed through my life, those I gave my body to and those I gave my all, all of them I cared about.

Women fuck. And they like it too. Our enjoyment doesn’t have to stand in direct opposition to how much we cared for the men we fucked, much like the reverse isn’t true either.

If in the second half of the 20th century the West fought for free love and the uncoupling of sex from its romantic associations, the first half of the 21st century might be about learning how to understand sex as nonetheless a profoundly binding act between us and others. A human act, if not the most human act of all.

This Moment Isn’t (Just) About Sex, Rebecca Traister

But in the midst of our great national calculus, in which we are determining what punishments fit which sexual crimes, it’s possible that we’re missing the bigger picture altogether: that this is not, at its heart, about sex at all — or at least not wholly. What it’s really about is work, and women’s equality in the workplace, and more broadly, about the rot at the core of our power structures that makes it harder for women to do work because the whole thing is tipped toward men.

Sexual assault is one symptom of that imbalance, but it is not the only one. The can-opener here — the sharp point that pierced the aluminum that had sealed all this glop in — was indeed a story about a man, Harvey Weinstein, who committed professional harm that was also terrible sexual violence. And yes, many of the stories that have poured forth since — from James Toback’s unsolicited ejaculations, to the playwright Israel Horovitz’s alleged forced encounters with much younger women — have turned on nonconsensual contact, violent physical and sexual threat, the stuff of sex crimes. But even those tales — the ones about rape and assault — have been told by accusers who first interacted with these men in hopes of finding professional opportunity, who were looking not for flirtation or dates, but for work. And they have reported — they have taken care to clearly lay out — the impact of the sexual violence not just on their emotional well-being, not just on their bodies, but on their careers, on their place in the public sphere.

In the Maze, Dayna Tortorici

Women, too, felt the pressure. “Your generation is so moral,” a celebrated novelist said to an editor my age. Another friend, a journalist in her fifties, described the heat she got from online feminists for expressing skepticism toward safe spaces. “I’m conservative now,” she said, meaning to the kids. But the most persistent and least logical complaint came from men — men I knew and men in the media. They could not speak. And yet they were speaking. Near the end of 2014, I remember, the right to free speech under the First Amendment had been recast in popular discourse as the right to free speech without consequence, without reaction.

The Year in Collaboration, Helena Fitzgerald

My idea of literature is one absolutely circumscribed by the concerns of white male gatekeepers, both the dead and the living. From as early as I can remember, I have always sought out maximalism in art and literature. I love things that take up enormous space, that break rules, that put their feet on the furniture. I love art that has bad manners, art that’s too big, too loud, too much. Most of this art—at least what is made readily available to a very young person, what is easiest to find when you’ve only just started looking—is by old white men, because that’s who’s allowed to be too big and too loud and too much. They are the only ones not hideously punished for bigness of any kind.

Growing up as a woman I was made acutely aware that I was not allowed to be big or loud. I am naturally both those things, but my life has been an attempt to shrink myself, because smallness is rewarded above all else in women. I longed for writing that broke out away from confined spaces because I was at every juncture shepherded into them. It is important to see ourselves in art, but it is important to see an alternative to ourselves as well, to dream something beyond the strictures by which we are confined and the obligations to which we are indebted. I always ended up at men first, work men made on the subject of being men. It was a failure of my own imagination and circumstances, and it was also quite simply that this was so much the majority of what was available, and what I was taught was good. I ran toward further embracing these gatekeepers instead of seeing that their primacy and the system that made them primary was the same one that punished me for bigness, was the reason there was so much from which to run.

Beware the Average White Man

Looking back on my youth, I lived through and enjoyed in pop culture both the Average White Band and The White Shadow—as a teen, without an ounce of critical awareness, and as an average white boy, without a clue of my own blinding privilege.

As I entered college, the Reagan revolution occurred, and I recall vividly being drawn to the allure of reverse racism, the vapid claim that white men were somehow then the victims of a multicultural and gender revolution.

Rapidly approaching 60, I am both ashamed and more fully aware of who I was in my youth—a person I reject entirely but witness daily in teenaged and early adult white guys that I teach. One first-year student just wrote an essay—one I could have written myself at his age—passionately arguing he is not privileged even though every single example he offered (white, male, affluent parents) confirmed his privilege. His argument also bemoaned the “new” definition of privilege, a garbled argument at best, and railed against his belief that those with privilege today are being “criminalized.”

Juxtaposing my youthful ignorance in the cocoon of privilege with this student’s same delusion more than three decades later while the US watches as a parade of powerful and famous (often white) men are exposed for truly inexcusable behavior toward women and girls speaks to a disturbing warning: beware average white men.

Next, I’d like to juxtapose Garrison Keillor to a truism that almost every black person has been told repeatedly in their youth:

For decades, black parents have told their children that in order to succeed despite racial discrimination, they need to be “twice as good”: twice as smart, twice as dependable, twice as talented. (Gillian B. White)

There’s one mantra many black parents drill into their children’s heads throughout their life: be twice as good. It goes that as black folks in America, we’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far as our white counterparts. (Britni Danielle)

Work twice as hard to attain half as much—what a horrible way to navigate the world, so pervasive that entire communities teach this to their children.

Keillor is among the newly fallen—though his sin tempered as “improper behavior”—and like Al Franken, Richard Dreyfuss, and Matt Lauer, Keillor’s response is itself a hedge: “The story of his alleged misdeeds is ‘more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard,’ Keillor wrote.”

Among this new normal, these partial admissions among the Left stand in stark contrast to a Republican president elected in the wake of his own profane bragging about being a sexual predator and a Republican senate candidate receiving a standing ovation while visiting a church after being exposed for his own open secret—his predatory habits including girls as young as 14.

Myself white, male, and affluent/privileged in many ways grounded in those first two accidents of my birth—I am deeply burdened by the question that lies before us about the essential nature of men, of whiteness: Can these revelations about how many powerful men are monsters be traced to predispositions of being born a male, to some code engrained in whiteness (even as we know race is a social, not a biological, construct)?

I am afraid of the truth about being male, about the flawed consequences of being a creature driven by testosterone even with the capacity for reason, compassion, and ethical awareness.

I am terrified about the inability to determine cause and effect among the dynamics of being male, white, and powerful—that white men have disproportionate power may allow being white and male to be absolved, may allow us all to decry the corrosive impact of power.

It is that terror that brings me back to Keillor as much more illustrative of the converse of how blacks raise their children—twice as good, half as much: the average white man is allowed to be half as good to attain twice as much.

“I am disappointed in both reviews of Garrison Keillor’s anthology Good Poems (April 2004)—nearly as much as in the anthology itself,” wrote poet Rita Dove in 2005, explaining:

Keillor dedicates his compilation to “all the English Teachers (especially the great ones),” and yet he neglects one of the cardinal guidelines for today’s English curricula—to select material that reflects the multi-faceted fabric of our society. Lake Wobegon’s Norwegian bachelor farmers may have in their youth been deprived of the smorgasbord American culture has become, but I would hope that nowadays even kids from the tiniest hamlets in rural Minnesota are a bit more informed about Walt Whitman’s multitudes than Mr. Keillor’s selection would have us believe. Young minds—hell, all minds—are impressionable, and an anthology overwhelmingly populated by white poets is likely to send the message that only white folks deserve and/or are capable of writing “good poems.”

Dove’s last charge reminds me of religious traditions that suggest God created man in His own image— the sexist language and the arrogance.

Dove’s last charge reminds me of the much smaller scale but none the less arrogant self-aggrandizing of the New Criticism movement—white men with literary power who manufactured standards of great literature both to match the sort of work they created but also to keep the evaluative gaze on the text (and thus, not on the white-male-only club they were creating, and that Keillor shamelessly perpetuated).

Could anyone be more mediocre than Matt Lauer, who earned $25,000,000 a year? Maybe Keillor, the grand patron of mediocrity.

And how does a country elect Barack Obama (twice as hard, half as much) and then Donald Trump—a man who can only aspire to Lauer’s and Keillor’s mediocrity, a man buoyed by his father’s ill-gotten wealth and a culture that allows wealthy white men to excel despite their mediocrity and moral decadence.

Keillor may too easily be swept aside as a mostly harmless minor celebrity, a victim himself of his era when men’s behavior toward women was seen as part of a normal “consensual seduction ritual,” Dreyfuss’s own effort to excuse himself as simply being “the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be.”

Sin’s of the father and all that.

But Keillor represents more than the existential fear all women and girls must fear from all men as potential physical and sexual threats; Keillor is the quintessential average white man who is half as much but reaps twice the benefits on the wave of his privileges.

And yet as the veneer is being peeled back from men as predatory monsters, average white men themselves are desperately asking what if things are going too far, what if all the men guilty of sexual assault and intimidation are held accountable.

Yes, what if? Reckoning is a frightening thing for the guilty, and each time I read about another man hedging for the accused and punished, I am reminded, with some due gender irony, “The lady protests too much, methinks.”

Today the white male student who wrote the ham-fisted essay about privilege conferenced with me about his essay, and I was struck by how even though he is identified as privileged, he is confronted with a different world than I was. In another first-year class, a black young woman came into class upset about Lauer; she immediately said she was disappointed.

Both of those students share a naive view of the world, one shaped by the very average white men afraid of an overdue purging.

Both of those students, I worry, are not really being offered the promises they deserve, and thus, what if all the average white men face their reckoning?

We can hope, I think, and we should.

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