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.

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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

There Are No Innocent Men: Sacrificed/ Sacred Women and Children

In The Washington Post—not The Onion or McSweeney’sMichelle Boorstein reports:

“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler told The Washington Examiner. “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Mary, Joseph, and Jesus as Christian mythology are being contorted into a disturbing Trumplandian justification of Roy Moore. While the overwhelming evidence against Moore appears quite likely to have no effect in the same way as video evidence of Trump as sexual predator slipped by, there are problems with the traditional story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus that have served this new abnormal.

The Mary used to justify Moore is framed both as a teenager and a virgin—an idealizing of womanhood that erases huge elements of any woman’s full humanity.

The Moore controversy and its unmasking of evangelical Christianity is a growing subset of the larger confrontation of how many men fail women and children as sexual predators, abusers, and aggressors—names now without any need for elaboration: Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Louis CK, Bill Cosby.

Like politics, entertainment and especially comedians have carried the brunt of the unmasking so far. As some reconsider comedy routines of Louis CK, for example, many things once considered funny now seem horrifyingly missed.

Mary as sacred teen virgin—and Jesus as superhuman because he was born of the sacred teen virgin—is a parallel problem to “the Sacred Soldier, nameless and faceless, used as both sword and shield against the enemies of power and the status quo,” as William Rivers Pitts explains.

There is, in fact, no ultimate difference between treating anyone (or any group) as subhuman and treating anyone (or any group) as worthy only in the ideal.

The very ugly open secret of white evangelical Christianity includes grooming girls in childhood and during puberty to be a perverse mix of sexual and virginal, but fully in the service of a man.

Physical and sexual violence against women and children has its roots in both seeing women and children as less than human and framing women and children as sacred.

Both are dehumanizing and both are the consequence of the male gaze.

In his stand-up comedy heydays of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Steve Martin was a staple of Saturday Night Live. One of his routines, “What I Believe,” has kernels of deeply disturbing realities being confronted now. The first half goes as follows:

I believe in rainbows and puppy dogs and fairy tales.

And I believe in the family – Mom and Dad and Grandma.. and Uncle Tom, who waves his penis.

And I believe 8 of the 10 Commandments.

And I believe in going to church every Sunday, unless there’s a game on.

And I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, wholesome and natural things.. that money can buy.

And I believe it’s derogatory to refer to a woman’s breasts as “boobs”, “jugs”, “winnebagos” or “golden bozos”… and that you should only refer to them as “hooters”.

And I believe you should put a woman on a pedestal.. high enough so you can look up her dress.

Martin’s satire of belief imbued with both a passing image of the predatory man in everyone’s (?) family as well as harsh critiques of religion and the dark underbelly of idealizing women captures the open secrets being dismantled in 2017.

If manipulating the foundational story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to protect a predatory man isn’t enough—and I would argue this is beyond enough—consider novelist John Grisham’s egregious defense of men like him:

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child,” he said. “But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn.”

This rests inside the same genre as Woody Allen’s fear of witch hunts.

But Grisham’s argument exposes how the sacrificed and sacred coin works to render women and children as less than human while maintaining a culture in which men are always fully human regardless of even the most inexcusable failures.

Grisham, Allen, and Louis CK (using child molestation as fodder for humor) may sound extreme, but only if we remain trapped in a narrative of women and children as either sacrificed or sacred while all men are fully human, every flaw forgiven.

So I return to Martin’s “Uncle Tom, who waves his penis” and offer Richard Dreyfuss exposing himself and his own rebuttal that he “thought it was a ‘consensual seduction ritual,'” adding:

The fact that “I did not get it”, he said, “makes me reassess every relationship I have ever thought was playful and mutual.”

Louis CK, in his apology, also claimed he had never felt he was harming women since he always asked before exposing himself.

Like Kevin Spacey, Louis CK’s career is in jeopardy, his newest film’s distributor has dropped the project. But in that film, one scene offers yet another out for what appears to be an essential flaw in men:

The movie, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September, is about a TV writer (played by C.K.) whose 17-year-old daughter forms a relationship with a 68-year-old filmmaker.

“I mean, everybody’s a pervert. I’m a pervert. We’re all perverts. Who cares?” one character says in the trailer.

“Men have not succeeded in spite of their noxious behavior or disregard for women; in many instances, they’ve succeeded because of it,” writes Rebecca Traister, adding later: “That’s because this world is stacked in favor of men, yes, in a way that is so widely understood as to be boring, invisible, just life.”

Invisible like the women and children rendered either less than fully human or sacred, the first of which Traister confronts:

But here’s a crucial reason he behaved so brazenly and badly for so long: He did not consider that the women he was torturing, much less the young woman who was mutely and nervously watching his performance (that would be me), might one day have greater power than he did. He didn’t consider this because in a basic way, he did not think of us as his equals.

Traister then concludes: “The only real solution may be one that is hardest to envision: equality.”

A solution still ironically controlled by men.

Traister explores how she and other women have been complicit in the culture being exposed by #metoo, admitting, “as a young woman I could never truly believe that members of the opposite sex could be as cartoonishly grotesque as they sometimes were.”

Now, the question appears to be about the fundamental nature of men and how they navigate those weaker than them—perceived as or actually weaker such as women and children.

What is without question, however, is there are no innocent men.

Woody Allen, Hollywood, and the Monsters of Capitalism: “I thought it was funny at the time”

The Woody Allen dilemma, now resurrected in the wake of Harvey Weinstein being exposed as a serial sexual predator, confronts us on two levels.

Level one is an enduring debate about Allen himself: Is Allen merely attracted to young women in his personal and creative lives, a proclivity that pushes at the boundaries of social norms for consent and age-appropriate relationships? Or is Allen a sexual predator, one who has sexually abused a child?

Level two involves how this remains a debate, how keeping alive arguments about who Allen is provides a shield behind which Allen continues to produce films, accumulating wealth and power, and to remain mostly unscathed—much as Weinstein did for years: When women accuse men of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or sexual abuse, men raise the specter of false accusations—Allen himself responding to the Weinstein scandal by cautioning against a witch hunt in Hollywood.

If we return to level one, we must be willing to acknowledge the tension between consent and women’s (especially young women’s) autonomy and human agency.

Consider for example, a parallel situation involving another powerful and celebrated artist, J.D. Salinger, who courted young women; at 18, Joyce Maynard made a decision:

At Salinger’s urging, I left college — left the world, more or less — to be with him. I will state plainly: This was a choice I made, of my own volition, with as much understanding of the world as an 18-year-old may possess.

Maynard forefronts her autonomy, but we must also admit her decision to be with Salinger was prior to his exposing himself as a monster. In other words, a young woman’s autonomy and consent need not be erased, and must not be demonized, if we keep our focus where it belongs—on the men who are monsters.

So that brings us back to level two and why the most damning possibility about Allen—he is a man who sexually abused a child—remains only a possibility, a rumor, because shouting “Witch hunt!” maintains the accusatory gaze on the victims—imbued with their possibility of being false witnesses.

But the false witness argument is at least a distraction if not a lie:

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.

The valid fear, then, about sexual assault includes the following:

Research shows that rates of false reporting are frequently inflated, in part because of inconsistent definitions and protocols, or a weak understanding of sexual assault. Misconceptions about false reporting rates have direct, negative consequences and can contribute to why many victims don’t report sexual assaults (Lisak et al., 2010). To improve the response to victims of sexual violence, law enforcement and service providers need a thorough understanding of sexual violence and consistency in their definitions, policies and procedures.

We must add that men who assault also perpetuate the “frequently inflated” narrative because treating outliers as some sort of rampant phenomenon allows the monsters to survive without scrutiny or consequences.

Despite Courtney Love in 2005 and, apparently, Family Guy for years—the open secret of sexual abuse in Hollywood has remained closeted, from Weinstein to Kevin Spacey and dozens (hundreds?) of men including Allen and Roman Polanski.

Another hint about the open secret, Lana Del Rey’s “Cola,” serves as a powerful entry into the root cause of the Allen dilemma narrowly and the sexual abuse reality broadly:

“When I wrote that song, I suppose I had a Harvey Weinstein/Harry Winston-type of character in mind,” Del Rey told MTV of the “Cola.” “I envisioned, like, a benevolent, diamond-bestowing-upon-starlets visual, like a Citizen Kane or something. I’m not really sure. I thought it was funny at the time, and I obviously find it really sad now. I support the women who have come forward. I think they’re really brave for doing that.”

Del Rey, like Allen, has strong personal and artistic connections with relationships between young women and older men, but Del Rey personifies how gender shapes the consequences of those experiences and themes for women:

This kind of reversal has cemented LDR’s legend: Caught between misogynist dismissal of her art and feminist critiques of same, she appears coolly immune to both forms of attack, which boil down to a common shame over heterosexual cliché. Each camp argues that she presents a superficial, even damaging view of womanhood, minus the talent or veneer of commentary to carry it off. Where Taylor Swift and Katy Perry will belt a breakup anthem as a call to arms, Lana has the audacity to stew in her nihilism and laugh ruefully at the men who mistreat her. Gendered, negative responses just feed into her enveloping aura.

Here, however, let’s pause at “I thought it was funny at the time.”

Comedian and film maker Louis CK has released I Love You, Daddy, a poorly timed film by another man with rumors that linger without any real consequences.

This film is either an homage or garbled analysis of Allen, a work that is blunt pastiche that may ultimately be 21st-century fan fiction—seemingly an artistic extension of Allen’s “witch hunt” mantra.

With Del Ray’s mea culpa in mind about her art, a brief moment in Louis CK’s film trailer is telling:

Louis C.K.’s character is not sure he is ok with his beautiful and carefree daughter dating a man three times her age, and at one point reiterates to Malkovich’s character that she is a minor, to which he responds “a minor what?”

Let’s extrapolate Del Ray’s response to her own song: Maybe Allen seemed funny “at the time,” and maybe Louis CK thinks his Being Woody Allen is funny now—but this was never funny because monsters in real life are never funny.

Hollywood has made billions on fictional monsters, but we must now admit Hollywood has made billions by monsters as well—and they continue by the dozens.

“The evil that men do” (here, the sexism of Shakespeare language is prescient), however, is not a Hollywood real-life story alone; the monsters are everywhere, and if we look carefully at the Hollywood cesspool, we see the root of all evil—”the love of money” that empowers the shield behind which monsters thrive.

Weinstein and Allen, although not alone or unique, depended on their power and wealth to make or break the careers of young women—megalomaniacs who disregarded the humanity of their victims.

I have argued before that Tom and Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby are the “careless people,” the wealthy who are themselves monsters, who best represent who America truly is as a country—a people poisoned by capitalism, materialism, and consumerism.

The real world of Hollywood, in fact, trumps Fitzgerald’s fictional unmasking of the America Dream, but nothing can surpass the actual Trump clan now lording over the U.S.

The national indignity of Donald Trump being elected president after being exposed on video as a sexual predator himself is something the country can never erase, or even explain—adding to our long history of propping up men-who-are-monsters as heroes and honorable men.

But we should be just as disgusted by Donald Trump Jr. who recently continued the Trump family tradition of stealing other people’s ideas when he Tweeted (like father, like son) on Halloween, our national celebration of fictional heroes:

Like Allen’s “witch hunt” response to Weinstein, Junior is playing the diversion game in order to maintain the shield behind which the Trumps scuttle along as the monsters they are.

Many have noted that Junior appears clueless about both socialism and his dear capitalism, his shield. Framing socialism as some sort of monster itself is a diversion from how capitalism creates monsters and perpetuates them.

Advocates of amoral systems, capitalism, must hide that socialism is, in fact, a moral system—a people consenting to community and cooperation so that everyone has essential needs that support basic human dignity and agency.

Explaining socialism, Oscar Wilde argued: “It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair”:

Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material well-being of each member of the community….

Private property has crushed true Individualism, and set up an Individualism that is false. It has debarred one part of the community from being individual by starving them. It has debarred the other part of the community from being individual by putting them on the wrong road, and encumbering them….The industry necessary for the making money is also very demoralising. In a community like ours, where property confers immense distinction, social position, honour, respect, titles, and other pleasant things of the kind, man, being naturally ambitious, makes it his aim to accumulate this property, and goes on wearily and tediously accumulating it long after he has got far more than he wants, or can use, or enjoy, or perhaps even know of.

Wilde concludes ( with more prescient sexist language), “The evolution of man is slow. The injustice of men is great.”

The deplorables laugh at Junior’s ignorant Tweet because they think it is funny.

What now? Will we allow “I thought it was funny at the time” to appear on the gravestones of the women and children sacrificed in our quest for the all mighty dollar?

Or like Del Ray can we finally admit it isn’t funny.

It was never funny.

“But this is the way the world has always worked for me”

In his recurring role as White Man Who Doesn’t (Can’t?) Get It, Mike Golic held forth on ESPN’s Mike & Mike the morning after the Texans NFL team nearly unanimously knelt in protest of their owner comparing NFL players to prisoners.

Golic became impassioned about today’s political correctness and gushed that he just didn’t take the “inmates” comment as offensive.

What Golic doesn’t (can’t?) see, of course, is that the NFL is about 70% black professional athletes, and the mass incarceration system of the U.S.—the exact one initially protested by Colin Kaepernick—reflects a disturbing parallel: “Nearly three-quarters of federal inmates, 71.4%, are either of African American or Latino descent. That’s 37.6% and 33.8% respectively. The problem with this is that these two groups collectively only make up 21.3% of the entire population.”

What Golic doesn’t (can’t?) hear is that billionaire owner McNair’s analogy is just a thin veil for “can’t let the slaves run the plantation.”

This is the consequence of white male privilege that blinds and deafens.

During an otherwise casual afternoon, Mary* told a few friends about her experience as a babysitter when she was a few years away from 18. She travelled with a couple for whom she was their regular sitter to watch their child on their vacation.

Mary noted that the husband had been somewhat flirtatious, but she was mostly around the couple together. On this trip, however, Mary experienced her first time being drunk, but the husband’s flirtations in front of his wife while Mary was inebriated sparked a harsh reaction from the wife—while making Mary feel even more vulnerable than usual.

She added that because of the husband’s behavior, she was fired from the babysitting position.

“Huh,” Mary punctuated her story, “sexual assault”—thinking, it seemed, for the first time about the gravity of the incident.

A few years later, Mary found herself with a boyfriend who was physically violent, and she stayed in the relationship for a while after the abuse.

Despite her privileges of race and socioeconomic status, Mary suffered the consequences of being a woman; this story parallels the one by NFL player Michael Bennett, who personifies how race inequity trumps his financial privilege and celebrity.

In response to her experiences, Mary explained: “But this is the way the world has always worked for me. For most women.”

At 18, Joyce Maynard made a decision:

At [J.D.]Salinger’s urging, I left college — left the world, more or less — to be with him. I will state plainly: This was a choice I made, of my own volition, with as much understanding of the world as an 18-year-old may possess.

However, as she detailed in a confessional memoir, that relationship with a celebrity reclusive author 35 years older than her turned abusive:

I name two experiences of damage here — damage, and abuse. Equally painful as what happened when I was 18 is what took place when I was 44 — when, after maintaining silence about my time with Salinger for 25 years, I published a book that told what happened.

As dramatized in Adrienne Rich’s “Rape,” Maynard has experienced the double-abuse of being abused directly by a powerful man and then suffering under the weight of how the world responds to confessing that abuse.

After being vilified for her 1998 memoir, Maynard acknowledges:

Cut to the present. I am 63 years old — the author of 16 books and perhaps a thousand essays. I would like to say things are different now. But 20 years after I published the story of that young experience, my chief identity remains, in the eyes of many, as that of the woman who slept with Salinger 45 years ago.

“But this is the way the world has always worked for me. For most women,” Mary’s matter-of-fact response.

Maynard’s experiences, as well, speak to the opening story:

Many of those same arbiters of culture and political correctness who eviscerated me for telling the story of what happened when I was young, with a man of great power, now express outrage at the years in which Hollywood turned a blind eye to the routine behavior of Harvey Weinstein towards young women in whom he took an interest.

From Maynard’s critics, to Bennett being called a liar by the Las Vegas police department, to Mary losing her babysitting job, to Golic’s bluster about overreacting to the “inmates” comparison—the wider silencing of marginalized and abused people recurs daily at the hands of men, often powerful, often white.

Men who otherwise may appear to be relatively harmless or normal—because, of course, these powerful men have created all the rules about what counts as harm, what is normal, and whose voice matters.

Moment by moment, Arundhati Roy‘s “We know of course there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard” is played out with men as arbiters.

If race and gender equity are genuinely our goals, men who silence and who refuse to hear must themselves be silent and must begin to listen so that they can take action.

The Texans are not overreacting and Maynard has not overshared—as she details:

Let’s consider that term, and what it implies. In my case, it would appear, “oversharing” refers to telling the truth about what happened to us, refusing adherence to a set of unwritten but longstanding rules suggesting that (for a woman, at least; these charges are seldom leveled at men) there is something not simply unseemly but reprehensible about speaking honestly about one’s sexual history, one’s body, the examination of one’s own imperfect self.

To tell the truth, then, must be afforded women who remain victims to men just as it must be afforded to blacks who remain victims to racial discrimination.

“But our voices matter,” argues Breana Stewart, sharing her own #metoo story that resonates with Mary’s “But this is the way the world has always worked for me. For most women.”

With each #metoo story that seems endless, I am haunted by the “worked for me”—words of survival.


* Name and some details have been changed to honor the privacy of the person, but the story is in essence accurate. The person also gave permission to blog about this and was shown a draft for full consent.

Men, Power Must Change

Along the arc of horrors, where we place the abuses of men and power seems a trivial enterprise, as if horrors can be quantified, compared by degrees.

In her 1992 novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy, Alice Walker fictionalized one of those horrors, female genital mutilation; this ritual may seem barbaric, foreign, and somehow not of us to many in the U.S.

However, the expanding spotlight on powerful men who are sexual abusers and predators—Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly—belongs on that same arc of horrors—even if we choose to categorized George H.W. Bush’s behaviors are “harmless” or continue to qualify accusations about Woody Allen and Louis CK because, you know, art.

Reviewing Walker’s novel, Janette Turner Hospital explains:

“Possessing the Secret of Joy” is about the “telling” of suffering and the breaking of taboos. And when taboos are broken, new forms and modes of discourse must evolve to contain that which has previously been unspeakable. Predictable outrage — moral, political, cultural and esthetic — ensues, and the breakers of taboos are both vilified and deified. Alice Walker tackles all these developments head-on in a work that is part myth, part polemic, part drama. It is a work that sits uneasily within the category of “the novel,” though the breakers of taboos must always redefine the terms and the rules of the game. Indeed, Ms. Walker’s book is a literary enterprise whose ancestry runs closer to the Greek chorus and the medieval miracle play than to the modern novel. Its subject matter is ritual clitoridectomy and the genital mutilation of young women.

As James Baldwin witnessed, “the time is always now.” Even though Cosby seems to have survived, and the U.S. elected Donald Trump despite boasting about his own life as a sexual predator, there appears a possibility that we are seeing a crack in the damn behind which men and men with power have ensconced themselves forever.

If Walker’s novel was an attempt to break taboos and prompt change, then now is a moment in the wake of that clarion call about the horrors awaiting all women and girls simply because men are men, and because men are too often too powerful.

Simply stated: How men fundamentally interact with the world must change; how power manifests itself in the world must change. Incremental change is not enough. No longer can men be centered just for being men, and all power must be dispersed, no longer concentrated.

Immediately men must stop placing themselves on the arc of horrors in ways that frame them as somehow not a monster, and therefore, not complicit.

All men are to blame, and all power is corrupt.

We can no longer discount the inherent flaws of men and power as somehow not all men, not all power; and we cannot allow the horrors to be mere celebrity and entertainment—as Joe Berkowitz confronts in a review of Louis CK’s new film (a thinly veiled examination of Woody Allen) despite his own refusal to address years of rumors about his offensive behavior toward women:

In making a case for not believing certain rumors, Louis CK is making a case for not believing women. Bill Cosby is a free man because people didn’t believe women. Donald Trump is the president because people didn’t believe women. Nobody might have believed the case against Harvey Weinstein if not for audio proof of him being disgusting to women. A policy of disregarding these kinds of rumors only protects the powerful men who stand accused. The real Woody Allen is surely aware of how dangerous it is for him if people start believing women. While prominent actors and directors publicly flagellate themselves for not speaking out about Weinstein sooner, even though they knew about his crimes, this man is worried that the avalanche of Weinstein accusers will lead to “a witch hunt.”

William_Powell_Frith_The_Witch_Trial

The Witch Trial by William Powell Frith (1848)

Not believing women as victims is the abuse that compounds the abuse—as Adrienne Rich captures in “Rape”: “You have to confess/to him, you are guilty of the crime/of having been forced.”

After Trump’s election, at the very least a “boot in the face” of all women and human decency, Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones” resonated with many. Two lines—”The world is at least/fifty percent terrible”—now resonate well beyond her likely intended meaning, or even why the poem spoke to may then.

Men, the “fifty percent terrible,” stand now exposed, hands raised against the widening spotlight as the crack in the dam expands.