(Note: this piece contains general discussion of sexual harassment and assault, so heads up on that.)
Hey there! As most of you know, I’m a dude. And like most dudes, I’ve been watching this whole post-Weinstein era we’re in with some interest. And because I am reasonably well-known on the internet for talking about things, I’ve had people, mostly dudes, contact me via social media and email with various questions about what’s going on and my opinions on these topics. So, let me go ahead and address several of them at once, with the help of my fictional interlocutor. Say hello, fictional interlocutor!
Let’s get started, shall we.
I… I just want it on the record that I’m deeply uncomfortable with these topics.
Of course you are! You’re a dude! What’s the first question?
I’m worried that someone might call me out for having been a harassing piece of shit at some point in my past.
Well, let me ask you: Were you, in the past, in fact, a harassing piece of shit?
I’m gonna take that as a “yes.”
I wish you wouldn’t.
Too late! And here’s the thing: If in fact at some point in the past you were a harassing piece of shit to someone, probably to a woman but really, to anyone, then you deserve to be called out on your actions.
But I hardly even remember the incident!
Ah, but the question is not whether you remember it, but if the person you harassed does. And you know what? When you’re harassed, it kinda sticks in your brain. For example, did I ever tell you that some dude once pinched my ass when I was in the supermarket? When I was, like, 11?
God’s honest truth. I was standing at the supermarket magazine rack, looking at a video game magazine, when suddenly I feel my ass getting pinched. I turn, and here’s the creepy old bald dude, who must have been like sixty, walking by. And he turns around to see me looking at him, because clearly he’s the only one who could have pinched my ass, and you know what that creepy chucklefuck does? He winks at me. And then he goes off and he does his shopping, or whatever.
What did you do?
I didn’t do anything. I was eleven at the time, it didn’t occur to me that there was anything to do. So I thought “what a creepy old dude” to myself, and went back to reading my magazine. As far as sexual harassment involving an 11-year-old goes, it really was — well, I don’t want to say a “best case scenario,” so let’s call it a “least damaging case scenario.”
But here’s the thing about that: Even now I remember the event, in detail, from where I was to the creepy wink and smile that dude had on his face. If I can remember that, for an event that took all of three seconds and otherwise hasn’t had a substantial impact on my life, you better goddamn believe anyone who you did worse to remembers what you did. They remember. In detail. Read the accounts of those coming forward with their stories. There’s often a lot of specificity in them. There’s a reason for that.
If you don’t remember (or barely do), it’s possibly because the event wasn’t trauma for you. The person you harassed almost certainly has a different perspective on the event.
But it was a different time!
Ah, yes, the Harvey Weinstein defense of “I grew up in the 60s and 70s and it was a different time then.” I mean, it didn’t really work for Weinstein, now, did it? Partly because in his case claiming that things were different then doesn’t excuse being an assaulting piece of shit now, and it’s clear he was harassing and assaulting women right up until everything blew up in his face. But also partly because, who gives a shit if it was a different time? If you raped someone in 1973, you still raped them, you asshole. Or in 1983. Or 1993. Or 2003. Or 2013. Or now. There’s never been a time that rape and assault and harassment haven’t been rape and assault and harassment.
Yes, but now there’s consequences!
Well, yes, there are. There’s no statute of limitations on consequences, which apparently comes as an unhappy surprise to a lot of dudes. A lot of the mewling about this is, “well, it was so long ago.” It might be! But your actions almost certainly had consequences for the person you harassed (or assaulted, or raped) and may have altered the course of their life — caused them to change their career or quit a job to avoid you, or given them psychological or physical damage.
There were always consequences to your actions. It’s just that now you might have to share in them.
I’m a better person now!
Great! Did you ever make amends to the person you harassed or assaulted? Apologized, publicly or privately? Taken responsibility for your actions in some way? Worked to make right the trespasses you have made against others, to the extent that they wanted or allowed you too? Spoken to others, particularly those who love/like/are in business with you, publicly or privately, about your past transgressions so they aren’t blindsided by your past?
Not as such.
Aaaaah, so you were just hoping it would all just go away and you would never have to think about it again.
Well, surprise! You’re certainly thinking about it now.
Let’s say that before someone else outs me, I decide to out myself and admit I was a harassing piece of shit at one time in my life. What then?
I don’t know. Try it and find out. I mean, I’ll applaud your honesty, as long as it’s backed by actual repentance and effort to change and make right what you’ve done in the past. But, you know. Unless you’re that creepy chucklefuck who pinched my ass 36 years ago (and you’re probably not, I’m guessing he’s dead by now), I’m not the one to be asking about this, because I’m not the one you’ve wronged.
Can’t we have, like, a truth and reconciliation commission?
You know! Like they did in South Africa, where everyone admits the horrible things they did and everyone gets amnesty.
What an interesting idea. Now, you do realize that particular commission was created after the fall of apartheid, by a government largely constituted by the victims of apartheid, yes?
I’m not following you.
What I’m saying is that before we get to a sexual harassment truth and reconciliation committee, basically the patriarchy will have to be dismantled and then it will be up to those running the new system to administer such a commission. How does that work for you?
Dude, I’m totally ready to ditch the patriarchy if you are!
Let me think about that for a while.
Do that. In the meantime, yeah. You’re not getting off the hook.
So if I come out and admit to being a harassing shit, I’ll likely get thumped on. But if I don’t admit it and it comes out anyway, I’ll likely get thumped on.
Sounds about right.
Neither of those really sounds appealing.
Maybe you should have thought of that before you decided to be a harassing piece of shit.
I will say this: sorting out your own shit is always existentially better than waiting for other people to sort it out for you. There’s a small but telling difference between “I did this shit, and I was wrong, and I want to do better” and “Now that you’ve found out I did this shit, let me just say I was wrong, and I want to do better.” Neither is going to be cake walk, I expect. But then, you were a harassing piece of shit. You don’t deserve cake for that.
Can I change the topic, a bit, please?
Sure. What’s up?
Let’s say I that I didn’t mean to sexually harass anyone, but someone says I did or said something that made them feel harassed and uncomfortable. What then?
One, an actual apology is good. Two, don’t do it again to them or anyone else.
But why should I apologize? I didn’t mean to do it!
Okay, and? Look, let me be blunt with you: That person calling you out on a behavior that made them feel unsafe? They’re doing you a favor. If your behavior, intentional or not, is creepy enough that someone was compelled to say something to you about it, there are probably others who thought the same thing but didn’t say it — or didn’t say it to you. So the person actually saying it is like a person who pulls you aside and says “Dude, your breath smells like a cat shat on your uvula, maybe partake in a mint,” except instead of halitosis they’re talking about you skeeving everybody out with your words and/or actions. Thank them! In that context, a sincere apology is an excellent thank you, followed by adjusting your behavior.
But why should I change the way I do things? If they have a problem with how I say or do things, it’s their problem, not mine.
Dude, I’m not the boss of you. If you want to continue to make people uncomfortable with your presence and actions, then follow your bliss. Just don’t expect to have a whole lot of friends who aren’t complete assholes. Also, be aware that if you keep that shit up, there’s an excellent chance that sooner or later five or six people are going to speak out about you and your asshole actions, all at the same time, and then you’ll be in the same boat as the “actual” harassers, i.e., being an actual harasser, because you didn’t think you had to learn.
Which is fine! Really, it’s fine. Go ahead, do that, it’s fine. Totally fine.
Okay, but what about if I’ve never done anything bad to anyone and I still get accused of harassing someone?
Well, either you did it and you didn’t know, in which case, see above, or, rarely, the other person is lying.
Yes! They’re lying! Yes! That!
My dude, aside from the actual fact that a woman accusing a man of harassment has her life turned into such a shitshow that the bar for her choosing to tell her story is almost unspeakably high (and therefore not fertile ground for lying), I want you to consider a singular and depressing fact, which is that nearly every woman you know has actual dudes who’ve harassed them. They will go after them, rather than outright lying about you. I’m not saying that people don’t get falsely accused of sexual assault and harassment. I am saying it’s pretty rare. Rare enough that when someone comes forward with a harassment claim, it’s worth taking seriously.
But still —
Also, you know? As someone who (still) has jerks falsely calling him a rapist for purely malicious reasons, allow me to suggest that people see through bullshit pretty quickly.
Fine. But I’m worried that I will try to let someone know I’m interested in them and they’ll think I’m harassing them.
So you’re saying your dating strategy is indistinguishable from harassment?
Dude, I don’t even know anymore.
Maybe it’s worth the time to find out and fix it if it is. I’m not, shall we say, active in the dating scene, but it seems to me that communication, consent and the active ability to take “no” for an answer will go a long way.
I’m just worried that every woman defaults into thinking I’m a creep until proven otherwise.
They might! Not just you, to be clear. Every dude.
Doesn’t that bother you? That every woman might start off thinking you could be a creep?
Well, you know. Pretty much every woman I know has been harassed or assaulted or been the recipient of unwanted sexual attention from dudes simply for existing. I know a fair number of men, mostly gay or bi but some not, in the same boat. I know relatively few trans and non-binary folks (although I suspect I know more than many folks), but I know sexual harassment and assault, primarily by men, is a huge issue in that community. Not only men sexually harass and assault, and as they say, not all men sexually harass and assault. But men are the large majority of those people who do sexually harass and assault. And, alas, the ones that do that shit don’t walk around with a neon light saying “Harassing chucklefuck” blinking over their head for easy identification.
So in point of fact I’m fine with women (and others) who I meet for the first time holding in their mind the idea I might be a creeper. I might be! They don’t know! I’m fine with doing the work to make them comfortable with me (the “work” in this case generally meaning “being respectful and kind,” which honestly isn’t that hard), and with the idea that they might never be entirely comfortable with me in this respect. I’d like to live in the world where every dude is not seen as a potential harassing creep, but we’re not there yet, because, as the events of the last few weeks have made abundantly clear, there are still a shitload of harassing creeps out there.
You want not to be seen as potential creep right off? Great! Do the work among men to bring the ratio of harassing shitheads way down. Don’t ask others to do the work that you want to see the benefit of.
One last question.
What do you do when a friend or someone you admire, or whose work you admire, is outed as a harasser or abuser?
You mean, besides be sad and probably very pissed off at them?
With people I admire, I think it’s obvious that I would probably stop admiring them. With regard to people whose work I admire, it would put the work in a different context and at that point I’d have to see how I felt about it. I’m pretty good at separating the art from the artist. In both cases, I don’t find it difficult to hold two thoughts about someone in my head — that someone can be an admirable talent in their field and a harassing piece of shit, or that a particular book/movie/song can be amazing and the person who created it a terrible human.
With that said, someone being outed as a harassing/assaulting piece of shit makes it much less likely I will support their future work, since I generally prefer not to give money to people who sexually harass and assault people. To be blunt, there’s a category of work I file under “to be enjoyed after the creator is dead.” That’s where a lot of work is being sent these days.
With people I consider friends, well, look: I have standards for friends, and one of those standards is treating other people with basic human respect. Sexually assaulting or harassing other people is a pretty solid indication that you don’t respect that person, or the group of people they are a part of. My friends are all grown ups and they live in 2017; they should know better. If they don’t, well. That’s a problem for me.
People I know as acquaintances or casual friends I don’t have a problem casting off; I have lots of other, less problematic acquaintances. I am fortunate that none of my very good friends has been shown to be an assaulter or harasser. If one ever is, that’s going to be a thing. One because they managed to keep it from me for so long, which calls into question the nature of our relationship. Two because I’m going to have to ask myself if there’s anything there in the long path of our friendship that will make it worth salvaging. Maybe there is, although at the moment I don’t know what it might be. I’m not in a rush to find out.
So, this has been a long entry.
Yes it has. We’ve covered a lot of ground. I want to note that some of the ground I’m covering here has also been covered by women (like here and here and here), so if it sounds familiar, that’s why. And if it’s all new to you, maybe you should read and listen to more women, my dude.
Any last pieces of advice?
Sure. Dudes, don’t be a harassing piece of shit, don’t accept other dudes being harassing pieces of shit, and when women (and others) tell you that someone has harassed or assaulted them, believe them.
This is all pretty simple. And yet.