Working on It

I have some work to do.

That’s clear, although it’s taken weeks to get to this point.

Like Matt Damon, I parsed degrees of sexual misconduct. I’m still parsing. One thing done doesn’t equate to other things done. I rolled that around in my head for a long time after Senator Al Franken was accused of sexual misconduct and then announced his plan to resign.

If Al Franken had put his hand on my ass while we were taking a selfie, I would have laughed about it. Oh, I’d have given him a look but it wouldn’t have been a big deal to me. No harm, no foul. Mulling this over, I realize this says more about my lifetime of self preservation than it does about Franken’s behavior. I have trained myself in the distinctions that I think matter – the distinction between goofy and sexist, between inappropriate and offensive, between safety and danger. And if I were to draw a circle around what has mattered to me these many years, it would be around only that last word – danger. I worry about danger and wave off everything short of that. Everything else I can handle and I figure if I can handle it, it doesn’t matter.

#MeToo advocates say that the degrees of offense between putting one’s hand on someone’s ass and rape are distinctions without a difference and I have had a hard time wrapping my head around this. The legal system has degrees of sexual offense; why wouldn’t our societal norms? I pondered that until I realize it’s my desire to let some people off the hook and also justify my own disregard for these seemingly minor offenses. I have accommodated myself to these things, why hasn’t everyone else? That seems to have been my unconscious question. What’s with all these women that they can’t figure this stuff out?

So I keep hearing “it’s all the same!”and I keep thinking “no, there’s a difference.” And in thinking that I find I am standing in a sea of men like Matt Damon but also other decent men near and far who think the same way. They remember the things they’ve done, things they intended as friendly and meaningless, never really assigning any import to their behavior. Just a guy being friendly, overly friendly, and they don’t think of those things for a minute as what they fundamentally were – exercises of dominance. They did those things because they could.

So I figured this out today. My thinking about Al Franken and other of the lesser offenders is a manifestation of my own accommodation of the behavior of men throughout my life in which I worry only about that which is physically dangerous. Which is crazy. It isn’t all the same but it comes from the same place. Dominance, entitlement, ownership, privilege. Why would I accommodate that? Tolerate it? I wouldn’t. Except I have, but I don’t think I will anymore.

I’m a feminist but not a finished product. Never a finished product. I can evolve with the best of them. Just give me time to think it through.

7 Comments on “Working on It

  1. I’m a little reluctant to weigh on all of this, because I’m a man plus I’m a big guy with a background in sports like wrestling, and people don’t physically intimidate me. And I’m well aware how over the years thousands of women have been physically abused and even killed by abusive men. But in almost all of the hundreds of incidents that have come to light recently the victims weren’t in great physical danger. So Jan suggests at minimum to give the perp “the look.” A good start, but better yet why not slap the hell out of the guy and stalk out of the room? Yes, yes, I know sometimes you’re in real physical danger, but again, I don’t think that was an issue with this Weinstein or Matt Lauer. The other type of danger here, of course, was for working moms who needed their jobs. And what’s more complex was the women in show business who didn’t want to imperil their careers. So I don’t have the answers, other than that hopefully part of this watershed moment will be a signal to women that you don’t have to take this and more than that have a bit of an obligation not to, at least in situations where you’re not in danger. Except how exactly DO you react? That’s the issue Jan is raising.


  2. The reason I think so many women are saying “no distinction” is because at base level, it’s about boundaries–or rather, ignoring boundaries. That’s something most women I’ve worked with don’t do to men, but men do to women. It’s about feeling like you can–when really, you shouldn’t.


  3. This is a great piece. I have to wonder in what world do men think it is okay to put their hands on a woman’s ass, but like you say it is because they could.
    This isn’t related to your piece, but it is so disappointing to hear people that think that one saying #metoo, regardless of the experience, is worse than the wrong perpetrated against them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You did the parsing for me, Jan. I’ve trying to figure this out and why that friendly, goofy pat on the ass is not okay even if it doesn’t bother me. No more accommodating.


  5. interesting jan, i’ve been processing this in much the same order, and most likely for the same reasons. i’ve come to the place where i will not tolerate it from anyone, and you are right it has all come from a place of dominance and a feeling of power over someone else for myriad reasons.

    Liked by 1 person

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