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The Sam Kriss Problem

The latest witch-hunt is against “male feminists”

The fallout from the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal includes a flurry of career-killing accusations of sexual misconduct leveled at leftist men. British freelance writer Sam Kriss was dropped by Vice following a Facebook allegation of sexual harassment (or assault) that went viral and his own admission and apology. About 24 hours later, GQ writer Richard Myers suffered the same fate after a sexual assault accusation. Then, Vox editor Lockhart Steele was fired over charges of sexual misconduct (apparently, an inappropriate sexual relationship with a former employee).

This has occasioned not a little gloating on the right and in “anti-SJW” (“social justice warrior”) circles.

The schadenfreude is understandable. Both Kriss and Myers had positioned themselves as feminist allies; less than two years ago, Myers had self-righteously assailed men’s rights activists (“cave-dwelling idiots”) for denying the existence of “rape culture” and talking about false rape allegations. When these men are brought down by allegations of sexual assault, the reaction from anti-PC quarters is much like the gloating from liberals and progressives when a preacher or politician who thunders against enemies of traditional family values gets caught in an extramarital — or, better yet, gay — tryst. In each case, the alleged misdeeds are also seen as proof that the loudest “virtue-signalers” are actually the worst offenders.

But no matter how sweet someone else’s karma may taste, the problem of sexual witch-hunts remains.

“Accusation equals guilt” is still a problem. Defining sexual assault/sexual harassment so broadly as to include vast swathes of boorish behavior, miscommunication, and murky happenings in the real world of private relationships is still a problem (one that has very little to do with sexual predators like Weinstein). And certainly, career destruction by innuendo is still a problem.

Let’s start with Sam Kriss.

On Tuesday, an anonymous woman inspired by the #MeToo hashtag posted an account of “sexual harassment and sexual aggression” by Kriss to a Facebook group called “Monitoring the left’s support for r pe culture.” (Yes, “r pe.”) The gist of this account is that when the author was on her third date with Kriss and they went to the theater, he behaved aggressively throughout the evening, repeatedly kissing her against her will, twisting her neck to bring her mouth closer to his, trying to make her drink alcohol despite her repeated refusals, pressuring her to come back to his house for sex, and then groping her breasts and buttocks at a bus stop before she went home.

In response, Kriss posted his own statement, apologizing and calling his own behavior “absolutely unacceptable.” He proceeded, however, to offer “some context” to make his actions “more explicable if not more excusable”: namely, that at the time of the third date, he and his accuser “had an existing sexual relationship and “had been messaging intimately and frequently.” He went on to say:

Had I known the extent to which I was making her uncomfortable at this point I would not have pursued it further. Again, this is entirely my fault, for not being properly attentive and not picking up on her signals. I crossed a line from persistence to aggression; I’m fully responsible, and I’m sorry.

After the incident, she continued to message me amicably for months, including suggesting that we might meet again, until other divisions became apparent. Because of this I had no idea that I might have hurt or upset her. If I had, I would have apologised immediately. Again, this is not to suggest that she misled me, but that I did not realise the impact of my actions.

Needless to say, left-wing Twitter was not kind.

Feminist member of parliament Jess Phillips went so far as to state that Kriss’ “confession” should be grounds for imprisonment.

Now: of course forced sexual contact is a crime, regardless of a pre-existing or existing sexual relationship. But the idea that an existing relationship is irrelevant to whether and when touching a woman’s breasts is sexual assault is frankly bonkers. It is also worth noting that if Kriss is telling the truth about the prior sexual relationship (and so far, his assertion has not been challenged), the woman withheld a highly relevant detail; indeed, in that context, her mention of telling Kriss she was seeing someone else is arguably misleading, since it implies that she was not sexually available. This suggests at least some degree of bad faith.

Is Kriss admitting to the entirety of his accuser’s account? It’s hard to tell. The truth is that the same events can subjectively appear very different to different people, especially in as fraught an area as sexual interaction. The truth is also that the woman’s own story reveals plenty of mixed signals.

Here’s how it goes according to her: Kriss starts kissing her in the small crowded theater before the start of the play; she says, “jokingly, but also seriously,” that maybe they shouldn’t kiss because “we might make the old folk jealous of our youthful affections.” He dismisses this with a joke from The Producers (“I say, if you’ve got it, flaunt it”) and moves to kiss her again, despite her saying that she doesn’t like public displays of affection. After someone behind them makes a sound of disgust and she says that “people can see,” he desists — until the lights go dark and “he again somehow found my mouth with his during those few seconds of darkness before the play began.” While she says that he physically hurt her when turning her head toward him, there is no indication that she said anything (like “Hey, that hurts”).

During the break, the woman goes to buy a sandwich and Kriss offers to get her a drink from the bar; she asks for orange juice, but he insists on getting her wine and repeatedly flicks his finger against the glass, saying “Drink.” Finally, he drinks the wine himself. After the play, he asks her to come to the pub for a drink. She says she wanted to get away without “pissing him off” because:

Sam and I know lots of mutual people, we both exist on the Marxist far-Left. He’s a writer for Vice, the Guardian, various other outlets. … I didn’t want ‘any trouble’ then or later. Sam is, by his own words, from an incredibly wealthy, well-connected background, and therefore compared to me, very powerful.

At the pub, he tries to get the bartender to add vodka to his companion’s orange juice despite her objections (whether he succeeds or not is unclear). For a while, they drink uneventfully outside, sitting across the table from each other. Then they’re told that outside seating is finished and move inside, where Kriss makes another attempt to kiss the woman.

“I really don’t want to do this here and now”. “But look, they’re doing it!” he said, pointing at a couple in the corner sucking-face like there was no tomorrow.

“I guess they maybe feel out of view in the corner, or something”, at which point Sam grabbed my arm and led me over to seats at the side wall of the pub.

There was more general grabbing, pressing his mouth against mine and even putting his hand on my breasts. I grimaced, put up with the kissing, but freaked out at the breast touching, pulling away. How is touching someone’s breasts in public normal?! Are women in pubs sex show fodder for onlookers?! I wish I’d caused a scene, but I was so embarrassed at this car crash of an evening and felt worried what Sam might do. I got up to go to the loo, Sam smacking my backside, hard, as I walked past. I felt as if trapped in some sort of hyper heterosexist hellscape.

The woman writes that after coming back from the bathroom, she sat away from Kriss and they talked for another hour before she finally said she had to catch the bus home (rebuffing his maneuvers to get her to back to his place instead). She says there was more aggressive kissing and groping at the bus stop, in front of other people; while she says she was mortified, she makes no mention of asking or telling him to stop. Instead, she says that she moved to “the doorway behind the bus stop” — but Kriss took this as a signal that she wanted more privacy and intimacy, and actually slipped his hands underneath her top to touch her breasts. She writes that she protested verbally; since she does not accuse Kriss of ignoring her protests, I assume that he stopped.

Maybe Sam Kriss is a boorish jerk with no respect for women’s boundaries. Or maybe his accuser’s account is somewhat one-sided and understates the level of reciprocity in their interactions (not even because she’s lying but because of selective and subjective memory). It is worth noting that by the woman’s own account, she objected to Kriss’ physical advances only on the grounds that people could see them and did not, for instance, refuse to move to the seats by the wall.

Re-reading this account, I still don’t see any reason Kriss’ accuser could not have simply told him after the play that she was tired and wanted to go home — or even, for that matter, that she found his behavior obnoxious and was not interested in any further intimacies. Yes, I know that many of the women who say they were sexually assaulted by Weinstein admit they tried to placate him, on those occasions and afterward. But Weinstein was a Hollywood mogul with the power to make or break careers (and, apparently, with the habit of explicitly reminding women of that fact). The fact that Kriss and his accuser moved in the same circles and that he wrote for “big” publications and came from a wealthy background doesn’t quite cut it. Imagine for a moment that the roles were reversed and that a man posted in the #MeToo hashtag, claiming he felt compelled to humor his obnoxious (female) date for the very same reasons. He’d be sternly told not to insult women with spurious claims of victimhood.

Again: it’s entirely possible that Kriss behaved like a domineering jerk and his accuser submitted to his coercive attentions only because she felt intimidated or lacked the assertiveness to shut him down. It’s also possible that, once the two of them had a falling out over “other divisions” (more on which in a moment), she retroactively edited that evening in her memory, exaggerating his pushiness while downplaying her own positive or mixed signals. Note that, while the woman says she continued to follow Kriss on Twitter and remained a Facebook friend only in order to keep track of his whereabouts so as to avoid being at the same events, Kriss portrays their subsequent interaction quite differently. Once again, she has not disputed his claim.

And those “other divisions”? Ironically, while much of the gloating over Kriss’ downfall comes from his status as a “male feminist” and “SJW,” his accuser sees him as anything but. In the very first paragraph, she writes that her decision to come forward was prompted by watching Kriss “unashamedly attack feminists online, use misogynist language, singling out women for ridicule time and time again.” I assume she means things like Kriss’ repeated swipes at Hillary Clinton, or his mockery of the supremely idiotic website Everyday Feminism.

(Over year ago, Kriss was also attacked as a racist for writing a rather mean-spirited takedown of TV astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson.)

Don’t get me wrong: I have very little love for Sam Kriss. For instance, these absolutely vile posts cheering for the brutalities of the Cultural Revolution make me feel that any unjust punishment he may suffer for ideological crimes is indeed karma:

But is his defenestration for “sexual assault” unfair punishment? Yes, I absolutely think so. It is a rather stark example of how, in the post-Weinstein era — and even before that, really — complex, ambiguous, gray-area interactions between men and women get reduced to male villainy and female victimhood. And Kriss’ confession and apology is a stark example of how demeaning this new dispensation really is to women: if a woman gives mixed signals and the man misreads them, it’s entirely his fault.

As for Myers: his accuser, journalist Kate Leaver, says that she agreed to “go to a friendly drink” with him and was “very clear about not being romantically or sexually interested in him, once the subject was raised,” suggesting that they be “mates.” In her words, “He said ‘I’ve got enough mates, I’d rather fuck you’ and forced himself on me outside a pub in Fitzrovia.” It’s unclear what “forced himself” means; presumably a kiss or attempted kiss, since Leaver says that she initially felt her experience wasn’t that bad and wasn’t worth talking about. A second woman said that she had an “uncomfortable” experience with Myers, who was “creepy” when she met him for a drink as a college student, during an event on her campus.

If nothing else, Myers was a married man hitting on women; as such, he doesn’t cut a particularly sympathetic figure. But once again: try a reverse-the-genders experience. Would a married woman exposed for coming on to men be condemned, or would be seen as a sympathetic victim of slut-shaming?

There will probably be more left-wing male casualties of the current moral panic. It’s entirely possible that some of them will be genuine sex offenders or at least sexual harassers. It’s also entirely possible that some of them will be innocent, or guilty only under a ludicrously broad and paternalistic definition of sexual assault.

Conservatives and “anti-SJWs” who are tempted to cheer should resist the temptation. In this witch-hunt, we all lose.

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