The one Hollywood icon I will be SHOCKED to see on my post-Weinstein news feed …
Who do you think I’m going to say? Is it Tom Hanks? I bet it’s Tom Hanks. He’s pretty much the universal bar for nice guy behavior. But here’s the truth: I would be shocked at literally no one and neither should you. Why?
Reason #1: This is the society we live in
Are people really shocked when they read the types of sexual misconduct being described in the latest news? I’m not. I mean, you have one side of the spectrum being Harvey Weinstein with his team of spies to shoot down any accusations like he’s the human embodiment of Scientology. But what do we have moving towards the other and of the spectrum? Guys, kind of pathetically, taking their dicks out.
Why are we surprised by this? Haven’t we all had that happen at one point or another? Let me be clear: I’m not saying it’s a-OK for dudes to whip it out — pun intended — “willy nilly” but I AM wondering why we’ve all decided, as a society, to be shocked that a guy would take their dick out. We were laughing about it on Seinfeld back in the ‘90s. We were the ones knee-slapping at Louis CK’s show and stand-up routine mere months ago in which he all but admits he has committed sexual misconduct and definitely portrays himself as someone who does. Hell, we elected a FUCKING PRESIDENT who — let’s be honest — has definitely taken his dick out to an unsuspecting audience at some point.
So, why now? Have you just now realized that all of this is real and serious? (If so, I want your rose-colored glasses and/or drugs) Do you feel that celebrities should be held to a higher standard than we should? Is it because we want to look good? To be blameless? Well, guess what? Those guys you’re delighting about being busted on the news are human beings. YOU are a human being. This is not merely a Hollywood problem — it’s an everyone problem. And it’s up to us to fix it.
Reason #2: We refuse to teach young boys about consent and power
Do you think Louis CK went to some kind of special training to be a guy who takes his dick out? Nope. He just grew up in the world in which we currently live. And, while it must feel good to grab our chests and just say: “Oh, my WORD! I’m SHOCKED by this behavior!” I would assert that this statement is utter bullshit. All one has to do is look at the world around them to see that boys and men are being groomed themselves for this kind of behavior since infancy.
Have you ever caught yourself saying “Oh, how sweet!” when a young boy tries to kiss a girl his age? Or “boys will be boys?” I’m sure I’ve done it. These are the tropes we grew up with. Boys will be boys, and girls will be polite. If we want to do more than simply gape at the news and fake-righteously say these men are getting what they deserve, then we need to practice what we preach. One common thread I’ve seen in the men who have come forward is the sense that many of them did not understand that what they were doing was harmful. Many of these men thought it was a prelude to intimacy or even a courtship. Who do you think taught them that? WE fucking did.
We need to reframe the way in which we respond to boys from a young age. We need to teach them that, just because you are bigger, doesn’t mean you can exert power. We need to teach them that no means no always, even if that “kills the mood.” We need to teach them to ask first and wait for the answer. We need to teach them that a girl’s voice is just as strong as theirs is. Because, maybe then it will be true.
Reason #3: We are STILL teaching girls that their voice isn’t valid
I’m glad this sea change is happening and I genuinely hope that it will lead to women having a voice. But I don’t know that it will. Why is it that, throughout all of this, the bulk of the articles have been about the men committing harassment and not the women on the receiving end? Why, during this alleged attempt to give voices to survivors, are we essentially saying: “Wow, that’s awful. Okay, now shut up because I want to hear more about what a garbage person this guy is and his epic fall from grace!” It’s not happening everywhere but it’s still a common theme.
In order to make women’s voices valid, we need to MAKE THEM VALID. I know this sounds weird, but guys taking out their dicks isn’t the problem. Guys hitting on girls isn’t the problem. It’s the culture that we’ve created surrounding how women are allowed to respond to this.
Here’s an example: Theoretically, a man telling me to smile is not an issue. I should be able to say “no, thanks” or “that’s not what my face does naturally” or even just ignore him and move on. It’s an odd thing to tell someone to smile but it’s not inherently bad. What’s bad is the responses women get for trying to say no or ignore men. Suddenly, the tone changes. The man mutters “you don’t have to be such a bitch about it” or they might scream “DYKE!” as we cross the street, away from them. They might even stay, block your exit and force the issue. “I just want to see how pretty your face is when you smile!” See what happened there? In that scenario, a woman’s response isn’t valid. She is there to smile, to look pretty, to be polite and to do what you want her to do. This is the culture we’ve created and ALL of us — men and women — are perpetuating it.
Reason #4: We’re maintaining a polarized stance on issues of sex when we should be discussing its intricacies.
One problem with all of this is that it describes behavior that isn’t bad when between consenting parties. The reason rape and sexual misconduct can be so hard to prosecute is because there is a form of it that can be consensual between adults over the age of consent. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a case of “consensual stabbing,” although after that German cannibal who knows, right?
Over and over again, I hear the response: “Why didn’t she say anything?” and then comes the inevitable angry reply: “Why should SHE have to say anything? She’s in a vulnerable position!” What I don’t hear a lot of is frank and constructive discussions about how we can interact with members of our preferred sex/gender/identity without making them feel victimized. If we don’t want men and women (and in particular trans men and women) to be in the position of victim, we all have to be party to a change in our responses to people when they say they are uncomfortable.
We need to stop saying things like: “Can’t you take a joke?” but we also need to stop saying “That person is a victim whether or not they know it.” The former devalues what a victim states about their own body, and the latter does as well. There are of course situations in which people are unable to legally consent to sexual acts, such as children under the age of 16, 17 or 18 (depending on the state) and especially children under 14. The problem with both of these responses is that they strip the voice away from the victim in regards to their own body. I know we love to feel righteous when we assign victimhood, but when we tell women that they have been victims as if they are too stupid to know it, we hijack their truth and experience just as when people tell them to “calm down” or “relax” when their personal space and body are violated.
So, here’s the thing: if you’d like to pretend to be shocked and enjoy the sweet, sweet downfall of Hollywood men, that’s your prerogative. If you’d like to bust out the popcorn and tell yourself that what’s happening right now is a righteous fall of Gods, that is your right. But I would implore you as I implore myself to think about the climate we need to create to make real change in the toxic dynamics between men and woman (by birth or no).
First, I think we need to be ready to accept atonement from people born out of this culture. For some, that will come in the form of a prison sentence, for others, it might be a sincere apology. I don't expect victims to be part of this arrangement if they don’t want to. Victims can choose to forgive if it helps them heal, and none of us should have control over that. But we do have control over ourselves. Men may not deserve “cookies” (an expression I’ve grown to quickly detest this year) for coming out and admitting sexism, misconduct or even assault, but listening to their apologies and offering them a way to change is the best way to see that change through.
Second, I think we all need to hold ourselves responsible for the next step. How will we teach our children, and what will we encourage schools to teach them? How will we dismantle toxic masculinity by allowing boys to be sensitive and how will we give girls a voice by amplifying it and having faith in their life — their potential? We make thousands of decisions when we interact with children (both as parents and on the outside). We won’t always get it right. But let’s try and make those decisions a positive rather than a negative learning experience. Let’s stop telling boys they can’t wear skirts and play with dolls, and let’s stop referring to girls as bossy when they speak up. Let’s share with the next generations that we value our differences and that we value their right to their own body. Children listen to us when we tell them who they are. Let’s give them the right answers and then, just maybe, someday we will live in a world when this shit doesn’t cross our feed every single day.
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Thanks for reading!