Sorry, or Not: How Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct React
Ever since the #MeToo revolution began sweeping America, and women emerged from the shadows to publicly accuse men of sexual harassment, rape, workplace misconduct and many other abuses, I’ve shrunk like a coward without a clue of what to say or write.
The fear from here was that I would be labeled a shill for patriarchy by expressing doubts or criticizing aspects of the almost daily drumbeat of women telling their stories of abuse, some of which resulted in the toppling of powerful men, or set off social media conflagrations.
As a cop out, my Facebook timeline became a home for the commentaries, most by women, that targeted the primary excess of #MeToo: The perceived conflation of men who behaved inappropriately with men who raped, stalked, sexually abused or hurt the livelihoods of women who rejected them.
Hiding behind female critics of the revolution was the safest way to passively be a shill for patriarchy.
Last week the story about Aziz Ansari, the comic actor, ignited the latest debate. He was publicly shamed by a young woman, 23, who felt abused while dating the award-winning creator and star of “Master of None,” a popular Netflix comedy. She is a photographer. Her story, told by Katie Way, 22, appeared on the website babe.net. She was not identified. Called “Grace,” her story was titled “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned out to be the worst night of my life.”
For me, this was the last straw. Ansari didn’t commit a crime. He wasn’t Harvey Weinstein, the now notorious film producer accused of terrorizing well-known actresses for decades. He wasn’t Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer or Tavis Smiley, who lost lucrative and lofty news media jobs after being accused of abusing their power to coerce female subordinates into sexual relationships.
What’s the worst one could say about Ansari’s conduct? The 34-year-old TV star was a cad for treating his date like a piece of meat during what he may have thought was a “hook up” between consenting adults? How many times has that happened in the history of dating? Commenters weighed in, wondering what did the young woman think was going to happen when she agreed to accompany a famous guy back to his place?
That’s essentially what Ashleigh Banfield said on CNN’s HLN last week, in a pretty harsh critique of Ansari’s victim. Caitlin Flanagan also emphasized this point in a hotly debated commentary in the Atlantic that quickly found its way to my timeline.
Banfield and Flanagan provided cover for men like me. And there it was: It was the victim’s fault and now we worried about the destruction of Ansari’s career, which is an odd place for me to find myself because I’ve never watched anything he’s ever done.
Way scorched Banfield in an email that went public, mocking Banfield’s appearance and age. Well, that was it.
My narrative was set: These are spoiled, reckless kids crying wolf and ruining Ansari’s career when all he did was misread the situation when taking a young chick back to his place. How dare Way make fun of Banfield’s appearance because Banfield called her out? In my mind, Ansari magically was now cast as the victim.
Then on the the ride home from work this week, I was listening to the radio and heard the words of Kyle Stephens – one of nearly 100 gymnasts molested by Larry Nassar, the former team doctor of the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. Last week, many of Nassar’s victims told their victim-impact statements before Nassar’s sentencing. He pleaded guilty to molesting dozens of girls. Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence. Stephens said Nassar began molesting her when she was 6. When she told her parents, they believed Nassar. And when the truth was later revealed, Stephens’ father committed suicide.
“You convinced my parents that I was a liar,” Stephens said to Nassar in open court.
As heinous as his crimes were, Nassar initially was viewed by some as the victim when allegations surfaced against him. And though Ansari’s case is far different and should be viewed in its own context, the lesson from the horrific U.S. gymnastics molestation scandal remains the same.
Why not listen to the accusation of the woman before looking for ways to dismiss it, debunk it or blame her? How does the Ansari situation look when framed by that question?
Yes, according to the account of the victim – and Ansari’s own response – the actor did seem to view his date as an object, and treated her that way. Did he rape her? No. Did he get her an Uber when she said she felt uncomfortable and wanted to go home? Yes. Did he behave toward the young woman in a way that anyone would wish for their daughters? No way.
It wasn’t criminal, but it wasn’t cool either. Just because it wasn’t a crime, doesn’t change that it was wrong.
Way was crass in hitting back at Banfield in an email. The #MeToo movement can seem harsh at times, too. But that’s the nature of revolution and protest. It’s not supposed to be polite. It’s not supposed to easygoing. And every American protest movement is lambasted by those it makes uncomfortable. But that’s the point – to change the status quo, shake some out of a comfort zone of accepting or ignoring the plight of those who are standing up to power and finding theirs.
The message that Way and the victim of her story delivered is one we need to hear: Men shouldn’t treat women the way Ansari treated his date. It doesn’t mean he should lose his career. And when I checked my Netflix guide, his show is still listed. Aside from Twitter trolls, most reasonable people can tell the difference between what Weinstein and Ansari did.
Hopefully, the young actor will be more aware, a better person, on his next date and remember that in that situation, he was wealthy and powerful and the young woman with him was not. Hopefully, he’ll be kind and more respectful.
That’s the power of #MeToo. It’s a revolution changing minds and attitudes. It’s not about ruining careers of men. It’s about insisting that sexual abuse in all forms is no longer tolerated. What’s wrong with that message? Nothing. The problem is with people who resist it.