(Summary headlines from The New York Times, 12-15-17)
I need to write about how 2017 kicked my ass month in and month out, but I will save that for next week.
I’m saving the story of 2017 kicking my ass for next week because, well, it is still kicking my ass. Take a look at the images above, a partial list of headlines from the December 15th (2017) edition of The New York Times. There is no end to the list of harassers and assaulters, and yet there also seems to be a long line of doubters, some of whom are boasting, jousting doubters who are causing a backlash against the women who have me-too-ed.
This past week, my family and I had the good fortune of seeing many family members and friends for the holidays. We are lucky to want to see so many people and always feel like we come up short, like we wish we had another week to finish the conversations and start some new ones. This year was no exception, but I did hear some conversations in big-group settings that I wish I hadn’t heard.
Men from my father’s generation think that women and men will never be on the same page and that the #MeToo business proves this. They think that women have gotten uppity in their quest to rupture gender role expectations. They have no idea what non-binary means, and they really don’t want to know. They long for the days when things were simpler, when men could stroke, grope, and fondle and women just shut up about it. These particular men in my conversation don’t necessarily want to wantonly stroke, grope, and fondle, but they certainly don’t want to have to hear any complainin’ about other men’s stroking, groping, and fondling. Mostly, they long for the days when men could stroke, grope, and fondle and never question whether it was right or wrong. They definitely don’t want the words “stroking,” “groping,” and “fondling” to be replaced with “harassing,” “attacking,” and “assaulting.” That’s just over the top. Too much, I tell you. It’s time to restore some balance and civility and let the strokes, gropes, and fondles fall where they may.
Men from my own generation want to gather to talk about not riding elevators with women. They have had the Human Resources training. They have read about Harvey Weinstein. They want to maintain their sexist work cultures without the threat of being accused of sexual harassment. They want to believe that sexual harassment and sexual assault are confusing and nuanced concepts. They don’t know it, but they want to become Mike Pence and never dine with any woman who isn’t their wife (remember: that’s most women). After all, any random woman on an elevator might accuse them of sexual harassment. They don’t know how to be alone in an elevator with a woman because who knows what exactly sexual harassment is? If they’re pushing buttons to get to the fourth floor, is that sexual harassment? If they say hello to the other person in the elevator, is that sexual harassment? I mean, who really knows? How can you know? Is it possible they could just say, “Hi. How are you?” and then not stroke, grope, or fondle another person on the elevator? If they could succeed in doing that, they might be able to assure themselves that this is not sexual harassment.
Many men from a generation younger than me seemed to actually get it. Huzzah! They understood that women and men are professionals. They understand that most professionals prefer not to be stroked, groped, fondled, propositioned, or otherwise harassed or assaulted at work. They read articles and books about these issues, but mostly they talk to their friends, some of whom are cis-women, some of whom are trans-women, and all of whom do not want to be stroked, groped, fondled, propositioned, harassed, or assaulted. They all seem to know what these words mean. They know how to ride in elevators and greet other human beings. They know how to respect body autonomy, work etiquette, and human decency.
Nevertheless, one topic that still too few people are addressing is the assaulter-in-chief in the White House. (*See this Gender Shrapnel Blog post that treats yet again why Trump must go.) The more the old guys wax nostalgic about when women put up and shut up, the more the middle-aged guys worry that they might suddenly start masturbating on an elevator, the more we understand how so many people have indulged the assaulter-in-chief for so long, from long before his Russian-rigged run to the present day. Accusing Trump of loudly admiring or detracting, stroking, groping, fondling, harassing, and assaulting—women and girls—might require people to assess what they themselves have done to others, what they themselves have indulged in others, and/or what they themselves have allowed others to do to them. None of it is good.
2018 requires rigorous self-evaluation. Figure out what you’ve done wrong, and then don’t do it again. You can do this. You can ride the elevator and just say “hello.” You can work with women and appreciate their good work. You can eat meals with people and move through an agenda. You really can.