(From Yale Alumni Magazine‘s classified ads, current issue)
In Spanish an old lech or pervert is called a “viejo verde,” or a green old man. I used to think this was funny because I was so accustomed to normalizing the harassing behaviors of men imposing themselves on women in public and private spaces. I basically thought, of course there will be old perverts, of course we have to protect ourselves and others from them, of course, of course, of course. It took me until I was 27 or 28 to take these issues seriously—to understand the ways in which the men who engage in sexual harassment and assault cloak themselves in the “no big deal” protections they have always been afforded—and to stop accepting harassment as a given.
The spate of reporting about Weinstein and so many others over this past month (and, of course, about the assaulter-in-chief ) suggests that we in the United States are at least starting to come to terms with the myriad ways in which we have indulged grown men’s felonies and misdemeanors through our undervaluing of girls’ and women’s humanity (and, in not a few cases, boys’ and transgender individuals’ humanity). Somehow, we see men as the smart adults who get to run the world, while also constantly surrendering to a boys-will-be-boys narrative that implies that men are just victims of their own animal drives. I recognize this as both binary and Manichean, but, somehow, men get to have it both ways (treated with seriousness and respect and indulged when they commit actual crimes), and women get to have it in no ways (undercut in professional and personal settings and disbelieved when they state difficult truths). Go back and read 17th-century poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz for an artful catalog of these unjust social mores, and then come on back to the 21st century to see how little has changed. Even the Weinstein avalanche doesn’t make up for centuries of not caring, not reporting, not attending to profound, gender-based mistreatment.
This month’s reporting has been over the top, maybe precisely because sexual harassment and assault have been so woefully under-reported for centuries. I doubt many of us have been able to keep up. Here are a few references whose content has informed this blog post: Rebecca Traister in The Cut (11-13-17); Roy Moore accused by the fifth woman (The New York Times, 11-13-17); Jessica Valenti in The Guardian writing about Louis CK, Roy Moore, and #MeToo (11-10-17); Manohla Dargis in The New York Times, “Louis C.K. and Hollywood’s Canon of Creeps” (11-12-17); Karen Tumulty et.al. on Trump and his accusers (The Washington Post, 10-21-17) and Jia Tolentino on the same (The New Yorker, 11-9-17); Jessica Bennett on the “tsunami” of the Weinstein scandal (The New York Times, 11-5-17); James Hohmann on Roy Moore and the GOP (The Washington Post, 11-10-17); Yamiche Alcindor on sexual harassment in the House and Senate (The New York Times, 11-13-17), also reported on here in The Washington Post (10-27-17); sexual harassment and assault in higher education since Weinstein (The Chronicle of Higher Education; 11-13;17); Laurie Penny’s “The Unforgiving Minute” (Longreads, November, 2017); gender discrimination in the tech industry (The New Yorker, 11-20-17); The New York Times’ listing of men accused of sexual misconduct (11-13-17); today’s reporting about the #WeKnowWhatYouDid campaign at Spelman; in this older article from Forbes, recently making the social media rounds, John Grisham soft-pedals pedophilia (10-16-14). I could go on, but this sampling certainly demonstrates the pervasiveness of the problem and the variety of reporting angles available to us.
The women (and others) using the #MeToo, #MeAt14, and #WeKnowWhatYouDid hashtags are making the still-important point that most societies across the globe have indulged harassing behaviors, including the felony of sexual assault and rape, for most of their existence. #MeToo allows us to see the abundance of cases and the pervasiveness of these power plays, while also revealing the detail and texture of each of the individual stories told. #MeAt14 stories make clear that, just like 14-year-olds of all genders, 14-year-old girls are not yet adults and should not be hunted, fished, baited, or otherwise treated like animals, especially not by adults, whom they might still believe are to be trusted. #WeKnowWhatYouDid acknowledges that most reporting and adjudication mechanisms still harm victims of sexual harassment and assault and are therefore still far from effective or efficient.
When I was four or five years old and playing in my backyard, a 12-year-old pulled down his pants and asked me, “if I wanted to piss with him.” This was somewhat frightening, and I told only my oldest brother, who then told my parents. When they reported the incident to the police, a police officer came to our house and asked me to “show him” what had happened. This was far more frightening to me than the initial event, which reminds me again that we still have much more work to do to make reporting and adjudication as non-threatening and non-punishing as possible. When I was 12, my parents took some of us kids to the holiday concert at the school where my dad taught. As we navigated the crowded bleachers, someone shoved his hand up my skirt and grabbed me between the legs. I was in absolute shock, I didn’t know which of the coat-and-tie high-school boys had done it, and so I shoved the one on the end into the one next to him, attempting some sort of lame game of dominoes in my surprise, anger, and hurt. I told no one because I didn’t even know how to articulate what that was. When I was 13, my basketball coach felt us all up as he showed us techniques for foul shots. A foul shot, indeed, especially when we actually joked about it in front of our parents, and no one did anything. I should mention that the person was also a guidance counselor at our middle school. When I was in college, a friend of a friend wouldn’t leave our apartment, pulled a Louis C.K., and then left. When I saw him at the friend’s wedding a few years later, I re-experienced the shock I had felt back in college. In a mega-city in another country, I embarked with friends on the metro, the most crowded metro car I had ever been on. As I held my purse tight to me with one hand and held the upper bar of the metro car with my other hand, hands were all over my body. I had nowhere to go. There was not an inch of open space to move into. I exited the metro at the very next stop, which was not my intended destination. My exit from the car was as violating as the ride had been. Two weeks ago, my daughter and I were at a hotel. As we took the elevator back up to our room, two drunk men hopped on and leered at my daughter, while I half-backed her into the corner behind me. She is 12 years old.
The photograph you see above is from Yale Alumni Magazine’s classified advertisements. This ad invites older men to “find” women 10-30 (+) years their juniors. For many men, that makes the “women” they are “finding” underage—not women, but girls who should be allowed to develop fully before making their own decisions about their bodies and sexual selves. What other media corners are selling, trafficking, raping, and assaulting women and thereby reducing our collective humanity? Why aren’t we calling them out more? When is enough enough?
There should be no turning back. We all know these stories. We know these people. They are committing crimes, and we do not have to let them. No more making light of the viejo verde, the old perv, the neighborhood lech, the harassing movie producer or comedian, the groping politician, or the raping swim or gymnastics coach. No more (and no Moore).