How many men have been felled by the #MeToo movement? 100? 150? Hardly significant. The infamous Hollywood blacklist that was a direct result of the House Un-American Activities Committee snared at least 300 people. On the other extreme, the Salem Witch Trials couldn’t have gotten more than 20 or so, but you have to grade on a curve – as a percentage of population they really hit the ball out of the park with that one.
As moral panics go this one is only in its infancy, and that is in large part because it is closer to the “moral” side than usual. There are legitimate grievances and concerns driving this movement, which have been ignored and belittled for far too long, and that is not something I am ignoring or in any way trying to justify. The issue I am trying to address is the oft-cited concern of “men claiming to be victims” or “why do men think they have a right to be scared” or “if you haven’t done anything wrong you don’t have anything to be afraid of”. Well as a matter of fact sometimes men are victims, all men do have a right to be scared, and I’ll be sure to let the DA know you’ve waived your rights because you’re innocent.
Why are men claiming to be victims? Surely not for the same women that women are coming forward to tell their stories! Well – that’s the interesting thing. If you go all the way back to the very beginning of the #MeToo movement, you might remember before things got steamrolled into this becoming about women being abused by men, this was about survivors of sexual assault telling their stories. Did you notice how that was gender neutral? If not I couldn’t blame you, because apparently neither did the media or most anyone else. Some famous examples would be Terry Crews, James Van Der Beek, and Brendan Fraser. I’ve even had a few uncomfortable experiences myself with both men and women that I don’t know rise to the level of sexual assault, but definitely stick with me even now decades later. And no I don’t want to share them, thanks for asking. I realize this isn’t the victimization among men that is being complained about on social media or in the news, and in some ways that’s even worse, because this isn’t being talked about.
But let’s talk about what is happening. Some men (#notallmen) feel they are already being victimized because there is a movement to #BelieveSurvivors. Not just in their families, their friends, or their support communities, but in workplace disputes, on college campuses, and in our legal system. Let us not forget the highest court in the land, the Court of Public Opinion, in the person of High Justice Social Media. In the absence of directly contradictory evidence, the new normal is to believe an accusation as whole truth. As opposed to the old normal, which was to bury, ignore, downplay, evade, minimize, shame, and in every way possible prevent women (and men) from coming forward with an accusation in the first place. So the impulse is understandable; the pendulum has swung the other way.
But this comes with its own issues. As noted by columnist Emily Yoffe:
We don’t even have to imagine the dangers of a system based on automatic belief—Britain recently experienced a national scandal over such policies. After widespread adoption of a rule that law enforcement must believe reports of sexual violation, police failed to properly investigate claims and ignored exculpatory evidence. Dozens of prosecutions collapsed as a result, and the head of an organization of people abused in childhood urged that the police return to a neutral stance. Biased investigations and prosecutions, he said, create miscarriages of justice that undermine the credibility of all accusers.
So let’s talk about why men might feel scared. This comes back to questions of power and privilege. Often these sort of discussions seem to be oversimplified where you live in one of two camps: Privilege or Oppression, and you never get to move between the two. But life really isn’t like that. In media and social media, which is where many men are getting their impressions and knowledge of this latest front of the culture war, Men are cast as a homogenous group that exists perpetually in the camp of Privilege, and is often used as shorthand for “Rich Straight White Cisgender Middle Aged Ivy League College Educated Married Family Career Man”. The average man looks at that caricature and says “that’s not me! I don’t have any of that privilege!” Because he sees that he’s not rich, he didn’t go to an Ivy school (or maybe didn’t go to college at all), and maybe he doesn’t have a family, there’s a good chance he isn’t above middle management at best, and all that is assuming he’s white, straight and cisgender, which is invisible to him (yes, I know that’s the nature of privilege, but work with me here).
So he’s being lumped in with these powerful men, far more powerful than he is, and they are having their lives destroyed over an accusation. No, I’m not talking about the ones like Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby who either admitted to it or got their day in court. I’m talking about guys like Al Franken, who welcomed a Senate Ethics Committee but was hounded into resigning before he got one. And sadly some men do end up empathizing with men like Brett Kavanaugh, who may not be guilty of what he has been accused of by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford but I for one believe is guilty of lying under oath.
But really, what’s the worst thing that happens to Brett Kavanaugh? He doesn’t get to be on the Supreme Court? Actually, the worst thing that happens to Brett Kavanaugh, assuming no formal charges are brought against him, is that he is impeached from his current position as a Circuit Court Judge, he’s already lost his teaching position at Harvard and likely won’t be teaching anywhere else again. And all of that with nothing but an accusation.
And that sort of smug “the worst that happens to” pronouncement by many #BelieveSurvivors supporters is the sort of thing that drives men to be scared. Because they start to think about “what’s the worst that can happen” to themselves. And they think about stories they have heard from friends – stories from bad divorces, vindictive ex-girlfriends, ruthless coworkers – stories that may be one-sided, may be exaggerated, may not even be true. And who would even believe those stories anyway? Those are uncorroborated accusations that may be years or even decades old, after all. But maybe they have some truth to them. And they realize that powerful men of privilege are having their lives destroyed over an accusation. And they themselves are not powerful men of privilege.
But hey, they haven’t done anything wrong, so there’s nothing to be afraid of. Just like every story they heard from all of their friends. Just like everyone who appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Just like Giles Corey had nothing to be afraid of. Justice is swift so long as you only give weight to one side of the story.
I cry “more weight”.
To this point I have (with great restraint) avoided voicing any sort of opinion on the Kavanaugh controversy, and I will continue to do so, except to say that I believe very strongly that the best course of action is to investigate the allegations seriously so as to avoid any uncertainty in the event that Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed.
Democrats also need to accept the reality before them, which is that even if Kavanaugh is not confirmed (whether he withdraws or is down-voted), the very real likelihood is that there will be another conservative justice on the court. The only way this wouldn’t happen is the near-impossible confluence of events whereby the current nomination is dragged out past the current election cycle, Democrats take over the Senate, they manage to keep any and all vacancies open for two full years, and then keep control of the Senate and win the White House. Impossible? Stranger things may have happened, but not by much.
What I am interested in however is the discussion that is not happening. Once again we are being presented, by both sides, with the rankest sort of hypocrisy, and nobody is being called out on it because it is politically unfeasible to do so. Without getting into the specifics of “did he or didn’t he”, “is she telling the truth or is she lying”, my concern is with the way both sides have already taken a stance on whether a person’s actions as a teenager should determine their fitness for higher office (much) later in life. This is particularly galling as in their standard approach to criminal justice the left and the right tend to have opposite stances to the approach they are taking in this case.
Liberals tend to be very much in favor of rehabilitation over incarceration, with the eventual goal being reintegration into society. Judging someone in their fifties by a crime they committed in their teens, let alone something they were merely accused of committing, is seen as a horrendous offense…usually.
Lest anyone think I am letting Conservatives off the hook, think again. Conservatives cast themselves as “law and order”, with incarceration being the law and “paying your debt to society” being the order. Like a loan shark that debt never seems to quite get paid in full for most people once you get under the thumb of Johnny Law… unless you happen to be of the privileged class. “Pearl clutching” and “NIMBY” are phrases that seem to have been tailor-made to go hand-in-hand for these folks.
Consider then that this year and in the years to follow we have hundreds if not thousands of individuals on both sides of the political divide who could be considered nominees for political office. With that in mind, I have a few questions I would like to pose to them:
- If someone were accused of a misdemeanor as a minor, should they be able to vote?
- Should they be able to hold any public office?
- What if it was a nonviolent felony?
- What if it was a violent felony?
- What if they were convicted?
- Same questions as above, only the crimes occurred when they were an adult.
- If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, is there any specific limit of time they need to wait? Are there any actions they need to take beyond serving their sentence if any (e.g. restitution) before they would be eligible?
Feel free to make your answers as short or as long as you like, but please none of the usual dodging or bloviating. Everyone seems both eager and capable enough to take a clear stand on whether or not they believe and support either Judge Kavanaugh or his accusers. Just this once it would be nice to get that kind of clarity on something else.