Tuesday, November 21, 2017

I'm a 'Me Too' Bystander

In light of the "Me Too" phenomenon, I came across an interesting story in my old journals while I was transcribing them on Saturday. Here's part of the entry, from Oct. 6, 2000. Names have been changed!

I did have a really good talk with Simon a couple of nights ago. He told me a story about making a move on Jeff L. back when he supervised Jeff -- and how Simon was then scared he'd be fired. Poor Simon. Jeff, needless to say, rejected his advances.

What struck me about this is that I seemed to take it pretty casually -- the fact that a friend of mine had sexually harassed one of his employees. Obviously, in talking about it at the time, we both knew it was wrong. I was aware of the hazards of getting involved with anyone I worked with, and I was aware of sexual harassment in general. But isn't it curious that I apparently sympathized more with my harassing friend in this situation than with the harassed employee! "Poor Simon" indeed!

I suppose that reaction makes some sense, since I knew Simon better than Jeff. I obviously found the story scandalous enough to write it down. I have no idea now what "making a move" meant -- what Simon did, or where he did it.

As long as we're talking about "Me Too," though, let me just say there are things that bother me about it. Obviously in some circumstances a harasser's behavior was so outrageous that it's beyond the pale. It could never have been seen as acceptable, even in an era of less stringent rules about sexual behavior. Bill Cosby drugging women, for example, or an adult Kevin Spacey jumping on a 14-year-old -- in any recent era, even 30-plus years ago, that behavior would have been considered outrageous.

But there was a time -- before Simon and the story above -- when hitting on someone at work wasn't seen as such an affront. I worry that men who mildly approached women (or other men) decades ago are now being held accountable according to our evolved understanding of sexual harassment. And I worry that men who did relatively minor things, like touching someone inappropriately (and maybe just awkwardly) during a photo, are now being lumped into the same category with people like Cosby and Spacey (who, let's face it, are assailants, not just harassers).

Obviously, sexual harassment is a problem and the victims deserve our first consideration. But there are many gradations of being the target of someone's amorous advances, and there are evolving social standards of behavior over time. Has the "Me Too" phenomenon been able to adequately distinguish between them?

(Photo: A dewy geranium in our garden, Sunday morning.)


  1. I already feel overwhelmed at this stuff coming out now, literally every few minutes. I don't know what to think. On the one hand, I'm thinking, "Good. It's about time." On the other hand, I'm with you, wondering how and where lines were and can be drawn. I guess what's happening is sort of the other side of the tipping point, and it's been a long time coming. I'm taking a break from social media for the most part of late and even the news because it's all making me feel nearly ill with anxiety.

  2. I don't think it is about weighing up what seems minor or even almost appropriate "at the time", about whether men acted clumsily or not. Whatever the reason behind meetoo for any individual to come forward, it has/had to do with being forced into a situation that was in its mildest form uncomfortable and at worst life threatening. I would never doubt the sincerity and the anguish for any women to expose herself to the media in such a matter, no matter how insignificant her claim may seem to others.
    I don't think women can forget - if at all - incidents of harassment as easily as some of the accused men seem to have done.
    In fact, I believe there is more, much much more to come. It may not bring about any change and I doubt it will make life better for women on the whole but maybe for women among each other. We have known for ever where support is not going to come from.
    In the end this has nothing to do with sex, but everything with power.

    Cat calling may be a *harmless* vent/fun for a frustrated guy on a ladder, it is still *unwanted* and in the worst case scenario reduces a woman to whatever the cat caller wants her to be and often this feels like someone's trashy toy, regardless. There is a difference between a compliment and being whistled at/exposed from above/afar and often by more than one man in front of the world.

    I love that picture at the top.

  3. At a Christmas staff party back in 1979, I was literally cornered by two female P.E. teachers. They took it in turns to snog the bejesus out of me and one of them put her hand down the front of my trousers. They only stopped when a senior teacher intervened. I can't remember their names so in the light of recent sexual harassment cases do you think I should now contact the police? Perhaps it was my own fault.

  4. I have no answers but I am quite certain that not everyone accused of these things can be cast into the same net.
    It's a conundrum.

  5. It's early days yet. The stories have to keep coming until they hit the famous tipping point (we used to cal it "critical mass") and then we as a culture will get down to the hard thinking and make distinctions, at least when it comes to penalties. Some harassment is a civil crime, some is criminal, and it shouldn't be up to men to decide but, given the make up of government, it probably will be. But there must be penalties for any and every kind of disgusting behavior that men do that makes this world a very unsafe place for women, and I mean "unsafe" in both the physical and the psychic sense.

    It's not a conundrum at all. It's not that hard. Patting someone on the butt while you pose for a photograph deserves a slap in the face and public shaming; rape deserves hard time. Our discussion about setting standards and limits on male behavior, don't forget, is leading the way for countless other societies who still have a place for honor killings in their culture.

    Let's start by making a pact, among all us females, to stop ignoring offensive male behavior (I was taught that it was my job to not let these guys get a reaction from me because that's what they want; better to just pretend it didn't faze me) and to start screaming and swearing and calling them the moment it happens. We have to feel that it is OK to be loud and upset and mean when it comes to dealing with nasty men...and I think that's the best thing about giving all these stories a space in our public lives and giving support to the women telling them.

  6. Reading your post and the comments of your followers, I already feel much better. I can see that I'm not the only one who is concerned about all of the accusations that keep rolling in. The ones against Cosby, Spacey and Weinstein are egregious and should be punished but, some others seem almost opportunistic. I'm so afraid accusations could go a step too far and taint the whole movement.

  7. Gradations. Good word to use on this topic. Where do you draw the line?.

  8. I woke this morning thinking that there is a spectrum of behaviors, and we need to understand the gradations. Not all sexual advances are predatory and dangerous. I was the victim of a sexual assault by a stranger when I was 18 years old. Years later when I was waiting tables at a chic little restaurant in a vacation town on the coast of California, my boss liked to pretend to hump me from behind when he passed me in the hallway. The first experience with the rapist was very, very different from the second with my boss. Yeah, they both sucked, but there is definitely a difference.

  9. There is a continuum of behavior from harmless to harmful and I think people need to be aware of the actual definition of sexual harassment so they do not mislabel what has happened. Failing to do so will undermine other people's experiences that do fall under the sexual harassment definition. And it's not just women who can be harassed, as you and Yorkshire Pudding have noted. I also resent that men are told they can't have a voice in this discussion, or that they need to grovel and apologize for half of the human race before they can venture an opinion. I'm glad to see that a number of male bloggers are talking responsibly and intelligently on the issue in spite of the women who are telling them to "shut up and listen." I welcome all intelligent discussion, no matter what the gender of the participant is.

    And just because your friend made a move on an employee doesn't mean it was necessarily sexual harassment, although it's not considered appropriate behavior to have relationships with the underlings. The underling in this case rejected the advances, so it seems he did not feel pressured into doing something he didn't want to do just because of his position in the hierarchy.

  10. I have begun to fret about who will be the first suicide victim after being called out as an animal. I fear that will taint the entire me too movement.

  11. there are definitely gradations and what one woman would find offensive, another might not. and while I don't agree with slut shaming or victim blaming I think a woman can act in such a way that the man might think that what he does is acceptable. I'm thinking Frankin here with his one accuser who has photographic evidence of grabbing ass and forcing kisses on men. did she want to french kiss Frankin? apparently not. did Robin Williams want her to jump on him and kiss him? did the guitar player want her grabbing his ass or bumping her butt into his? I don't think it's fair to accuse a man of doing something to you that you have done to others. now if he had raped her or forced a blow job or cornered her and shoved his hand down her pants, that would be far different. of course, this happens far too frequently judging by the number of women who have been sexually molested and men in general have felt that it is their prerogative to do whatever they want to women sexually with impunity, whether through a position of power or friendship or simply acquaintance or family or total stranger and this absolutely has to stop. no woman should remain silent or fear repercussions for calling out abuse and the men should face consequences.