📰🌈 Fighting the Misinformation

As it is the start of Pride Month, I feel it is appropriate to post these thoughts that have been going around in my head. This all got started last week when I answered a question on Quora about whether trans rights would be the downfall of America, and the ensuing questions and answers that arose therefrom. It made me realize the level of misinformation that is out there, and the stunning ignorance that results from people not listening and thinking. So I’d like to do my part to clarify things, at least from my understanding as a cismale person.

First, there are three distinct things out there that are seemingly being conflated by those on the “anti-Woke” (henceforth !W) crowd:

  • Transgender. This is the condition when the physical body that one has is not congruent with the gender identity in the mind. It is something that is really hard for most of us to think about — after all, we never think about our gender as something different than what our sex organs are. But there are those who have that condition. When they do, they have a range of options, from hiding their identity (bad idea), to expressing their identity in various ways. They can simply dress and adopt the lifestyle of the gender they seem themselves as. They can go on the appropriate hormones. They can avail themselves of various surgical options. All of these things require psychological counseling and multiple years; surgery in particular requires years of living as the other gender before it is even considered. Many trans folks don’t have surgery. It is important to note that individuals under 18 DO NOT have irreversible surgery, unless some significant medical reason requires it. Before age 18, puberty blockers are used to delay puberty (there are rare side effects), and in later adulthood, hormone therapy may be used (the “at birth” gender reasserts itself if those hormones are stopped). In other words: Nothing irreversible is done before age 18. It is also important to note that suicide is very common for people suffering from this dysmorphia, and the impacts of the medicines are much better than suicide. It is also important to note that trans is independent of sexuality and sexual desire. Lastly, note that the percentage of folks that are trans is very very small, when compared to the overall population.
  • Drag Queens. Drag is just another form of cosplay, and drag queens are just actors inhabiting a persona. Drag has been around for a long time. In Shakespeare’s time, all “women” actors were played by men. We had folks like Milton Berle in the 1950s and 1960s, there was Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in the 1950s, there were TV kid show hosts; there was Flip Wilson and Bob Hope; and of course, there was Mrs. Doubtfire. This is just acting. It is not recruiting kids, and it is not sexual. KIds just like playing around, putting on costumes, and pretending to be other people and using their imaginations. Nothing about sex at all. They like watching people in costume. The important thing here is that drag is for entertainment.
  • Cross-dresser. A term for people who dress in clothing traditionally or stereotypically worn by the other sex, but who generally have no intent to live full-time as the other gender. Some of these folks do get sexual pleasure from doing this, but not all. Again, these folks don’t recruit, but do it for their own pleasure.

Different things. None of them recruiting kids.

It is also useful to understand life is rarely binary, and there aren’t simple dimensions in this area. Sex isn’t XX or XY; genetically there is a wide range between the gender (see this article). Gender is a societal construct that changes over time, and it is also a spectrum from male to female to ambiguous areas in-between. There are also dimensions that are spectrums with respect to romantic attraction and sexual attraction (not always the same). And, of course, there are folks who just want to have no part of any of this, and just to live their own life on their terms. We should not be judging on this. As the Skittles ad says: Enjoy the rainbow.

So, the next question is: Should there be laws limiting this stuff? The answer here is a resounding “No”. Such laws are un-American, where the Constitution explicitly permits freedom of expression. Gender is a form of expression. Simple as that.

You say your religion is against it? Then don’t do it yourself. But don’t use your religion as a cudgel to force other people to agree with your religious views. That is also un-American, where there is freedom of religion.

What about bathrooms you say? A few points here:

  • If you were in a ladies room, and saw someone dressed as a guy walk in, you would be upset. Similarly, if you were in a men’s room and saw a woman walk in. So the rule should be simple: Go into the restroom that matches your gender expression.
  • The notion of genital inspection to enforce restroom usage is just plain stupid. If the government does it, it goes against the 4th amendment: unreasonable search. If a person does it, it is essentially sexual assault.
  • But what about exposed genitals in the restroom. I don’t know where you go, but I don’t see them except at the trough pissers at a baseball game. Go into a private stall, mind your business, do your business, and wash your hands.
  • But what about bathroom assaults? I have yet to see a pattern of proven incidents involving transgendered, drag queens, or cross-dressers. The one report I did see was someone where the victim had a previous sexual relationship with the attacker, and invited them into the restroom. Restrooms attacks are more often done by the angry entitled men who have a negative view of women. That’s a different problem, and one that needs to be addressed. Similarly, sexual attacks on children are often from those in a position of power, not from people already marginalized. Again, we need to address that (and note that the folks riling you up against the marginalized folks are those same folks in a position of power, who want to keep that power).
  • What about shared and open showers? That’s a bit of a harder question, for you want to respect others as well. Such rooms typically have a private area for those who need it (it’s not just trans or different gender-presenting folks). Use that private space; but it may mean waiting until you get home (or turning away out of view). You might need to talk to the management. But remember: It is as much a concern for the person being seen as the person doing the seeing.

What about sport teams, you say:

  • Personally, I think we should get rid of gendered colligate and professional teams, and go to weight and strength based classes, independent of gender. That’s a fair and equitable solution.
  • Otherwise, at the College and Professional Level, there should be a requirement to have been on the appropriate hormone for a significant period (which weakens or strengthens muscle mass), with private changing areas. This does actually tend to be quite rare.
  • For kids? We shouldn’t have the gender distinction. Just provide the appropriate changing areas, and let the kids have fun playing together.

It boils down to this: Treat people as you would like to be treated: with respect. Call them what they want to be called. Treat them as the gender they present as. Don’t judge, lest ye be judged.

Oh, and let the drag queen read to your kids. They’ll probably enjoy the story, and maybe will learn a very important lesson from the drag queen: reading is a lot of fun.

What? You were thinking they would learn something else?

P.S.: If you note, the concern seems to only be with men presenting as female, never the other way around. Ask yourself why that is. Does it say something about men? Does it say something about what these men are afraid of, or how they view men who want to be woman? What does that say about how they view women? Quite telling.


Collateral Damage / Thinking Only of Myself

userpic=trumpWhile eating lunch today, I’ve been reading FB and the LA Times. The LA Times had a really really interesting article about all the production and support people that have been hurt financially in the fallout of all these sex scandals. On FB, there was an Occupy Democrats meme about how Congress should stop all legislation until the Russia scandals are investigated and resolved.  Both are related to collateral damage.

Websters defines collateral damage as ” injury inflicted on something other than an intended target; specifically : civilian casualties of a military operation.” We’ve been seeing a lot of non-military collateral damage of late, and if you think about it, it is often caused by people being selfish and thinking only of themselves:

  • In these Hollywood sex scandals, actors, producers, and directors — i.e., men in power — are selfish about their sexual desires and impose themselves unwanted on others. When this catches up with them and they get fired, their productions in progress are shut down. There is disruption in production, and uncertainty and stress in production companies. These people — from the makeup artists to the script copyists to the food and craft services to the camera operators — they did nothing wrong. They have been planning their lives on a steady job that goes down because of a dick. That’s unfair collateral damage.
  • In Washington DC, this plays out another way. Congress works to serve its donors and the specific small core that gives them the edge in primaries, because they know party loyalty will do the rest. This tax bill is a great example. It serves the wealthy corporate donors quite well — and directly — and serves the self-interest of the Congress-critters by keeping them in office. It is you and I that are the collateral damage. A coworker on my van estimated that with the proposed changes in the tax code, his tax bill will go up $11,000. The citizens in high tax states are collateral damage. The middle class are collateral damage. The poor are collateral damage. Schoolteachers and graduate students are collateral damage. That’s unfair.
  • Thinking of a STOP WORK in Congress or letting the government shut down? That hurts loads of people, from the direct government employees to the contractors, from those depending on government checks to those providing health services. All have plans thrown in disarray, all have their lives in turmoil, because of political children thinking only about their political self-interest and not the people they work for.
  • At the Presidential level, we have a clear example of a President who is only thinking about his self-interest, not caring about collateral damage. Obama snubbed him in some way, so he’ll undo everything Obama did — right or wrong. Who cares who is screwed, as long as the short-term glory goes to … you know who. We have the undoing of regulations to help industries that praise him, never mind the collateral damage to the people (environmental regulations are a great example of this). We have taunting and pissing matches over twitter, making the world arguably more dangerous. All because of someone with inflated self interest.

When we look at how are are commanded to behave in the various moral codes in the world, there is one commonality: a concern about others in the community. Do not put a stumbling block before the blind. Do unto others. Welcome the stranger.

We have become a society obsessed with self — something Noel Paul Stookey predicted a long time ago would happen. We’re obsessed with the selfie; with film cameras, we primarily took pictures of others. We’re obsessed with our self interest at work and in life: how does this benefit me?

Even if we don’t reach the level of asking how our actions might benefit others, we should at least take the small step of thinking about how our actions might impact others. Before you grab that pussy, ask yourself: If I got fired or divorced because of this, who would be hurt? Before you vote in favor of that tax bill, ask yourself: who will be hurt if this passes? Thinking about the negative impacts of your actions is just as important as thinking about the positive ones, if not even more important.


Essay Prompt: Sexual Harrassment and Women in the Workplace

I’ve said it many times: some of my best essay prompts come from my Conservative friends on FB. Just this morning, in response to the firing of Matt Lauer, I saw the following in a comment conversation chain:

Poster 1: I actually believe this will work the opposite way: if you so much as look crosseyed at a woman at work – no harassment of any kind by any stretch of the imagination, she’ll claim it anyway and you’re still gone. There was a round of this kind of stuff going on in the late 80s and early 90s. Guys need to be squeaky clean and need to be prepared to lawyer up against false accusations.

Poster 2:  As for women. I am growing to want little to do with any of them outside my wife and family, it’s too risky. Too many false accusations and everything is assault now. Even just having good manners. Women’s libbers are truly setting the female gender back decades. Who is going to want to hire a potential lawsuit knowing it’s now “guilty until proven innocent” in this matter?

Just think about this for a minute, and you’ll see why this is an essay prompt. Follow this down the path, and where do you end up? We must keep the women separate to protect us. They must dress modestly (thank you Angela Lansbury). “It’s not my fault, I just looked at her wrong.”

Guys (I was going to say “Folks”, but perhaps “Guys” is better): You need to listen to those Sexual Harrassment training courses. The issue isn’t looking at them crosseyed (although pervasive stares could be a problem). The issue isn’t opening the door for someone or being polite. The issue isn’t women in the workplace.

Here’s what the key issues are: (1) Harassment. (2) Power. (3) Respect. In many ways, it boils down to the Golden Rule. Not Trump’s Golden Rule, which is “He who has the gold makes the rules.”, but the biblical one, which for those unaware goes back to the Talmud:

Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: “Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”  – Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a

How do these points relate?

  1. Harassment. Don’t harass anyone, in any way. That’s being a bully. That can range from offensive looks, artwork you know will incite, statements you know will incite. Don’t push people’s buttons. Wikipedia notes that harassment  is commonly understood as behavior that disturbs or upsets, and it is characteristically repetitive. In the legal sense, it is behavior that appears to be disturbing or threatening. Sexual harassment refers to persistent and unwanted sexual advances, typically in the workplace, where the consequences of refusing are potentially very disadvantageous to the victim. Key aspects there: Persistent and unwanted. In other words: the first time you do it, it is a mistake. Do it again, your ass is grass. I said so in an earlier post. Whether sexual or just bullying. This isn’t a “female” thing. If you wouldn’t behave that way to someone you like and respect, don’t do it.
  2. Power. Often these relationships are an abuse of power. They are attempts to show that you have the power, or you are taking advantage of that power to get something of benefit. Be it money, sex, or some other favor. Don’t do it. Again: Using your power against someone is just being a bully.
  3. Respect. Hillel said it best: “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow.” Perhaps you know this as the line from Matthew: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Same thing. Treat people with respect, they way you would want them to treat you. This goes to word, deed, and what you do in your workplace at home. It is an attitude to teach your children.

The problem is not women in the workplace. The problem is not looking at them crosseyed. The problem is not avoiding all women. [And, to be fair, not that this isn’t just a man to woman problem — ask Kevin Spacey]. The problem is treating people as sexual objects, not people. The problem, even broader, is treating people as objects, not people. Treat people with respect, as you would want to be treated, and you’ll be just fine.



But What Do We Do With The Leftovers?

Observation StewTwo days after Thanksgiving. You’ve made your stock from the turkey carcass, and have just about finished the meat in the frig, but you’re still working on all the sides that were leftover. All. The. Sides. So many sides. Here on this blog, we face a similar problem: What to do with all the links accumulated that just stubbornly refuse to theme? The answer, of course, is to make stew:

Inequality and Battles

  • The Internet and Inequality. One of my major complaints is the assumption that everyone has fast internet (an assumption that will be even more challenged if we lose net neutrality). For example, we move the best quality TV to subscription channels and pay-pay internet, and we forget what the leaves the rest of the country with — the large portion that still doesn’t have internet or only has dialup or phone services. Wired has an interesting article on how the slow internet is fueling inequality. Now think about how this inequality will be further fueled when the telecom companies are the ones controlling the pipes, who can see what, and who can’t see what.  Control of the message can be for good (filter out the stupid) or for bad (filter out those who disagree).
  • Fonts and Culture Wars. Here’s another battle of interest: Fonts. Fonts can have a subtle but significant effect on culture and culture wars, according to Wired. For example, think how you perceive documents written in Blackletter or Comic Sans, or the fact that certain languages, by the nature of the writing, make it hard to text. Truly an interesting article on the impact of design.
  • Weaponizing Taxes. When people complain about taxes, they often talk about its use to support the defense establishment. But the tax code can be used as a weapon itself, and that is what this administration is doing. The “reform” bill shows that the right understands how the rules of the economic game are shifting — toward capital and away from labor (even away from the labor of the wealthy). Thus, they are adjusting it even further to reward business and investing, and to care even less about income earned from wages. They are adjusting the code to work against progressive measures like education and middle class wages, they are working against progressive states that used state tax codes to help their people.

Los Angeles

Honoring the Past

  • Getting Rid of Stuff. Here’s an interesting dilemma: How do you honor the past when cleaning out stuff? Specifically, how do you honor your parents when cleaning out their house? This is a growing question as the Millenials and Gen Y adopt the less is more attitude, and have to deal with the debris of the “accumulate” generation.  As the article notes: If we do it right, we preserve and transmit their memories and values to the next generation. If we do it wrong, we may open lasting wounds within our families and ourselves.
  • Reusing Sacred Spaces. During Thanksgiving, a popular song is Alice’s Restaurant, about a couple that bought a church and converted it to a house. The issue is a serious one: What do you do with sacred spaces when the community goes away? In Maine, the answer is to convert an old synagogue into high-end apartments.  The 15 members of the Auburn ME Beth Abraham Synagogue sold the building last week to a developer. On Sunday, the community will take a final tour of the building and then ceremonially move a Torah scroll to the nearby 100-family Temple Shalom Synagogue Center, an independent and egalitarian congregation (formerly Conservative) that Beth Abraham members will join. The building, after removing a few more liturgical pieces, will then become 10 apartments.
  • Repatriating Bones. One of the forgotten Native American tragedies has been the treatment of Southern California tribes and their relics. So it was quite a pleasant surprise to read about the repatriation of a large collection of Tongva/Gabrielano remains from Catalina Island. This is happening for many reasons, including increased awareness and casino proceeds.



Sexual Shenanigans

Some thoughts on all the sexual harassment / abuse / shenanigans that have been in the news of late:

  • This is not a partisan issue. What all of those accused have in common is that they are men, typically of a certain era.
  • There are levels of abuse being lumped together, from the off-color jokes or outside the clothes gestures on the least end to true sexual harassment and abuse (i.e., abuse of power relationship), improprieties with those underage, predatory activities, and activities after consent was not given. There are also ranges from one-time incidents where the behavior was an anomaly, to repeated patterns of behavior with multiple accusers.
  • The concern should be less with the one-time minor cases and more with repeated patterns of abuse that have continued over multiple years.
  • The response to the accusations is also significant: there is a different between recognizing wrong behavior and apologizing for it, between admitting the behavior and indicating you viewed it as acceptable, and denying the behavior. On the correct end of the spectrum is recognition, apology, and acceptance of the apology, without a continuing pattern. On the wrong end of the spectrum is denial in the face of multiple accusations with evidence of continued behavior.
  • All cases are worthy of investigation and appropriate action. Just as it is proper for the Senate to investigate Sen. Franken’s behavior from before he was elected Senator, they should equally investigate the claims regarding the President’s behavior before he was elected, and similar claims against other sitting officials and those nominated or running for office. Yes, I’m looking at you, Roy Moore. Remember: What these folks have in common is that they are men — this is not a partisan issue where this behavior is acceptable when it is done by your party, but not when done by their party.
  • There is a tension, as I have noted before, between our notions of justice and presumed innocence, and wanting to believe those who have come forward with the claims because they deserve to be heard. Complicating this is the fact that many of these incidents are ages old, with little to no evidence other than he said/she said. We are far too aware of induced memory (such as the McMartin Pre-School case) or people making false claims for various less-than-honorable reasons. This is where looking for a continuing pattern of behavior and claims is important, and consideration of the nature of the behavior. I’m willing to give more benefit-of-the-doubt in the one time, less critical cases, and believe the accuser more when there is a pattern that emerges of more problematic behavior. This is independent of politics.
  • For many of these cases, there must be the recognition that much of this problem is “a product of those times”. Men in the 50s, 60s, and above were raised in a less enlightened era. This may explain (but does not excuse) certain comments and jokes and attitudes, although those behaviors must not be occurring today. The past cannot be changed. However, it does not excuse abuse of power relationships, true harassment and abuse, or predatory behaviors. Those were wrong then, and they are wrong now.*
  • In many cases, this new attitude will expose people who were once respected, and who now are off their pedestal. Bill Cosby is probably the best example of this — it is unclear how one views his humor and records today. Does his behavior make his stories any less funny? There are similar questions for folks like Woody Allen. How does one separate the art from the behavior of the artist? There are similar questions in the area of politics. How does one separate the political results and achievements of a politician (for example, Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr., John Kennedy) from their behavior? The answers will not be easy. As historians note: history is complicated, probably because it comes from humans. The founders of this country were often products of their time and owned slaves. Does that make their results any less admirable? We must recognize these people as men with strengths and weaknesses, not heroes like Superman.

Related: Actually, It’s Franken’s Monster. (The Nib)

*: In other words, at some points in time certain behaviors were acceptable, such as Rosemary pursuing her boss in How To Succeed In Business…, but are no longer acceptable today. Others, such as abuse of power relationship, predatory behavior towards minors, use of drugs to make people cooperative, non-consensual behavior — have always been wrong. In general, for those behaviors that were once accepted, our problems should be from the point of time something has been judged to be wrong in society, and there has been education that the old norms no longer are. In short, as they say with Kindergarten: “The first time you do it, it’s not a mistake.”. The corollary is: “Once you have been told it is wrong and to stop doing it, do it again and your ass is grass.”


Too Soon?

I’ve written about this concern before (I was going to use the word “touched”, but that brings up such wrong images): reading all the news about sexual harassment claims against this politician or that actor or this entertainment executive or that comedian, I’m beginning to worry about when we are crossing into McMartin Preschool territory. Those not familiar with the reference should read the link given.

Basically, the concern is distinguishing real claims from misremembered claims: for those cases where someone is accused of sexual harrassment or impropriety, and does not admit to the charge. Certainly, if the person admits to the charge, then the community response is appropriate (in addition to any permissible legal claims). If they don’t admit, however, before we rush to the closet to get out the tar and feathers, we should investigate the claims to make sure they are valid. I’m not attempting to say those making accusations are all liars — far from it. Most are likely valid and remembering something. But there will be some who will misremember (often out of media hysteria (another word we need to replace)), and a few who will making the claims for other purposes. Much as it might be in our nature to assume the worst — so easy and schadenfreude-ish to believe they did it — our country is based on law and evidence. If there is no acceptance of guilt, there should be corroboration to substantiate the claim. [ETA: This could include, by the way, clear patterns of behavior over many years against multiple parties. I’m more worried about the onsie-twosie cases, with no clear pattern or history of behavior.]

It is so easy to assume everyone is evil, but students of history can point to many time where accusations were made — and people’s lives irreparably harmed — when there was no basis for the accusation. We owe it to all involved to investigate the claim as if it were true, but be willing to not act on the claim if that investigate cannot confirm anything. Yes, this means that some guilty people will get away with their past behavior.  I think — I hope — that we would rather have that happen occasionally than to be putting innocent people in prison and destroying their careers. Further, the accusation will often increase scrutiny, reducing the likelihood of that behavior happening again (or if it does, it being caught with evidence).

(Note that for a number of these accusations, the public can choose to take actions on their own. If studios don’t choose to stop the release of a movie, just don’t go to it. Don’t vote for the person. Don’t buy products that make them money. The public does have some power.)

(ETA a later thought: And, if you are accused and you did do something: admit exactly what you did, and take the consequences. We teach our children that actions have consequences for a reason and they must tell the truth, and you set a bad example when you think you are above what your parents taught you).


A Very Fine Line

One of the reasons I’ve really grown to like the new Fox series The Orville is that it does what Star Trek did originally: tell stories that are commentaries on society and its foibles in the context of Science Fiction (which is something that, to my understanding, Star Trek: Discovery is not doing). Last week’s episode was a great example of that: a parallel Earth where laws were replaced by the Court of Public Opinion. If the public thinks you have committed an offense, you are down-voted. Get enough, and you get cleansed, unless you can reverse public opinion. Sound familiar today? But we are a society of laws, and people are not guilty by public opinion alone. We depend on facts.

What brings this to mind are all the sexual harassment claims coming out these days. The ends of the spectrum, of course, are clear. Is there any question regarding the Harvey Weinsteins, the Bill Cosbys, or the Donald Trumps? There are clear patterns occurring over many many years. Even with cases like Anthony Rapp and Kevin Spacey, clear patterns are emerging. At the other end are the clear good guys, who have always shown respect and listened to “no”.

But in the middle, where we do draw the line? When do we turn from a fact-based society and the court of law to the court of public opinion. There was an image going around Facebook of Pepe LePew grabbing the cat and the cat resisting, and the caption was: How do you think we taught this behavior? If we go back and look at the media from much of the 20th century, there is much behavior there that wouldn’t be acceptable today. If people were following the mores of the time, how can we judge them by today’s mores?

[I’ll note this is a deep question that goes beyond sexual issues: Do we judge the founders of this country differently because they legally owned slaves? The people of biblical days different because they stoned gays? We can look back and note the behavior would be judged differently today, but that’s hindsight. It’s wrong to us; it wasn’t wrong to them. Times change and values change and we move forward. Think about this: After the Civil War was over and slaves were freed, were the Plantation Owners criminally charged for their antebellum actions? Criminal charges are different than acknowledgement, reparations, and changing behavior from what you did in the past.]

What got me thinking about this was some recent items in the news that were single incidents, such as Jeremy Piven and Dustin Hoffman. For some of these, the public is reacting and taking action against someone even before charges are investigated, just because of the climate of the times — and even when the charge is denied. There is the assumption that the person making the charge is always truthful — wait, since we’re talking about past instances, is always remembering accurately. Remember, when we’re talking about incidents in the past, “truth” is relative. Memory can be faulty, especially in times of media frenzy.  Look no further than the McMartin Preschool case, where there ended up being no criminal charges. Further, there is often a clear difference between what one means by an action, and how that action is interpreted by another. Just ask anyone who is married :-).

At a computer security talk I once went to, a speaker hypothesized that the best attack against someone was to go to a conference room computer, load child porn onto it, and then delete it, and then make an accusation. After all, the offending pictures were there and deleted — there must be a coverup. When could these sex abuse claims cross that line?

I’m not saying I know the answer. I can’t draw a clear demarcation line, even if I would like to. I can clearly see the edges — the clear patterns of abuse over a long time, the clear patterns of no abuse at all. But for the onsie-twosie cases with no patterns, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to trot out the Court of Public Opinion, unless their is an admission. There are also concerns about incidents seemingly not at the level of patterns of abuse resulting in oversize reactions. Perhaps we should let the case go to the court systems to find out the real evidence, or figure out some way to make things more fact-based, and reactions more commensurate, to live up to our constitutional protection that one is innocent until proven guilty by some sufficient standard of evidence.

P.S.: I’m not sure we’re there yet anyway, when I watch TV and CBS is touting the Victoria Secret Fashion Show.


Essay Prompt: #MeToo, #NowWhat, and Culture Wars

As I have been reading Facebook the last few days, I’ve been seeing the flurry of “MeToo” posts from far far too many of my friends. As a hetero cis man, I’ve been trying to figure out what is the proper response. At one point, I wanted to write a post about how I never understood how men could behave that way. I don’t get why men are punitive in divorces towards their partners. I don’t get why men would force themselves on someone who is unwilling. I certainly would never behave that way (or at least I thought). Then I saw a friend who had a different take on the situation, acknowledging our role in the process. Then I saw a third friend with an interesting take on how to fix the problem. Then last night, I began to wonder how this fit into my earlier discussions on Culture Wars, and how the universe of entitled “traditional” males would receive all of this. The result: This essay prompt, asking the question #NowWhat?

The impact of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse revelations, Mayim Bialik’s opinion piece in the NY Times, and the #MeToo response thereto has demonstrated that sexual abuse and harassment is far too prevalent in society today. As men, the question is: How do we respond? Saying “I hear you” is insufficient, as is believing that it is all those “other” men that have caused the problem. The way to move forward is to start by acknowledging our culpability as men in society, and establishing a new path forward. We also need to figure out how to address the inevitable push back that will come from the Culture Wars.

Our Culpability

In examining the part we play as men in creating the problem, we need to realize that what most of us have been taught is flawed, and it resulted in some level of flawed behavior. One friend on Facebook posted the following:

I have acted as if I was entitled to my partner(s)’s attention and body.
I have pushed boundaries to get what I wanted.
I have put my wants in front of my partner(s).
I have guilted partner(s) into feeling obligated to intimacy.
I am sorry.

Reading this, as Noel Paul Stookey said in one of his Peter, Paul, & Mary comedy routines, brought me up by the short hairs. It is highly likely that most older men have behaved in this way towards their partners or potential partners at some point in their lives. After all, we’re products of the time and society we grew up, much as we hate to admit it. Much as we might have consciously tried to avoid the behavior above, we have slipped into it a few times. As we teach our children, apologizing cannot make something right. Changing the behavior can.

But behavior towards partners is not the only place we’ve likely fucked up. Some of us may have done similar behaviors towards co-workers, friends, and colleagues. From a sexist comment, a gesture, an oogle — all can come across as a form of harassment.  There are those, I’m sure, that have done even worse. After all, all those #MeToos came from somewhere.

No one can promise that they won’t slip into that behavior at times. We’re human, and we all slip up. But the first step in not doing a behavior is realizing that you do it. Then you can be increasingly aware of when you are starting to do it again … and stop before you do.

Whether you are in your 50s like me, or a young teen or twentysomething, society has learned and changed from when you were little. What might once have been acceptable is no longer. What you see in older movies, TVs, and in popular song is not the way adults should behave today, no matter how you rationalize it. We are not entitled to anything with respect to sex or intimacy; it must be given by our partners freely, with cognizance, and without coercion.

Moving Forward

Another Facebook friend shared something from one of his friends that was a succinct summary of how to move forward. It begins by recognizing that almost all your female friends have been sexually harassed or assaulted. The harassment started when they were children. The catcalling, the groping in a crowded place, the sudden rage when a man realizes that a woman won’t sleep with them. All of them. So what do we do?

  1. Stop harassing women. That includes asking strangers to smile. That includes raging at your female friends who “friend zone” you. That includes not taking no for an answer. At this point you know what’s right and what’s wrong and what’s unwanted. Stop.
  2. Stop interrupting conversations about harassment and assault. Stop pointing out that not all men are harassers. No shit. But clearly enough do that this is a problem. You aren’t contributing
  3. Stop victim blaming. Entirely. We need to move the conversation away from what the victim could have done to prevent it. Don’t ask what they were wearing, why they were traveling alone, if they fought back, why they didn’t come forward sooner. This isn’t a problem that victims need to solve.
  4. Stop injecting yourself into the discussion. Can men be harassed and assaulted? Of course, and it’s terrible and we wish it didn’t happen. And we can have that conversation, but not while we’re talking about this. Two separate problems, two different solutions. Don’t derail this conversation so that we’re addressing that this is two problems that affects some people instead one problem that affects all women. Especially if you don’t want to talk about your experience, you’re just diluting the discussion.
  5. Shut it down when you see it. Call out harassment when you see your friends do it. Maybe they’ll change, maybe they’ll stop being your friends. Either way, call that shit out. Dudes, this is where you are most powerful. Stop letting this sort of thing be ok. Public stuff like catcalling. Private stuff like ranking women. Shut it down.
  6. Fathers, uncles, older brothers: if you have young men in your lives, teach them early about respect and consent. Don’t let them joke about a cartoon “raping their childhood” or laugh about grabbing a girl’s butt. Make sure they grow up knowing this isn’t normal and it isn’t ok. Make this behavior extinct.

To recap:

  1. Shut up
  2. Stop other dudes from harassing
  3. Make sure the young men who learn from you never start harassing.

My wife also pointed me to another list of how to treat women better from The Guardian. Here are some  items from that list (adapted just a bit); I recommend you read the full list:

  • Talk to your friend who is “kind of a creep” at work. Don’t need to literally witness a man being horrible in order to believe that he’s horrible. Trust and believe women.
  • Don’t talk over women. When you see another guy talk over a woman, say: “Hey, she was saying something.”
  • If you are asked to be on a panel/team and see that it’s all men, say something. Maybe even refuse the spot! [Read this great post by Spaf on the subject]
  • Don’t call women “crazy” in a professional setting. Don’t imply that their success due to their looks. Don’t imply their success is due to anything other than their talent and hard work. [Read this great sermon on sexism and implied sexism]
  • Don’t use your “feminism” as a way to get women to trust you. Show us in your day-to-day life, not in your self-congratulatory social media.
  • Do you feel that any woman on earth owes you something? She doesn’t. Even if you’re like, “Hm, but what about basic respect?” ask yourself if you’ve shown her the same. If you do the right thing, don’t expect praise or payment or a pat on the back or even a “thank you from that woman”. Congratulations, you were baseline decent.
  • Don’t send pictures of … anything … unless she just asked for them.
  • Consent: Obtain it, and believe “no” when it is said. If a woman says no to a date, don’t ask her again. If a woman has not given an enthusiastic “yes” to sex, back the hell off.  If a woman is really drunk, she cannot consent to you and she also cannot consent to your buddy who seems to be trying something. Your buddy is your responsibility, so say something and intervene. Don’t touch women you don’t know, and honestly, ask yourself why you feel the need to touch women in general.
  • Involve women in your creative projects, then let them have equal part in them.
  • Don’t make misogynistic jokes.
  • Don’t expect women to be “nice” or “cute” and don’t get upset when they aren’t those things.
  • Don’t make assumptions about a woman’s intelligence, capabilities or desires based on how she dresses.
  • Pay women as much as you pay men.
  • If a woman tells you that you fucked up, and you feel like shit, don’t put it on that woman to make you feel better. Apologize without qualification and then go away.
  • Don’t punish women for witnessing your vulnerability.
  • Don’t get defensive when you get called out.
  • Don’t use your power to get women’s attention/company/sex/etc. Be aware of your inherent power in situations and use it to protect women, especially via talking to other men.
  • Stop thinking that because you’re also marginalized or a survivor that you cannot inflict pain or oppress women.
  • If women’s pain makes you feel pain, don’t prize your pain above hers, or make that pain her problem.
  • Don’t read a list like this and think that most of these don’t apply to you.

If you want yet another list, here’s something from Groknation on combatting toxic masculinity.

Culture Wars

In my essay prompt on culture wars, I discussed how the “war” has come about because society is changing in a way that many don’t want. Entitlements and privileges that some segments had in the past are disappearing; the segments are also being “forced” to accept as equal segments of the population they previously viewed as inferior. A primary segment feeling this way are the cis het males in society, particularly White cis het males. This is what led to the election of Donald Trump; this is why Donald Trump’s boorish and insulting behavior towards women was ignored by this segment. Bluntly: The way they were raised, they saw nothing wrong in the behavior. Men have power and authority over women; they should use it.

Those men among us who are enlightened see the fallacy in this attitude, but then again, we see the fallacy in many attitudes of this group.

So now ask yourself:  How will this group react to the #MeToo flood. I’m sure some will be in the “They asked for it crowd.” Others will be in the “Well, I treat my wife with respect, it was some other guy.”. Even more will be: “So what?” There will also be the minority that begin to see the problem, and then ask themselves, “Who have we elected?”

But for many, this will just be another salvo in the Culture Wars. It will be yet another attack on male privilege and power, and they will likely double-down on the behavior.

We must, in response, emphasize that society has changed. As the friend from whom I snarfed #IHave said:

The good news is that our culture’s perception of sex, consent and negotiation is changing. When I was learning about this stuff, and/or trying to figure it out for myself, the assumption was that the person interested (usually a guy) would attempt to “up the game”, by kissing, touching a bit further etc. The other person (usually a woman) was expected to decline the advance at first, and then until the initiator had sufficiently turned them on to be interested in going further.

Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of cases where one person unknowingly violates another’s consent. Even worse, there are still a lot of people, on both sides, that think that it is still the way things are, or should be, done.

I can’t do anything about things that have already been done, but we can all work to prevent things from happening in the future.

We must make clear that, just like discrimination against Blacks or Jews or other racial minorities is no longer acceptable, this abuse of power and privilege is no longer acceptable. There must be freedom from real or perceived harassment, and it is our responsibility as men to set the example to simply not do it.

P.S.: To explain the user icon: This comes from a campaign in 2006 against men who believed they needed endangered sea turtle eggs as an aphrodisiac. In reality, there is only one aphrodisiac: a freely willing partner.

P.P.S. H/T (Hat tip) to those who have posted or brought to my attention things incorporated herein: David Bell (and his friend’s friend Mitch Kocen), Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik, Larry Colon, Karen Davis, and Gene Spafford.