Last week Jezebel published an article entitled ‘The next step for #metoo is into the grey areas’. At first glance, an expose of Jack Smith of mic dot com notoriety, but actually another talking point in the ongoing conversation of me too.
The conversation officially started with the Weinstein allegations last October, but veered into the murky grey area earlier this year, when babe.com reported a story involving comedian Aziz Ansari. A date that could easily be classified as bad sex opened up a can of worms about implicit consent, and the dynamics that affect ones ability to give that. This was followed by short story Cat Person, again looking at power dynamics in relationships, although more specifically about how age affects that.
This isn’t a new topic, it’s been covered time and again with everybody from Sally Rooney in Conversations with Friends (and I assume Normal People, I wouldn’t know I can’t find a copy anywhere) through to Chris Krauss with the fantastic I Love Dick.
The Jezebel article also talked briefly about the ‘woke online man’, a man who is performatively feminist* online, but treats the women in his personal life differently. Sometimes without even realising. In my own personal life, a convicted sex offender in our wider circle was describing himself as a feminist on dating platforms – either without seeing the disconnect, or purposely using this label to appeal to young liberal women who feel misunderstood and disillusioned by their experiences in society.
It’s been almost a year since me too but the allegations, stories, rumours, and whispers are still coming thick and fast.
It’s been almost a year since me too but what if nothing has changed?
The US government is hellbent on shaming and discrediting a woman for being assaulted as a teenager. Sexual abusers are making triumphant returns to comedy. Jezebel are still exposing media creeps, citing multiple female victims who are willing to speak on the record. If anything, the lines seem more blurred than ever. The conversation is no longer simply about sexual abuse and assault, it’s about power dynamics, gender dynamics, age dynamics, the way fame or seniority plays into a relationship, it’s about implicit and implied consent. The grey areas in between are complicated, that’s for sure.
How do we talk about behavior that is harmful and inequitable but isn’t illegal? How do we talk about the women affected by it? And what happens when accusations of such behavior are made against someone who is supposed to be an ally? – Jezebel
The Jezebel article came at a poignant time for me personally, with a previously buried memory of a incident in a toxic relationship unearthing itself. This is something that has been happening on and off over the last year since I started thinking about power and relationships, and examining my own experiences through this lens. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.
Dr Ford is going to give testimonial.
The very first thing I wrote after me too was an article for ‘The women who have never experience sexism, and the Not All Men men’, partly because I was getting frustrated by people refusing to call a spade a spade. People on Twitter and Facebook and in pubs excusing bad, sexist behaviours because they either didn’t want to make a fuss or they didn’t fundamentally understand the issue.
This, I note, has not changed in the last year. Not whilst there are still people on the internet saying Louis CK should be allowed to return to comedy as he’s ‘suffered enough’. We saw this attitude manifest during the Irish Abortion Referendum – with young men over whelming being for abortion, but the least likely to go out and vote. They saw it as not their place to stand up for women, despite this being the perfect opportunity to exhibit their allyship.
In my original article I said:
Men: do you know what a woman looks like when she’s uncomfortable? Have you ever asked the women in your life if they’ve ever been sexually harassed or assaulted it? Have you ever sat down and thought about this? Are you going to do anything about it?
Over the past year I’ve seen many of my closest male friends come to terms with their own problematic behaviour. Some with more success and more authentic learnings than others, to be fair. But I’ve been an ear throughout, and listened to them go through this process. Some have returned the favour. Only one has asked me about my own experiences. Do they not ask because they don’t care, or do they not ask because they’re afraid of the answer?
In the past week, since I started thinking about this article, Aziz Ansari has announced his big return to stand up — with a show about how we’re all too ‘woke’ now. This, coming from a man who made his career based on being woke, is laughable. I’m furious that he uses womens lives when they benefit him — to help his career, so people think he’s nice, for sex - but never any other time, but I keep this to myself (I don’t have the energy).
The discourse is too much, is Dr Ford really going to have to do this? Why?
Ansari has not come to terms with his own problematic behaviour — instead he has chosen to reframe the conversation so that he is a victim. I think a lot of my friends and people I know have done the same.
You can’t just rewrite the story if you don’t like the ending. That’s not how life works.
You can’t just rewrite the past if you don’t like your actions.
Shortly after my first lot of feminist articles, I wrote another article called Swipe Up Your Life, which was a look at the demands of online dating as a female from an explicitly feminist perspective. It later became a whole column that I imagine I’ll be updating till the day I die. But the paragraph I want to take another look at, almost a year on, is:
For men, all men I know, they were only able to process the Weinstein news in context of themselves and their past actions. Not about how the women might have felt. We were, we are an extension of their lives.
Again, this still feels true today.
‘I’m sorry that my behaviour made you feel that way’ is essentially what Ansari, Smith, Louis CK and hell even Kevin Spacey essentially said. This is not an apology, an apology needs not just acknowledgement of involvement, but complete ownership of it.
A common mantra that has emerged in my own Twitter echo chamber is ‘women are not collateral damage for a mans emotions’ and various similar iterations. We are told we shouldn’t ruin a mans life over ‘a mistake’ except the mistake is sexual assault, sexual abuse, or emotional manipulation and it wasn’t a mistake, it was on purpose — or, at least, without any empathetic thought— and it’s often already ruined our lives.
This statement is perhaps most personified in the vile abuse and hatred directed towards Ariana Grande after the death of her ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller. Miller had a long standing difficult relationship with drugs, and his fans blamed Grande for causing his death (an alleged overdose) by ‘abandoning him’ or ‘betraying him’ by dating a new partner soon after they broke up.
Blaming women for a mans inability to keep his shit together is a very major problem – Grande, via Twitter
I watched Dr Ford’s testimony all day, at work, on the bus, from my bed.
Dr Ford sat before too many people, and answered countless questions, and defended herself for hours — holding back tears at points, but she was always calm as she patiently rehashed trauma on the world stage. It was clear she was sexually assaulted. It was also clear that her trauma was less important than Kavvanuaghs career.
I talked about it non stop. On Twitter, with my friends, with strangers, in the pub, on the bus, at work, in my dreams. All week I could’t stop talking about how angry I was, how unjust this all was. And I was furious. I couldn’t fundamentally understand what had happened. Here was a woman who had so obviously been through a lot of trauma at the hands of a man — and nobody cared.
She has such a ‘cut and dry’ story, a very straight forward ‘this was assault’. She remembered the facts, she was sober and of sound mind. And yet she wasn’t taken seriously. What hope do we have when our own narratives aren’t as simple? When it wasn’t straight up sexual assault, but it was a bit murky, or it was emotional manipulation, or we were drunk, or depressed, or in the midst of a manic episode? What about when we were alone, and there were no witnesses? What about if we were known to date a lot, or to have made jokes in the past? And if the feelings we have about our traumas don’t match the acceptable mainstream narrative, what then?
The scope of sexual assault in the discussion has also widened over the past year. It’s no longer confined to ‘boss slash powerful man’, or even ‘romantic partner’. At the start of September Shortlist published an article that I find myself thinking about a lot, looking at sexual assault and harassment in friendship circles:
I have male friends who I love who have also, on a technical level, sexually harassed me
This brings into question platonic friendships and boundaries. I’ve ranted several times about the friend zone, but this is more nuanced than that. This is those close friends who, sometimes, see you as a woman, rather than yourself. Perhaps aided by alcohol, you are no longer their friend, the female – in that moment you are simply the female. It’s dehumanising and it’s devastating every time. It calls into question everything we believed for a fact — and if we can’t be trusted to know our own mind, can we be trusted with our own body? Can our stories be trusted as truth? Can we make friends with a man again, without that little voice in the back of your mind ‘he would if he could’? I can’t.
Through all of this I’ve found myself consuming more art, media, and literature by women. In a desperate bid to feel understood, I guess. I find myself longing to read or watch something and see my experiences reflected back at me, to reassure myself that I’m not going crazy. I’ve underlined countless passages in books and tweeted about art and talked about telly. But every time I find somebody else who gets it, there are a thousand people on Twitter who vocally don’t. Who disbelieve our experiences, who accuse us of lying. Who force us to relive traumatic and personal experiences publicly so they can judge their authenticity.
Kavvanuagh is confirmed to the Supreme Court.
Are things changing? Good Charlotte took Moose Blood off a tour after they discovered their lead singer was accused of stealing a women’s nude photos and sharing them without permission, but only after internet uproar. Do we not research our choices before making them? Or was that detail just not seen as important?
Trump mocks Dr Ford, three men in the audience behind him laugh.
The convicted sex offender I mentioned earlier is now banned from Bumble for life, as well as banned from several Facebook groups he used to find work. He’s still active on Tinder, mind, who did not respond to multiple reports of his profile.
“Why would you ruin a mans life, a mans career for one stupid teenage mistake?”
So where does that leave us when assessing the legacy of me too? Are the examples we see indicative of a wider behaviour change? I think the fact the conversation is still going seems good, as does the fact we’re now discussing the nuances and grey areas. But women are still being harassed and assaulted, the men are still facing little to no repercussions, and we’re still having the conversation full stop.
It’s all well and good being aware of an issue, but to be silent is to be complicit. As Jezebel explored, even being a vocal ally doesn’t grant your behaviour a pardon — and by not examining the behaviour of those allys objectively we’re doing a disservice to victims everywhere.
It’s important that we all speak out often and loudly. Me too had the energy of a tsunami, and we need to make sure it doesn’t just trickle out into a stream.
We need to continue to discuss and to challenge behaviours, including those of ourselves and our friends. We need to continue to unlearn what we know about relationships and dynamics. We need to keep amplifying marganislied voices, either through whisper networks or through publishing and broadcast media.
Women do what they’ve always done — pick themselves up and try again, disheartened but not defeated. We’ll make you proud, Dr Ford.
*I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I think your perception of what is and isn’t feminism differs based on whether or not it directly affects you — I fully believe performatively feminist men online think they are proper good allys, but dudes, you are not. Ask a woman you know how you can be better, we have lots of ideas and we would love to talk to you about them.