home Must Reads Must reads: Them too — sexual harassment and the men who commit it

Must reads: Them too — sexual harassment and the men who commit it

Before we delve into sharing the reads we’re digging this week, our most popular post last week was Louise Hung’s exploration of white male, Asian female relationships and AAPI communities. It’s sparked a great deal of conversation!

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Aziz Ansar’s Apology Reveals the Space Where Men Stop Growing‘ (Imran Siddiquee for Bitch Media)

With exposures of sexual assault mounting week by week, so too are apologies from the men who committed these acts — and those apologies are revealing a great deal about how men think. With a growing body of work on the experience of sexual harassment and assault, and a lively discussion in communities concerned about these issues, many men are showing that they still don’t understand the problem, or their own role in it. Ansari, a ‘woke’ man who brags about his conscientiousness, is just the latest.

The vagueness with which Ansari expresses his support in the midst of refuting a claim of sexual coercion is how most men choose to talk about the sexual violence that we have always known exists around us. It’s like the white people condemning Donald Trump for his “racist remarks” who will never venture into how they themselves help maintain white supremacy. We might write down the correct words, or include them in our art, but when the conversation comes to our front door, most straight cis men would rather defend our position than actually cede any space.

Him Too? How Arthur Miller Smeared Marilyn Monroe and Invented the Myth of the Male Witch Hunt.‘ (Maria Dahvana Headley for The Daily Beast)

Many men are screeching about ‘witch hunts’ at the moment. Headley puts this subject in historical context, looking at how the history of the bloody, terrible events in Salem in the 1600s has been warped to suit a specific narrative. Being brought to justice for your wrongdoing is in no way equivalent to being falsely accused, tortured, and killed because you’re a marginalised member of society and an easy target, but plenty of men certainly seem to think it is. One reason why? The work of people like Arthur Miller, who popularised a different framing of what happened in Salem.

In Miller’s telling, Tituba does not need to be formally accused, let alone beaten (though by 1996, the film version shows Tituba being whipped), to confess – it comes surging out of her mouth with very little provocation as she worries over the sick Betty Parris. In the panic of a room filled with neighbors and girls, she is guided to accuse two white women, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne – historically, they were accused by the girls themselves, not by Tituba.

Yes, People Are Changing the Definition of Sex and Consent—That’s a Good Thing‘ (Sady Doyle for Elle)

One of the many cultural gaps that’s arisen over the course of #MeToo is a vigorous conversation about ‘bad sex,’ sexual assault, and shades of grey — it’s a conversation that’s been going on for years, but it’s much more high profile. The spectrum of opinions on this issue ranges from slagging people who experienced situations that they found deeply uncomfortable to arguing that coercion and sexual assault can take many forms. Doyle argues that we are collectively moving the bar on what assault looks like, and it’s about time.

A decade ago, when I first started writing, I routinely heard from commenters who didn’t believe having sex with an unconscious person constituted “real” rape. Thirty-five years ago, when I was born, marital rape was not considered a crime in the state of New York. Things change, often for the better. A deep social transformation, like the one #MeToo stands to be, requires that we not only call out clear violations, but that we re-think “small” offenses and apparently normal encounters.

The Rising Pressure of the #MeToo Backlash‘ (Jia Tolentino for The New Yorker)

If you haven’t read it yet, definitely add Tolentino’s piece on #MeToo to your list, because it’s sparking a great deal of conversation and it’s worth your time. With the popularization of #MeToo came a predictable reflexive backlash from people in power being held accountable for their actions. But, she argues, this flattens nuance and honest conversations about power and responsibility.

I have been confused by the tone of all of these pieces, which seem far more inflamed, over-generalized, and fatalistic than the relentlessly nuanced and self-interrogative essays that have actually delineated #MeToo. At the center of this discussion about discussion, there is a question: What are the parameters in which we should hold people responsible for more extreme versions of their behavior? Just as I resented my doctor for asking me to answer for the hypothetical woman crying rape after a joke at an office party, I resented these writers for asking “the movement” to answer for the obviously inexperienced and strategically brazen reporter who wrote the Ansari story at the previously unheard-of Web site babe.net.

Me Too, Except I Didn’t Stay Silent‘ (Sukjong Hong for Longreads)

There’s more than one way to tell a story. Visual art, and the use of comics as a medium for communication and complex, sometimes overwhelming issues, provides an insight into people’s lives that markedly different from that conveyed in text. This is an excellent, provocative read — or view, if you wish — that tells a dark story in a lively, compelling way.

In the places I’ve worked, sexual harassment was identified as something that could destroy an organization. It was a story with consequences.

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Photo: Susanne Nilsson/Creative Commons