The heaviness, the heaviness

30 07 2018

I’m no longer shocked by stories of men who think they are owed others.

I mean, I doubt sexual abuse is shocking to any woman, although I do admit that the authority with which these men asserted this access did shock me. I was used to stories of men who bragged that they got away with it or who thought that bitch had it coming; the breeziness with which Rose and Lauer and Weinstein et. al. attacked women, well that was something.

No more.

So now I notice other things about these stories, these men: they don’t have to remember. The women, they remember, they can’t forget, but the men? They don’t recall, don’t remember, don’t remember it that way, have no recollection.

Over and over and over again:  Did I do this? I don’t recall, so, no.

The assaults were too inconsequential to be remembered, too ordinary, too light. It was nothing.

This is power: to forget, to offload the memory, to deny there was ever any burden at all.

Advertisements




Does your conscience bother you

25 01 2018

How do you live with yourself knowing that you at best did nothing to stop a predator, at worst aided in the predation?

The case of Larry Nassar is likely one of the worst cases of sexual abuse by a single individual in US sports, if not US society. The number of victims who testified at his sentencing hearing is 156; about 40 more submitted testimony anonymously, and still others have stated that they, too, were abused by Nassar.

Nassar, justly, will spend the rest of his life in prison. Yes, I believe we incarcerate too many people, for too long and in too horrid conditions. I support sentencing and prison reform. I also believe some of us have behaved so monstrously towards others of us that they have lost their right to live among those on whom they would prey. So, yes, I think it is just that Nassar will live and die a prisoner.

But what of all those who enabled him, who didn’t stop him? Rachael Denhollander, who was the first victim willing to identify herself as such,

said she felt certain the officials had been told. It seemed impossible to her that no one knew about it. From the practiced way Nassar did what he did, it seemed like he had done it thousands of times. (Which he later admitted to doing.) “This must be medical treatment,” Denhollander remembered thinking. “The problem must be me.”

Denhollander would later learn that women and girls had come forward before she walked into Nassar’s office in 2000. Four women to be exact. None of them were believed. That’s the reason why Denhollander spent a large chunk of her statement indicting the institutions that enabled Nassar’s abuse to go on, unabated, for nearly thirty years.

These institutions include Michigan State University, which conducted self-examinations which—surprise!—revealed no wrongdoing, and USA Gymnastics, which “kept secret files with sexual abuse allegations against member coaches rather than immediately forwarding those complaints to the police.”

Yes, yes, institutions turning away from inconvenient truths: nothing new about that. But how do you, as a person, turn away? The coach, colleagues, the president of the university: they supported Nassar, dismissed complaints, pleaded ignorance. They didn’t want to know.

Is that it, finally? They didn’t want to know? Because it was, what? unpleasant? a hassle? Because it was more important to think of themselves as good than actually to do good?

I ask because as much as I’d like to think I’d say HEY!, would I, really?

I don’t know that I’d do it out of a sense of Kantian duty—to do the right thing for the right reason—but I think there’s a decent chance that I’d realize that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t step up. Universal law may set the absolute standard, but as a non-absolutist, I’ll have to make do with conscience.

That conscience is not unerring, but it keeps working on me, perhaps because I keep working on it. And maybe because I do the work, it’s possible that I’d think, Hey, and so thinking, say Hey!, and maybe even shout HEY!

Again, I don’t know for sure that I would, but I do know that if I didn’t, well, that would mark me for the rest of my days. I would be diminished.

So how will these enablers live with themselves? Will they, like MSU President Simon, cover themselves in ashes while pronouncing themselves righteous? (You think I exaggerate? I do not.) Will they deflect and deny, or downplay the severity of the crimes? Will they keep themselves whole, and hollow?

What will they do?

~~~

Ursula Le Guin died yesterday. I like her stuff, but as a fitful sci-fi fan, have more to read than I have read.

Still, when I was reading all of Dvora Meyers’s and the other Deadspin staff’s reporting on Nassar (and, really, you should follow all of those links I provided, then the links within the links) I did think of one of the Le Guin’s stories I did read: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.

Unlike many of you, I didn’t read this in school: I only read it for the first time a few years ago. But it insinuated itself into me, is still working on me.

I don’t know that I’d walk away—I mean, I live in the US: I haven’t walked away—which is why I’m not sure that I’d have done the right thing by all of those girls and women.

Ach, I could say, it’s not the same, not at all the same. But I’m not so sure, I’m not at all so sure.





Same as it ever was

14 11 2017

Ever more allegations of sexual abuse—yay?

I mean, it’s good that those who’ve been harassed and assaulted are speaking up and, even better, apparently being heard: in Hollywood, gymnastics, politics, comedy, universities, the media, . . .

But oh, yeah, all of this shit happening everywhere all of the time.

Will THIS BE THE TIME something finally changes?

I don’t think so.

I’m not making any predictions—I am out of the prediction game—so my I don’t think so is more of a mood than anything else, and, oh yeah, I am mighty moody.

Rebecca Traister veers between hope and wariness:

This is different. This is ’70s-style, organic, mass, radical rage, exploding in unpredictable directions. It is loud, thanks to the human megaphone that is social media and the “whisper networks” that are now less about speaking sotto voce than about frantically typed texts and all-caps group chats.

Really powerful white men are losing jobs — that never happens. Women (and some men) are breaking their silence and telling painful and intimate stories to reporters, who in turn are putting them on the front pages of major newspapers.

[…]

“It’s a ‘seeing the matrix’ moment,” says one woman whom I didn’t know personally before last week, some of whose deepest secrets and sharpest fears and most animating furies I’m now privy to. “It’s an absolutely bizarre thing to go through, and it’s fucking exhausting and horrible, and I hate it. And I’m glad. I’m so glad we’re doing it. And I’m in hell.”

Traister focuses mostly on how this entire matrix captures all of us, perpetrator, victim, and bystander, but also notes (along with Barbara Ehrenreich) the class dimension of this latest round of revelations:

That reality fogs some of the satisfaction we feel in watching monstrous men lose their influence; we know that it’s a drop in a bottomless bucket. “Maybe we can get another two horrible people to have to step down or say they’re sorry,” one Democratic lawmaker told me, “but that helps only 20 people, and it’s 20 million who need things to change. Plus, you’re a farmworker? A lady who cleans offices? You’re a prostitute or an immigrant? You’re not going to tell your story.”

Hollywood can afford to lose Harvey Weinstein and Time can lose Mark Halperin and Fox is fine without Bill O’Reilly and Leon Wieseltier was in the twilight of his career anyway so, okay, throw the bums out and slap your hands together and mission accomplished.

Men have not succeeded in spite of their noxious behavior or disregard for women; in many instances, they’ve succeeded because of it. They’ve been patted on the back and winked along — their retro-machismo hailed as funny or edgy — at the same places that are now dramatically jettisoning them. “The incredible hypocrisy of the boards, employers, institutions, publicists, brothers, friends who have been protecting powerful men/harassers/rapists for years and are now suddenly dropping them,” says one of my colleagues at New York, livid and depressed. “What changed? Certainly not their beliefs about the behavior, right? Only their self-interest. On the one hand, I’m so happy they’re finally being called out and facing consequences, but there’s something so craven and superficially moralizing about the piling on by the selfsame people who were the snickerers and protectors.”

Another woman, who works in politics, grimly observes, “Sure, good liberal thinkers will go to their sexual-harassment seminars and do all the things they should be doing. But ultimately, this is a cover-your-ass moment, not a change-the-rules moment.”

Cui bono? Always ask this, I tell my students. It’s not the only question, sometimes not even the most important question, but if you don’t look at who gains from any system or practice, then you can’t really see why that system would persist or that practice embraced.

Hard on this question is the less mellifluous Who pays? If who benefits and who pays are two different groups, then the system will remain.

Not doing much about abuse has worked for a lot of people, men and women, for a long time. And those for whom it hasn’t worked, well, they haven’t mattered as much. Those who benefit are more powerful than those who pay.

And while there is something cathartic in those who’ve paid and paid and paid again shouting and hissing and grimly intoning Enough, while it seems as if this is A Moment, I dread the counter-moment, the It’s-gone-too-far, the Enough-with-enough backlash.

As Traister notes, “A powerful white man losing a job is a death, and don’t be surprised if women wind up punished for the spate of killings.”

Still, she is hopeful, noting that maybe, this time, finally, this time it will be different. She quotes a friend’s response to the recent election results: “Maybe we’re the backlash.”

It’d be nice to think so, wouldn’t it? I don’t, but maybe it’s worth it to act as if it were so.