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Friday, October 20, 2017

In Weinstein's wake

I knew enough to do more than I did.

– Director Quentin Tarantino on behavior of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein

We've seen the likes of Angelina Jolie, Gweneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Kate Beckinsale and the still unfolding list of glamorous actresses reporting run-ins with one-time power broker and alleged serial sexual predator, Harvey Weinstein. We're reading and debating op-eds by Lena Dunham, Mayim Bialik and Lupita Nyong'o.

Cue now to the lives of everyday American women, where the role of Weinstein has been played, repeatedly, by men who, by dint of their position and will, inflict unwanted sexual attention and selfish, often untoward and, alternately, illegal, gratification. These close encounters of the repulsive kind are, to the surprise of some and chagrin of many, plentiful.

Amid this emerging zeitgeist lies the question of whether this is a mere moment of confessional cleansing before the usual retreat to established norms or the dawn of a structural reordering as it relates to our society’s sexual harassment tolerance.

The Weinstein fallout has highlighted the consequences of the reverberated message of accepting how things always have been and just are. In the process, it has unearthed a litany of flashbacks that have transported women to times they most wanted to forget, when they lost command of their bodies. To that classmate in middle school. The teacher in high school. The co-worker at that summer job. That minister/rabbi/imam/priest after service. The supervisor on the first job. Or second. Or current one.

By freeze-frame recollection, girls and women are re-living when they were shown, by threat or by action, that how they felt or what they wanted had no bearing as far as the males in question were concerned.

Fondling. Grinding. Groping. Uninvited hugs. Insistent kisses. Demanded intercourse. Rape. The statistics are harrowing, and today social media campaigns are giving these numbers assigned faces.

The most heartbreaking aspect of these revelations is the stunning volume and frequency of their occurrence, as if an obvious but unspoken tax borne by women for the mere sake and misfortune of their sex. It lies embedded in the codified lore of the “casting couch.” Its attitude permeates psyches, joked and shrugged about as a cultural fixture. That same “couch” appears in boardrooms, stockrooms, classrooms, stairwells and other spaces where opportunity and dignity are snatched in equal measure.

So in this moment of awakening, rather than simply dismantling or packing it away, let’s torch this couch and all that it represents.

Awareness of the prevalence of these acts provides some kindling, and that's intensifying far beyond the Weinstein stories that are stretching from Hollywood to London.

The #MeToo effort is giving average Janes, Julias, Jing-lis and Jahans voice and conversation where both had been absent. Women talking to each other, shedding the embarrassment and shame these encounters spawn and finding strength in one another’s stories, serve as a necessary gambit. But the discussions, like the solutions, cannot be one-sided, or single-gender. Men need to actively help incinerate the attitudes that give rise to these unhealthy and dehumanizing experiences, generation after generation.

Failing to do so serves to ignore the unnecessary plight of more than half of our population – daughters, sisters, cousins, aunts and mothers alike. Settling back into our familiar constructs would continue constricting and crippling the full humanity of legions of boys, wriggling into manhood under the false assumption that the option to lord over the opposite sex is not only viable, but somehow ordained. Worse, it would ossify further the belief that this entitlement can be exercised whenever things are economically sour for men. There are no grounds to accept that men have no stake in this evolving conversation; some of them, also, bear the pain of unwanted sexual advances and assaults. But it shouldn't have to happen to you in order to recognize the evils that can and do emerge from unchecked, boorish behavior. And mansplaining has no place or currency.

Simply dismissing the stark reality of having to navigate debauched circumstances or feigning ignorance in light of this multitude of revelations neither engenders strength nor enshrines masculinity. Active listening, concerted empathy and a commitment to action, will.

Tarantino's quote unlocked that which had been churning in the background since this scandal erupted, an admission that hints at Martin Niemöller’s cautionary poem, a haunting epitaph for any conscience. Because there is enough known to do more, and for sure we know second-class citizenry for girls and women deserves no glow of nostalgia, or oxygen of the present.