In the eight million years since The New York Times and The New Yorker published bombshell investigations into Harvey Weinstein’s inappropriate sexual behavior with young actresses, models, and producers, approximately seven thousand more men have been named or alluded to as sexual harassers by women and men embracing the waves of #MeToo confessions, in what some are calling “The Weinstein Effect.” (I don’t love the idea of giving Weinstein any credit for this trend, and I wish we could give it instead to the women who spoke up and went on the record, and to the publications that stood behind them.) It’s been just two weeks since the Shitty Media Men list was first circulated, and already Vox Media parted ways with Lockhart Steele last Thursday over code of conduct violations, and yesterday Politico and The New York Times reported that Leon Wieseltier’s new magazine venture with Laurene Powell Jobs has been mothballed (why you’d have a 65-year-old man start a new magazine in 2017 is a question for another day!) for similar reasons.
So yes, the floodgates are open, and not just in media, because literally every industry has its Harvey Weinstein (again with the credit, oy!), because every industry has a powerful man who faces little to no consequences for his boundary-crossing behavior (academia, where u at?). In the food world, celebrity chef John Besh stepped down from his New Orleans-based restaurant group after 25 of his former employees accused him of fostering a culture of harassment and assault. After an LA Times investigation revealed that 38 women came forward to accuse the director James Toback of sexual misconduct, 193 (yes) more women contacted the reporter after that story came out. (The number has definitely grown since then.) Not even the untouchables are immune from the finger pointing—a holocaust survivor and a former U.S. president. have been accused of (and in the latter case, admitted to) grabassery.
But what’s there to connect men like Weinstein, Besh, and Toback, whose behavior towards women seems to be pathological at the very least, and the men whose names appeared on the Shitty Media Men list without a red highlight (intended to signify accusations of physical sexual violence)? “There’s a huge difference between rape and creepy DMs,” cried many cautiously pessimistic naysayers after the list was written about in Buzzfeed. Yes there is, but the difference is one of severity, not category—all of these violations come from the same uncertain position of a man trying to navigate his way around a woman he finds himself sexually attracted to. Splinter had a good anonymous interview between a woman and the man who sexually assaulted her, and their conversation is a great place to start if you’re wondering where to go from here. Yes, this is a very specific case with young adults still finding their way through a world of men and women sometimes having sex and sometimes not. And no, they are not in an office setting, nor is he her direct supervisor in any way. But you can see where this stuff starts—it’s the birds-and-bees-level shit that bleeds into everyday life, because her legs, because her outfit, because because because. There are more uncomfortable conversations to come, because workplace interactions will always have a slightly uncomfortable physical aspect as long as we, humans with genitals and complicated home lives, are walking around, wearing clothes, and speaking to one another face to face.
This cataclysm we all metonymically refer to as Harvey Weinstein has created a massive paradigm shift. There’s a theory in evolutionary biology that species change and evolve morphologically slowly and gradually over time. But there’s another theory, borne out by the fossil record, that instead, we have long periods of stasis (no change), followed by sudden jumps or rapid change in evolution—change as a punctuated event. Perhaps you were sleeping, but there was a massive tectonic shift, and we all woke up to everything slightly realigned. It has never been okay to stick your tongue down a woman’s throat in the office, but it is okay for us to talk about it now. What are we going to do with the men who get fired from their jobs, step down from their boards, are left by their wives? Are we acting too hastily? Ruining their careers? All over an embarrassing misunderstanding? I don’t have an answer except to ask you who you’re protecting and why, because everyone involved in a sexual harassment or abuse case is necessarily losing. Should we have a truth and reconciliation commission for the men accused of harassment? Reparations?
Awl pal Casey Johnston had a good suggestion of where to start. “In every moralizing family sitcom I watched growing up, the lesson was, if you did something wrong, you apologize for it,” she told me. “Even if you were getting away with it, even if it wasn’t that bad, you HAD to apologize, because that was just what you did. Literally every plot thread of “Saved By The Bell” revolves around apologizing!” So yes, if you have behaved badly and someone is upset about it, you can and should apologize to them. If they have not named or contacted you, do not offer a blanket apology for all past behavior—that’s not how this works. It isn’t about exoneration, or dismissal, or excuses. It’s about saying you did something wrong, period. It’s just about saying what happened, openly and honestly. We never used to do that before—that is what’s changed. The only way to move past this break, to cross this gap in the fault line, is to build a little footbridge, walk to the other side, and respect all the boundaries from there on out.