On men and women, Kavenaugh and Ford

As I listen to Christine Blasey Ford give her testimony at the U.S. Senate judiciary committee today I try to understand why there is such a rift between what men say and feel about this and what women say and feel. On the surface it’s obvious; in acts of sexual aggression it is almost always in the direction of men assaulting women, so it’s natural that when accusations surface the women back the women, out of a sense of victim solidarity, and the men become defensive.

But surely there’s more to it. The female part of this equation is fairly clear, but why do so many men so predictably fall into the defensive stance, where they minimize the apparent effects of such aggressions, deflect into tangents about due process, and otherwise regress into the juvenile “bro” collective.

As I pick these things apart, some ideas emerge.

Why the focus on “due process?” There is a somewhat reasonable explanation for this, at least at first glance. In most western democratic countries we have pretty decent legal systems, if not always in practice at least in theory. One of the founding principles is that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty. People of a certain vintage might remember that in the Soviet Union, all one supposedly had to do to rid oneself of an annoying neighbour or co-worker is denounce them to the KGB or the Stasi. People in the western world were appalled at this and we congratulated ourselves on our principles and practices of due process.

Then along comes the Internet and the social networks, which elevated the “court of public opinion” to near-legal status. Now, if you play your cards right, you can just about orchestrate a KGB-like disappearance of someone by launching an accusation on social media and letting the tide of public denouncement do the rest. This is rightfully something to worry about.

But where does that fit in with the various accusations in the #metoo era? Non-critical thinkers of the knee-jerk-reaction variety will jump to this right out of the gate. A woman accuses a man of some sexual indiscretion or assault and the men all coral together and complain about a lack of due process, accusing the accuser of character assassination via the aforementioned court of public opinion and invisibly conjuring the shadow of the KGB and Stasi.

Well I have news for you. Due process is still a thing. Credible accusations lead to hearings. Do you think Jian Ghomeshi just walked into work one day and was shown the door? Do you think Bill Cosby was picked up off the street and thrown into a black Lada and driven to Rikers Island? Was Harvey Weinstein just magically divested of Miramax Pictures by a wand-waving Tinkerbell?

No. Credible accusations lead to investigations and hearings. That’s what’s happening right now in Washington DC, where Christine Blasey Ford is accusing Brett Kavanaugh of some pretty nasty things, and she’s doing it in front of a U.S. Senate judiciary committee. Not Facebook. Not Sun News. A U.S. Senate judiciary committee.

This is how it’s supposed to work, so all those guys who complain about a lack of due process please shut up and listen to the hearing. Someone like Ford, a psychology professor at a respected university, doesn’t just make this up.

As to why men tend to go off on that tangent more than women, I have a theory. As I said earlier, these aggressions happen to women far more than they happen to men, and the perpetrators of the aggressions are more likely to be men. Right there you see a clear and understandable division in how these things will be thought about and acted upon.

Of course not all men are like that. But a lot are, or at least they were in their arrogant youth. I suspect one of the reasons why so many men tend to downplay these accusations is because many of them are guilty of them, either directly or indirectly, such as having witnessed it and done nothing, or having re-told the tasteless jokes.

The mind is a funny thing, and it finds ways to make us feel less guilty over time. It rearranges our memories, and it comes up with distractions and tangents in order to justify the thing which may or may not have occurred. To the guilty mind these assaults were not assaults. Aggressions were not aggressions. It was long ago, and remembered differently. The lead balloon acquires gas over time so as not to weigh one down.

Well here’s a news flash. Grow up. See with your eyes and your mind and not with your biases and justifications. This shit is real, and the people involved deserve your respect. Kavanaugh has a right to a hearing, and Ford and the other accusers have a right to tell their stories without coercion or threats. It’s not a question of just blindly believing every accusation; it’s a matter of determining the credibility of the accusation (the vast majority we hear about can be instantly identified as credible) and then moving to the next step; the hearing. And it’s no accident that it’s called a “hearing” because it involves listening. So listen.

(Published simultaneously on Facebook.)

Notes on #MeToo (Facebook)

I’ve been watching the “Me Too” (#metoo) phenomenon unfold over the past day or so with interest, awe, and horror. I confess I have barely responded, as it seems that clicking “Like” or “angry face” just seems too easy and a bit trite. Some people have called for men to step up and make some declaration of what they will do to help end sexual harassment and rape culture. I’m at a loss as to what to say or do, at least in terms of posting Facebook comments.

And of course there is the inevitable backlash, and its milder form, the push-back. Most of which I ignore for the sake of my own sanity.

There have even been a few men who shared their “me too” stories, and that’s OK. But what’s not OK is for men to insist that their stories should have an equal voice in this particular rising-up. Those tone-deaf men need to understand that the “me too” thing is not just about declaring that a bad thing happened to you. This phenomenon, which boiled out of the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story, is specifically about the systematic harassment and belittlement of women by men, and in particular, by men with power.

While any kind of harassment or assault can be hurtful, the kind of harassment and assault we’re talking about today carries a special kind of hurt for women. When it happens to a male it is usually an isolated event, and the fallout remains confined to that context. But when it happens to a woman it comes with baggage. Specifically, a long history of similar events that are shared by virtually all women to one extent or another, and which points to a future where it will likely occur again and again, with consequences that go beyond the isolated event. In other words, the victim can’t contain it. She can’t just say “well, that was only one boss,” or “I didn’t need that job anyway.”

No, the victim sees it is part of a system that has always been stacked against them. Every incident of harassment and assault carries that baggage, that resonance that says “it’s bigger than this.” The weight of that baggage can be crippling.

I can only hope that I’ve never done anything hurtful in this way, or if I have, that it has done no lasting damage. It might sound odd to put it that way, as if I suffer from amnesia. (I don’t.) But I do know that a combination of youth, uncertainty of where one fits into the world, and booze, can make people do things that they don’t even realize are hurtful. I cannot recall any such event in my past, but considering how distant my youth is, and how un-woke pretty much everyone was then and there, I can’t say for certain.

So what can I do now? All I know is that I will continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is to eschew “bro” culture, call out misogyny when I see it, and never, ever, enable the kind of disrespectful and predatory male behaviour I see around me every day.

And know that even if I haven’t been responding to your “me too” stories, I am reading, and listening.

(Originally posted on Facebook. Re-posted here for posterity.)

Missing the Point(s)

Yesterday, millions of women and men in the United States and around the world came out to march against the Trump presidency. The reaction among the Trumpists was predictable. I am shocked, however, to see the extent to which otherwise reasonable people — mostly not even Trump supporters — have piled onto the bandwagon of “where were these people on voting day?”

That bandwagon and the thinking behind is so wrong, so unbelievably wrong, that I am almost rendered speechless. Fortunately I can still type, so here is why that sentiment is wrong and completely misses the various points behind yesterday’s Women’s March.

(1) Your math is wrong

You seem to think that if all those protesters had simply voted against Trump on election day, that Trump wouldn’t have won and they’d have nothing to complain about. First off, who says that the people in the marches are the ones who didn’t vote?

The low voter turnout is irrelevant. The people who marched are most likely the people who did vote. After all, if you’re too lazy to vote you’re probably too lazy to go to a march. While we will never be sure about the actual percentage of marchers who did or didn’t vote, assuming that even half of them were vote-skippers is naïve in the extreme (see above point about laziness).

Even with the most pessimistic of voter turnout numbers, that still leaves tens of millions of U.S. citizens that voted against Trump, many of whom we saw yesterday.

(2) Your assumption about sour grapes is wrong

Your gripe implies you think the point of the march was to complain about the outcome of the vote. No, that’s over and done with. Although many questions remain unanswered about the role of Russia, and the “popular vote vs. electoral college” question remains forever in purgatory, the objective of the Women’s March was not to complain about losing.

The objective was to state loudly and clearly that although the election is a fait accompli, there is much about Trump, the Trump cabinet nominees, and other aspects of the Trump Machine that is already worthy of protest. The lies are as thick as ever, the inauguration speech was downright frightening, the ethical problems with Trump, his family, and his nominees are eye-popping, and his presidency is only a day old.

People against Trump could see this coming. It is absolutely known among clear- and objective-thinking people (both democrats and republicans, as well as people from around the world) that the Trump presidency is a disaster in the making on multiple levels. The Women’s March was protesting the on-coming train wreck, not the vote count.

(3) You don’t understand democracy

You seem to think that democracy involves going out to vote every four years and then just rolling over and letting your elected dictator do whatever he or she wants. No. This is not the Soviet Union. This isn’t the Vatican. Democracy doesn’t end at the ballot box; that’s where it begins.

In a properly functioning democracy, those who are elected are not granted short-term dictatorships. They are accountable to the people from the day they enter office until the day they leave. The people speak through the media, through the various committees and organizations that actually run the country, and through direct action (read: protests).

That’s how it works. It doesn’t stop. Yesterday we saw millions of people come out and say “No.” These people are holding Trump accountable for what he says and what he does, and yesterday’s march sets the tone for the next four years.

If you are against Trump and against the Women’s March, then I don’t know how you can even see straight given the cognitive dissonance that must be ravaging your brain right now. Unless, that is, there is something in your view of democracy that makes you think it’s just a once-every-four-years inconvenience and in the interim you’re happy to be lorded over and dictated.

In Trump’s inauguration speech he said “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.” Boom. That, right there, is the reason for the Women’s March on Washington (and its avatars around the world). The people standing up to the government, demanding to be heard.

(Published simultaneously on Facebook.)