#MeToo Ethics

Not everyone can be Anita Hill.

We all know who Anita Hill is because she is a smart and brave woman who tried to make the world a better place and succeeded. We do not know the names of the smart and brave women who tried to make the world a better place and failed. If you try and fail, your career will be ruined while the creepy douchebag who’s harassing people will gain extra immunity from future accusations. Anita Hill succeeded because she is smart and brave, but also because she is mediagenic and had a lot of legal support – and it still wasn’t easy for her. Maybe you can’t be Anita Hill, but you can keep triplicate copies of all your records of harassment on hand so that you can stand behind a future Anita Hill when she steps up.

They may not be telling the whole story, but you should believe them anyway.

When a person in a precarious position provides testimony against someone in a position of relative power, it’s important to treat their testimony seriously but also with a sympathetic understanding of the broader context. Most people just want to do their jobs and go home without getting lawyers involved, and most people aren’t going to risk ruining their professional reputation unless something truly upsetting is going on. The chances are that the bad behavior being reported has been going on for a long time and includes far more microaggressions than outright harassment, but it can be extremely difficult to get other people to take microaggressions seriously. If someone makes an accusation, it’s fair to assume that what they’ve chosen to highlight in their testimony is only the tip of the iceberg. Even if they accidentally misrepresent the shape of the iceberg, that giant island of ship-destroying ice is still there.

There are no neutral parties once an accusation has been made.

You cannot simultaneously be friends with a rapist or harasser and the person they raped or harassed. Once a formal accusation has been made, you have to pick a side. This isn’t always easy, but do you really want to be friends with someone who harasses and assaults other people? Or, in rare cases, with someone who has made a false accusation of harassment and assault?

When in doubt, the person who makes death threats is wrong.

Sometimes it’s not clear what’s going on or who the aggrieved party actually is. If you find yourself in a situation in which you have to pick a side but don’t know all the details or who’s telling the truth, you should side with the person who isn’t sending death threats, rape threats, or suicide bait to the other person – or asking or encouraging other people to do it for them.

The accused party does not get to dictate the terms of the relationship.

Someone who has behaved badly does not automatically deserve a second chance, or a chance to explain themselves, or a chance to apologize, or any amount of time and emotional energy of the person they’ve harassed or assaulted. If the person who has suffered because of their actions eventually wants to repair the relationship, that’s up to them, not the person who ruined their life. It’s important that mutual acquaintances not try to act as intermediaries, especially not if there’s a court order in place.

I know it may seem as though I’m speaking in broad generalizations, but each of these observations is based on my own experiences. I thought about giving concrete examples to illustrate these points, but I ultimately decided against it. Like I said, most people (including myself) just want to do their jobs and go home without getting lawyers involved. If someone is willing to risk their career to stand up to harassment and abuse, however, it’s important to support them, even if that “support” is as simple as saving a copy of an incriminating email or unfollowing someone who asks other people to send rape threats on social media.

#MeToo Four Months Later

I’m currently reading a book called All These Wonders, which is a collection of transcripts from The Moth podcast. The idea behind The Moth, which began as a sort of curated open mic event, is that people with interesting stories to tell stand up in front of a live audience and speak for about fifteen to twenty minutes.

Louis C.K. has a piece in the collection in which he talks about taking a break from television writing to visit Russia in 1994. At the beginning of the story, he says that, he used to love reading Russian literature when he was a kid, and that he would open the window while he read so that he could feel cold like the characters did. This is such a lovely idea that I almost forgot what a piece of human garbage Louis C.K. is.

I was never a big fan of Louis C.K., but I was casually invested enough in his career to go see one of his live shows, which I think displays a certain level of commitment – especially from someone like me who would rather play video games than leave the house for any reason. I never thought his signature jokes about masturbation were funny, but I always figured that, you know, he’s a male stand-up comedian, and at least he wasn’t making jokes about rape.

When the #MeToo movement gave several women the immense courage it must have taken to come forward and say that he did what he did, though, I wasn’t surprised. With a lot of the men who got called out in the conversations surrounding the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter, I think we all always sort of knew that there was something weird going on.

I say this not only about public figures who got called out but also people in my own life. I was included in a number of Facebook group conversations that were started for women (and a few men and nonbinary people) to share their bad experiences with mutual male acquaintances; and, while I was extremely upset to hear about what my friends had had to suffer through, nothing I learned came as a surprise. We all knew that these men were rude and condescending and a bit creepy, but we had never had anything to point to and say, “This is why I can no longer tolerate your behavior.”

My circle of connections has never been that wide, but I still ended up cutting all ties with about a dozen men, and I regret nothing. There has been so much less noise in my life since then, and I’m much happier.

What does hurt me is cutting ties with the women who stood up to defend these men. If I’m being honest, though, I always knew that there was something a bit off about these women as well, but again, I never had something concrete that I could point to and say “this is why we can’t be friends.” It’s one thing, for example, if a female colleague has been consistently rude and condescending to me. It’s another thing entirely if she’s presented with a wall of undergraduate comments on the website Rate My Professors that all say that a male professor sexually harasses his female students, and she responds by saying, “Kids just use that website to say mean things about instructors they don’t like, and all of those girls are lying.”

Or rather, I say these two attitudes are two separate things, but are they really? After all, you don’t need to have a penis to be affected by our culture’s insistence that women are less worthy of empathy and respect than men.

In any case, my life looks radically different now than it did last October, and four months later I’m still trying to process what happened and how I personally can continue moving forward.

To return to the Louis C.K. story, his punchline is that, no matter how bad his life in New York seemed, at least he didn’t live in Moscow. Because Russia sucks, I guess? What an asshole. In retrospect, maybe it’s better that there’s now less of his bullshit in the world.

( Header image by Melanie Westfall )