I really wasn’t surprised by anyone until the thoughtful, highbrow, and dignified Charlie Rose this week joined the ranks of apparent creepers. A definite SMH. Et tu, bro?
When I first heard of and posted a #MeToo, I’d hoped for a moment of reckoning, but I didn’t anticipate that #MeToo would so soon turn into an empowering, but also disappointing domino game of #YouToo?
To be honest, I’d hesitatingly hung on to my Me Too for a day, and had poster’s remorse immediately after it appeared on my Facebook wall. I felt like an imposter. Did my “Me Too,” based on unremarkable smatterings of sexual-harassment here and there, undermine the truly powerful Me Too posts, which spoke of true brutality and courage?
My social media footprint is downright dainty, so I winced with each new like or sad face emoji, wondering if I was just drawing attention to myself, receiving unmerited sympathy and “stolen valor.” I read the immensely personal, knock-the-wind-out of you accounts behind other women’s stories of harassment and assault, and wondered if I cheapened them. My Me Too started feeling unseemly.
But I kept it because I felt that joining this chorus of it’s not harmless and you’re not entitled was important, not just as catharsis and a call to arms, but as an unprecedented opportunity for meaningful cultural introspection on this issue. For both men and women.
Like many others, dusting off memories of intrusive and unwarranted, though not traumatic, harassment, or assault-lite, made me realize that too often, I failed to give myself credit, and that too often girls and women are taught to give men and perpetrators every benefit of the doubt, while reserving none for themselves. They are taught to diminish indignities here and there, and accept it as background noise in the din of life.
And so this moment asks women to revisit and release their own shame, self-doubt, and feelings of uncertainty, and to invite the menfolk over to the BS banquet. So now it’s not his colleague edging her legs away from his hand and as close as possible to the passenger door, but Charlie Rose, et al., who are squirming. And some men (and women) are wondering if this is/will turn into a “witch hunt” — an admittedly stupid analogy, but I get the gist — taking down talented men for minor transgressions. When every day seems to bring news of sexual misconduct and sanctions, they fear that innocent, or maybe hapless-but-totally-harmless guys will be railroaded next aboard the #MeToo Express.
Here’s the thing. I believe in proportionality and due process, and these considerations are important. In the case of the criminal justice system, I firmly support innocent before proven guilty, and not just because I’m a lawyer, but because it’s the moral imperative of a democratic, decent government to take every precaution to avoid punishing the innocent. But we’re generally not talking about the procedural safeguards of the criminal justice system here. We are talking about a moral reckoning (and recalibration) in our society.
A moment where the wronged are relieved of carrying the burden and doubt while perpetrators enjoy impunity. A moment where men don’t get the luxury of remaining largely aloof (or as Bill O’Reilly might say, falafel). A moment where we all take a step forward towards empathy, decency, and embracing true dignity. We will all be better for it.