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Stop Demanding Women Fit Into a Feminazi/Forgiveness Binary

#metoo, me too, sexual harassment

As we watch the growing mountains of sexual harassment and assault allegations and public outings and subsequent avalanches of consequences, a lot of people can’t help but focus on what comes next. That’s a valid question, but for many, it’s not a question that can be answered yet. And to insist it be answered only serves to steal focus from what women are going through now. We’ve been seeing a lot of that lately–the desire to rush through this moment in time, and to put it all into the contexts of existing, stale narratives. Namely, that the monolith of women must know it wants and its demands must consider the feelings of men, preferably above their own.

Ijeoma Oluo, editor-at-large at The Establishment, shared a Twitter thread earlier this week detailing a troubling conversation with a major newspaper, later revealed to be USA Today. Read through the whole thread here, but in short, the newspaper, with whom she had never worked, contacted her to write a “rebuttal” to a piece they were planning to write. Their piece (now published here) argued that “it’s great that women are coming forward, but that we need to treat each case individually and remember due process.”

So … what is the rebuttal to that?

But that’s not the piece they wanted. They wanted an argument that due process wasn’t necessary and that if a few innocent men got taken down or lose their jobs, it was worth it for the sake of women.

Oluo expanded on her original thread in an article on The Establishment. In it, she recalls her reaction to that bizarre conversation.

We ended the call and I just sat frozen in my chair for a few minutes. Did this really just happen? Was I seriously just asked by the third largest paper in the nation to write their “feminazi” narrative to counter their “reasoned and compassionate” editorial? Was I just asked to be one of the excuses for why this whole “me too” moment needed to be shut down? Was I just asked to be their strawman?

Just a few hours after I first saw Oluo’s thread, this tweet from Jessica Chastain popped up on my timeline. She’s criticizing Variety’s headline for an interview, titled “[Jessica Chastain] lauds working with female directors: ‘It’s just a healthier set to be on.'”

That might seem like an insignificant difference. It’s not. There’s simplification for headlines’ sake, and then there’s manufacturing a reductionist argument.

Right around the time that tweet went out, Amber Tamblyn published an op-ed in the New York Times, in which she discussed the issue of redemption, and specifically the demands she’s seen made for us to enter into that phase of our current reckoning.

Why do we need to talk about the redemption of men when we are right in the middle of the salvation of women? Not even the middle, but the very beginning? Why are we obligated to care about salvaging male careers when we have just begun to tell the stories that have plagued us for lifetimes? It seems some men like a revolution only when it’s their kind of war.

We are at a point where many women (and people in general) would like to burn the existing patriarchal systems and industries to the ground. Just burn ’em all down and start fresh. We want to see all the men who have abused their power lose that power. We want everyone who contributed to and profited off of the existing systems that allowed men to take advantage of women–financially, professionally, sexually, whatever–to be held accountable. We want those systems themselves to disappear.

That is not the same as a witch hunt. A desire for the end of patriarchy is not the same as an end of men in general. Why is that so hard to understand?

What comes up in all of the instances above is a call for balance. It’s disturbing that that’s being translated by so many as a modern-era remake of The Crucible. The rewriting of Chastain’s words to remove any nuance, the insistence that a writer take the expected “feminazi” stance of “down with all men,” the demand that we move immediately into the redemption phase for men–all of these are ways of recentering the conversation to be about men. They are all designed to maintain the status quo with, at best, a quick lip service acknowledgement of what women are experiencing. Women are painted as being devoid of nuance, full only of anger, and refusing to ever forgive men or mankind. We are either kind and forgiving, or we hate all men with a blanket rage. Both make it easy to ignore us.

Not all women want the same thing. We don’t all have the same ideal outcome from these sudden shifts in power and the outings of sexual predators and serial harassers. But no matter what your end goal or ideal rebuilding phase looks like, we are not there yet. And we’ll never get there via the shortcuts of ignoring, simplifying, or vilifying women’s experiences.

So what is next? I don’t know. No one knows. But if we’re lucky, it won’t be all of us going back to the way things were before. It won’t involve men like Weinstein and Louis C.K. hiding out for a while and then returning to the exact same stature they had before. And I don’t even mean they need to have less. (Although yes, some do.) But their position needs to be different. As Tamblyn writes, their power needs to be different.

A new power. Can there be one for men, free of humiliation, shame and violent assault against women? Women who are their wives, daughters, mothers and friends sitting next to them on couches? And what would it take to achieve it? That’s the question for men and their text chains right now, not the question of how soon they can ask about redemption. Redemption must be preceded by atonement. It is earned, not offered. If you want amends, you have to make them. You have to acknowledge the line in the sand. Once you do this, the next step is simple: Pick a side. Choose us.

I know “a new power” isn’t as easy to comprehend as some would like. I know it’s a whole lot easier to put us in boxes–as those who care about men’s feelings on one side and the feminazis on the other. But frankly, most of us are done trying to make these things easier for those who demand such things.

(image: Shutterstock)

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