At this moment, millions of American men are trying to think of the right thing to say. Women have told them that their words aren’t as important as what they do, but they will fumble through them regardless, because their silence doesn’t feel correct. Neither does admitting they are at a loss. Men want to draw clear lines and capture the truth. It is required, in a crucible of ugly, heavily reported male misbehavior, that they hack a path out of this jungle into a forgiving, beneficent clearing.
But in this case, they won’t. The truth is, we’re past all that — the moments in which men could have used language to help solve the problem. Instead, they evaded and enabled. They pretended that some superficial distance from explicit horror gave them room to be shocked by it. Men have at last run out of excuses for men, leaving no option but violent upheaval.
They’d do better to join this momentum than resist it.
We are one year into an unnamed, women-led revolution that would have the world recognize how sexual terrorism is no less than the synthesis of every societal flaw you care to name: age-old gender inequality; late-capitalist decay, and the economic insecurity that comes with it; and a collective indifference that veils a simple absence of empathy. What men say still goes on the record, but now, it will be held in contrast against what they’ve done to those they perceive as powerless prey.
Between Weinstein, Cosby, Ailes et al, the dam of immunity is showing new cracks that many victims never thought they’d see. And as we await the downfall of the Predator-in-Chief, women are sniffing out the rot in their chosen industries, the “small-time motherfuckers” who, if not crushed now, will in 20 years be known as the untouchables who’ve been getting away with this for decades.
No man waits till he’s at the top before abusing his position. The minimum stature, the most basic protections, are all he needs to coerce and control. What the toppled titans of sexual assault tell us is that their comeuppance was overdue, and only came when their influence was already on the wane. Across entertainment, tech, politics and the service industry, we will have to unmask our own colleagues, sometimes even our friends, as people who unforgivably threaten, intimidate and violate women — wary, always, of the kind who claims a feminist enlightenment to shore up his defenses. We will have to ask ourselves what we ought to do when we find the monsters in our midst, other than unfollow them on Twitter and make their reputation stick like a layer of scum.
As with all revolutions, this one is messy. The collateral damage may be steep; any premonition of lasting change falls well short of a promise. Since the media apparatus is both infected with the disease and charged with exposing it elsewhere, the very means of diagnosis is crippled, and discoveries may instead come to light through chaotic, unverified channels, which the internet offers in abundance.
Make no mistake: This is a bloodletting. How else can men be forced to understand the paranoia and sense of weakness they inflict on women? The rapists and harassers should live in fear, knowing their crimes aren’t secret, while the rest should wonder — as every woman must — what lurks in the mind of the next man over.
No more faux concern about women’s improvised methods of sounding the alarm, which are born of your failures anyway. No more assuming that those who speak up want anything besides justice, compassion or support. No more hypotheticals about false accusations.
Shut up and take your medicine, or we’re never going to level out to something that resembles harmony.
Currently, we’re on a pendulum that swings to extremes, through a cycle of overcorrection. If all you take away from this is that the next drop may cause you discomfort, then welcome to the human race. Comedians are tired of political correctness? Then I guess we can go ahead and name the perverts. Conservatives are sick of this hand-wringing about “safe spaces”? Fine: Let’s realize there never were any.
Let the entire art of politeness, this humiliating dance we do around what everyone suspects but dares not speak aloud, crumble off into the ocean. What the misogynist reactionaries and sexual assault apologists haven’t grasped is that the freedoms they tout belong to the righteous, while they cower behind an eroding barricade of bad faith.
So, as a man who has not quite known what to say this week — disgusted by the impotence of men who shrug at these scandals, cozy in their blank cynicism and relative innocence, as well as the narcissistic performances of men who would be the face of a movement not theirs to lead, and finally the men long rumored to be offenders who have fallen tactfully mute — I have to settle for saying this: I believe in revolution. I believe that oppressors rise to be destroyed. And I believe there is almost no recourse too radical for those united against them, given that law enforcement and internal watchdogs are openly complicit.
This didn’t start out a fair fight, and it certainly won’t end that way.