Since the news of Morgan Freeman’s “bad behavior” towards women emerged, I’ve been thinking a lot about #MeToo and sexual harassment. I’ve been pondering the terrifying stories of rape and aggression we’ve heard from women like Rose McGowan and Bill Cosby’s accusers.
It is a wonderful thing that the #MeToo movement has empowered women (particularly in the depraved, insulated culture of Hollywood) to speak up about their treatment and has brought more attention to talented female artists who have traditionally been brushed aside by the Hollywood Old Boys Club. It is my sincere hope that more women on sets and in studios will feel supported and that they will not continue to cover up the disgusting and even depraved behavior of people like Louis C.K. and Harvey Weinstein any longer. The Kevin Spacey’s of the world deserve to be replaced by the Christopher Plummers.
However, I’m beginning to wonder (and worry) if #MeToo is overcorrecting? At the start of the Weinstein scandal, I remember feeling relieved – smug, even – that these perverts were finally receiving their just rewards left and right. But suddenly it seemed like every man was a pervert. Movie stars like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were forced to make apologies for behavior that seemed rude but not criminal. It was sweeping, with a new headline every day declaring a new high-profile sexual harasser.
Most recently actor Jason Bateman was compelled to apologize for not being sufficiently sympathetic when his Arrested Development costar Jessica Walter shared a story about being verbally harassed by Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development, Transparent).
Is there a difference between poor behavior and assault? Is #MeToo (either purposefully or accidentally) blurring the line between the two?
I think they are, and I think we have once again reached a danger zone, albeit of a different kind this time.
Is there such a thing as “boys will be boys”? What does that mean and should it even be tolerated?
At the risk of getting all kinds of hate mail, I will say – YES.
Perhaps it’s easier to begin by explaining what “boys will be boys” does NOT mean. It does not mean- “Hey, boys are just going to rape people. It’s what they do”; it does not mean – “It’s fine if that boy grabbed your butt/breast/skirt. It’s just what they do.”; it does not mean – “Boys are hormonal and girls just have to deal with it quietly and politely.”
It doesn’t mean any of that. However, the term is a cliche for a reason. Men and women have different biological imperatives and it affects the way we relate to each other. This is a concept as old as humanity, stretching back to a time when men were exclusively hunters and women were exclusively child-bearers. What we might refer to in 2018 as “traditional values” is really just another way to express the evolutionary development of male/female relations.
Women are the gatekeepers. Men are the gate-stormers.
And before you get upset about the analogy, bear in mind that this point of view is not that much different from what modern feminism tells us about women. The future is female! Why? Because women are less concerned with war and destruction and more concerned with building community and prosperity for the ones we love.
Gatekeepers vs. Gate-stormers.
In a way, it is our role to civilize men. They storm the gates and we tell them (either as mothers, sisters, lovers or friends) – “Hang on there, bub! This is not how you do this. If you want my respect and admiration you have to offer the same to me first”.
We teach people how to treat us, and women – typically being the more mature and nurturing of the two genders (no offense, guys) – are compelled to teach boys how to treat us. Hopefully, those boys go on to become men who no longer need the lessons.
Some men never learn. They are insulated by poor family discipline, privilege or fame and fortune. They are never forced to confront the consequences of failure in their approach to women. This is how men like Morgan Freeman get away with being dirty old pervs for so long. The women around him were at the mercy of an industry that purposefully denied them the power to teach him a lesson. He simply never had to be corrected.
I brought this subject up to my husband of twenty years. We are raising a boy and a girl together and I wanted his opinion on the matter. In so many words, he told me that when men are boys, they only know they want to be with girls. They have no real clue how to make that happen. So they stumble and bumble and say stupid things and get too close when they shouldn’t and stand too far away when they shouldn’t. Basically, they’re dumb. At some point, they recognize that young women prefer men who are confident and self-assured and they try to imitate that. Early on, those boys will at one point or another fudge it up. Their attempts to come off as confident might end up being too aggressive, too arrogant or even just too stupid. But for the smart men, those are lessons. They take the information offered up in that exchange with women and process it and apply it in a more successful way in the next encounter.
Most men eventually do figure it out, at least enough to make the adjustments and find a partner who compliments their personality. A few men – like Freeman – never learn. They just keep bumbling around, trying to crash the gates, protected by their chainmail made of status and influence. Men like that deserve to be shamed for their rude behavior. I’m just not sure they deserve to be destroyed.
It seems as though we women have gone from having our experiences swept under the rug to now having those experiences magnified to an almost cartoonish level. A good example of that is the op-ed penned by the young woman accusing comedian Aziz Ansari of sexual assault. An objective reading of her own words revealed a woman who hadn’t been raped or assaulted but rather just experienced crude behavior on a bad date with an awkward, spoiled man. Yet #MeToo supporters across the globe treated her experience with same outrage they were treating the experience of women who had been brutally raped and assaulted by men like Harvey Weinstein.
It is a dangerous conflation and it waters down the legitimately criminal behavior women in the industry are still being subjected to.
It also serves to dampen the natural interaction between young men and young women. My fear is that this overcorrection, this hypersensitivity to male advances will only serve to prevent young men from learning important lessons about their female counterparts. It will drive male behavior to the fringes – making them hyper-masculine or utterly passive. If being an awkward jerk can result in having one’s reputation and livelihood instantly crushed what is a young man to do? He will either throw caution to the wind and just go for broke or he will retreat. Either way, it leaves us women completely responsible for the building of healthy relationships and as such prevents such a thing in the first place.
I want women to be empowered. I want women to feel confident enough in their workplace to say to the likes of Morgan Freeman, “NO! That’s not okay!” and not be punished for it. I also want men to be free to learn their lesson, so to speak. I don’t want women to be silenced. I don’t want men to be silenced either. I worry that the #MeToo movement has too quickly moved on from empowering women to disempowering men.
Male/female relationships are complicated. They aren’t simply a result of societal expectations and religious values. They reflect biology and chemistry as well. They reflect a design meant to perpetuate our species and prosper our families. All of those things mix together into these strange concepts we call Love and Sex to make something that cannot be boiled down to a hashtag or a ribbon on the red carpet.
It is a carefully choreographed dance, but I fear we are trying to stop the music.