♬ Everything is Awful ♬ Part Infinity
If you opened this Missive for LOLs this morning, please click on R. Eric Thomas’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg Fitness Journey based on the new book of the topic - pssst: GIFT IDEA!!! - and enjoy his joyful prose as he emulates the daily workout of our favorite pocket-sized legal queen. And maybe don’t keep reading.
Because FFS. Everything is awful.
Last week’s news that Senator Franken behaved despicably towards a fellow performer while on a USO tour, kissing and groping her without her consent,hit me hard. My reaction to that story, as well as the disgusting and infuriating photo that accompanied it? I honestly didn’t know what or how to write about this. There’s something extra gutting when you hear about someone ‘on our side’ - read: feminist, or feminist-supporting - behaving like this, especially when none of it shocks you anymore. I’m saddened but sure as hell not surprised as each news cycle unfolds, and I, like many late night hosts, have resigned myself preparing for the sad reality that more will come.
But I’m especially infuriated by the apologies, which always contain incredulous language centered around “I had no idea I would be perceived this way,” or “I’m sorry if my actions made them FEEL this way.”
PSA: quit playing dumb. And I’ll probably lose subscribers over this - which I do every time I send out a Missive on gender or women in the workplace, cool cool cool - but I suggest you read The myth of the male bumbler by Lili Loofbourow over at The Week, which takes to task those individuals who claim they didn’t know they had power, or that it was wrong to want to date a 14-year-old even if they had parental permission, or that maybe they shouldn't be talking about their sex lives around interns.
But as many have said, this sort of behavior spreads past politics, beyond parties, its tentacles winding their way through disparate industries and organizations. Institutions themselves can be better petri dishes for awful behavior than others. And that means that said institutions have a responsibility to help root out abusers. We’ve talked about the impact of prejudice and harassment in the tech industry, which is why this Quartz piece on how “The Al Capone theory of sexual harassment can help Silicon Valley stop hiring horrible people”.The pieces posits that we could identify the habits and activities, like plagiarism and faking expense reports, of abusers that could help companies identify and deal with these incidents immediately. The authors compare it to how law enforcement was able to pin down Capone for failing to pay taxes.
But then I also suggest that you give Erin Gloria Ryan’s piece on the razor’s-edge we now find ourselves on, After Al Franken and Roy Moore, We Are Dangerously Close to Botching the #MeToo Moment (h/t Stefana), which captures much of the unease I’ve felt over the few weeks, with the lack of public reaction scale of all of these accusations of abuse.
Because it isn't all the same. Our legal system has attempted to deal with it: a non-consensual butt grab is charged and sentenced differently than numerous instances of grooming and molesting underaged girls. And the legal system even deals with a single butt grab differently than a serial sexual harasser. But our court of public opinion doesn’t have the language to deal with that yet, and that’s going to play out badly.
And if everyone’s the same level of monster, then no one’s a monster, and we’re back to where we were before.