Here's the thing about Harvey Weinstein: he sure makes a convenient villain, doesn't he?
I mean, just look at him:
He's like a central-casting mafioso. And the stories that have emerged about him are SO gross, so over the top in their sheer awfulness, that they become almost abstract. It's like the concept of a trillion dollars: it's so big I can't even wrap my head around it.
Or what about James Toback? Just look at this fucking weasel:
I mean, here's a guy who's assaulted and harassed more than 200 women. Women he would approach on the street or in Central Park (he would show them press clippings about his shitty 20-year-old movies just to convince them he was a legitimate filmmaker). Women who he subtly/not-subtly threatened to kidnap or murder if they ever told what he did to them during their "audition."
Or how about Roy Moore?
This guy's the very definition of a degenerate Southern redneck. A guy who thinks that 9/11 was God's punishment for sin and that gay people should be in prison, all the while creeping on teenage girls outside court houses.
As a man, these guys are what I want my sexual predators to look like. To act like. Because I can look at them and I can say "well, shit, that's not me."
But look back at that Al Franken photo at the top of this post. That's... harder for me to deal with.
A lot harder.
Because that could be me.
I never thought of myself as a harasser. I really don't think I am a harasser. But looking at that photo has made me feel a little unsteady.
• When I was in high school I grabbed my friend's boob on a dare. I felt shitty and weird about it the moment I did it, but we all laughed it off so I thought it was fine. But when I talked to her about it years later, I got the impression she felt shitty and weird about it too. I tried to apologize, but honestly I didn't even know what to say.
We're still friends, and she might be reading this right now (not going to name her), and if she is... I really am sorry. And I still don't know what to say.
• I used to like to annoy girls by poking them incessantly in the side, giving them wet willies, even snapping the occasional bra. I'd like to say this was all just dumb high school behavior long in my past, but anyone who's been around me in a bar or at a party knows that's not the case. Now, I never grabbed a butt or a breast, and I restricted myself to women I'm friends with. I always just thought of it is playful teasing, sort of big brother stuff, and usually the girls would laugh right along with it. And I think most of the time the laughter was genuine.
But it started to occur to me a couple years ago that maybe I shouldn't assume the laughter is genuine. Because here's the thing: I'm 6'4 and over 260 pounds. I'm usually very aware of my size and take pains not to use it to intimidate. I didn't ever connect it to my "playful" behavior. But I also know that there've been dozens of studies showing how our society pressures and conditions women to go along, to "be cool," to not rock the boat. And when you've got a giant like me giggling like a moron and trying to stick his wet thumb in your ear, are you going to hit him or tell him to fuck off, or are you just going to go along and hope he cuts it out? Or, at the very least, doesn't push it any farther?
I know that a few times I did push it too far, and good-natured annoyance tipped over into genuine exasperation. I felt bad and knocked it off. But it didn't occur to me until way more recently than I would like to admit that that exasperation might have been a mask for another emotion... fear.
No one has ever explicitly told me that.
But I wonder.
At any rate, I've tried to stop doing that shit.
• I also like to annoy dudes in similarly juvenile ways. And that does include boob and butt grabbing. It honestly never even occurred to me that it could be seen as anything other than general fucking around. But, when the #metoo thing happened a few weeks ago, I posted about how once at a party some dude grabbed my dick. And that got me thinking.
The idea of male-on-male sexual harassment is not new to me. But, again, it never even crossed my mind that I could be doing just that very thing. To be fair, I've been the recipient of many a boob or butt grab myself, and I never felt harassed (the dick-grabbing incident was different). It's just kind of the way me and my friends tend to act around each other.
But can I say with one hundred percent certainty that I've never made anyone genuinely uncomfortable? No. I can't.
In fact, there's one friend in particular I feel like I probably did make uncomfortable. Again, not going to name him here... but I am going to offer a private apology.
After Leeann Tweeden went public with that Franken photo, Senator Franken issued a brief statement, followed by a longer one:
• "I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it."
• "Over the last few months, all of us — including and especially men who respect women — have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women.
For instance, that picture. I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn't matter. There's no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn't funny. It's completely inappropriate. It's obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what's more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it — women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me."
Here's the thing: I believe Senator Franken. I think he feels terrible. And I don't believe him because I'm a fan of his comedy, or his politics (I am, of both). I believe him because I look back on my own actions and I think to myself the exact same thing.
It was meant to be funny.
And maybe it was funny. I don't know. But maybe it wasn't. Maybe some of the men and women in my circle of friends have felt intimidated or violated by something I've done, and that makes me sick to my stomach. I mean literally, physically nauseous.
Before I go on, I just want to make clear I'm not trying to make this about me, or to do some performative fake-woke bullshit act of self flagellation. I know I'm not Harvey Weinstein, and I know I'm not Louis CK, and anyone who tries to tell me that I am is wrong.
But I've been watching with some interest the reaction on social media to the Louis CK revelations and some of the initial reaction to the Franken story. And I've seen too many men getting real defensive real fast. I can only imagine they're looking back on some of their own behavior and feeling the same nausea that I'm feeling.
Here's the thing, guys. We have two choices here. We can be part of the problem, or be part of the solution. We can get defensive, cocoon ourselves from criticism, or we can stop being assholes and ask ourselves some hard questions.
This shit isn't a game, and it sure as hell isn't a game to the women in our lives. We'll never know the terror of walking down the street at night and having some guy catcall us out a car window and wonder if he's just going to keep driving or if he's going to pull over. We'll never know the betrayal of having a trusted friend assault us after a party. We'll never feel the shame and powerlessness of being told "lighten up, it was only a joke."
We need to do better.
We may not always succeed, but we need to try.
And a good first step is being honest with ourselves.
So, to anyone I've ever made feel frightened, or violated, or bullied, or harassed...
From the bottom of my heart.