The current rhetoric of long-buried sexual abuses toward women being outed is important, but our focus remains on the wrong party.
I keep hoping for a respite from the exasperating responses to the unravelling careers of men who get off on abusing their power to assault and harass women, but No! I’m jammed farther into the cornucopia of dystopia that is This Cultural Moment each time I have the misfortune of consuming any media.
The latest of these is from the youngest-ever, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and second-wave feminist, Lucinda Franks. Her impressive pedigree of publications is, on the surface, enough to say, Take that, patriarchal circle-jerk of pretentious media outlets, and yes, she did put cracks in a certain brand of glass ceiling – the one holding back wealthy, white women – but her New York Times op-ed is the distillation of an aging second-wave feminism’s response to contemporary feminism, which is clear from the very title: “My Generation Thought Women Were Empowered. Did We Deceive Ourselves?”
There’s that word – empowered – rearing its ugly head to give a wink and a nod to the superficial notion of owning our place as the “stronger sex,” all while asserting this dominance by adopting culturally masculine behaviors. This 1970s-era Battle of the Sexes is now tongue-in-cheek, and Franks’ contention that she felt empowered by drinking The Boys under the table and kicking them in the balls when they dared harass her is a relic of that paradox. She says that one of the biggest compliment’s she received was being told she “writes like a man,” which she now acknowledges was ass-backwards on the tail of a humble-brag.
Also on The Big Smoke
- The Weinstein Post-Mortem: Boys Will Be Boys, but Seldom Men
- #MeToo*: What Do We Want Men to Actually Do?
- TIME Honors The Silence Breakers: Allowing #MeToo to Go Viral Is the Biggest Mistake the Establishment Ever Made
She then rips the rug out from under her artifice of strength to tell readers that she was ashamed of her Pulitzer Prize because the men were angry. This caused her to suffer a kind of imposter syndrome. All this leads to an anecdote from her present: a recent, male winner of the Pulitzer Prize says she is the most humble recipient he’s ever met while proceeding to brag about his own. This is an abrupt end and a cheap attempt to renege on her obvious pride, which she rightly earned. But why try to undermine her achievements in an attempt to relate to a type of feminism she neither understands nor earnestly wants to understand?
All this to say that contemporary feminism’s attempt to eschew gender norms and put all expressions of gender on a level playing field is a language that the ball-kicking, pant-suiting women of the second-wave cannot grasp. Their contributions, while monumental, grew from the adoption of a culturally masculine, take-no-shit attitude that may have been necessary at the time but would be ultimately stifling if carried to its logical end.
We see remnants of this weaker versus stronger sex pseudo-battle in the coverage of Weinstein and his ilk. It’s a continuation of the distractions from men’s criminal entitlement and women’s pain. When we flip this made-up script and say “men are weak” and “women are strong,” two counterproductive things happen.
- Men are coddled.
- Women are dismissed.
The weak can’t control themselves. They can’t handle the fallout.
The strong take the high road. They overcome. They don’t need our attention or empathy because they can take care of themselves.
Man-children will be man-children, and women need to put up or shut up, which is still lose-lose. Putting up means becoming one of The Boys, only to infuriate literally everyone with their pantsuits and lack of inflection. Shutting up means being weak in the eyes of the women who have repressed and put up with degradation for decades.
The irony of using cultural masculinity as the litmus test for women’s strength while refusing to hold men to that same standard is not lost on any of us. Or maybe the irony is officially dead. Rock, meet hard place.
Meanwhile, we weep for men.
There is only one top-40 radio station that isn’t static-y in Raleigh for some reason, so I have to listen to its stupid morning radio show on my way to work, which is one-part E! News and one-part John Boy and Billy. (God bless you if you know who they are. If you don’t, think of them as Larry the Cable Guy and Sean Hannity’s love children.)
One morning, I listened to the one female and two male hosts speculate whether Weinstein’s victims were ganging up on him to ruin his career and gain fortune. The next morning, I sat agog in bumper-to-bumper traffic as they said verbatim, “Harvey Weinstein can’t catch a break.” On the final morning that I could stomach the radio show, I gaped at my speakers when they expressed sadness for only Matt Lauer over his now-strained marriage.
These are the “many sides” types of people. But more than that, they are the people who subconsciously buy the idea that men are weak and, by extension, not responsible for succumbing to the ill-willed temptresses who dare to wear clothes, exist in public, and/or have a career.
We are more upset that men are afraid of being accused of sexual assault than that women are afraid of being sexually assaulted.
In all of the efforts to make women feel “empowered” by doing nominally male things “like a girl,” we’ve become responsible for expecting women to break the glass ceiling yet remain in the room below it to sweep up the shards. Women are leaning in and punching up and all the other buzzwords. And while, on principle, it’s important to acknowledge that women can present themselves in any manner and still be capable of doing anything, all progress reveals itself as superficial when women’s pain isn’t taken seriously, especially when that pain is inflicted by powerful men.
The women coming forward stand to lose more than they could ever gain, so it’s absurd to believe they’re out to get money or fame. They are strong but not strong in such a way that they do not need to be taken seriously. Not strong in such a way that they must take responsibility for the ways that men abused them. Not strong in such a way that there should not be action taken against the men who assaulted them.
If a man gropes us in a sweaty bar or a pristine office building, so be it if we kick them in the balls to get away. But if we don’t or can’t, the assault does not become our fault. We do not erase years of progress made by our feminist predecessors.
I feel it is absurd to have to spell out these things.
That women can defend themselves is a sign of strength. That women are expected to defend themselves against the systemic abuse of men is a sign of women’s strength being used against them.
In this cultural climate, Weinstein has a disease and women are fame-whores. Men are victims of their sexuality and women’s “newfound” sexual autonomy preys on the weaker sex. We are more upset that men are afraid of being accused of sexual assault than that women are afraid of being sexually assaulted.
Men’s fear is justified. Women’s fear is weakness. I do not know how many more ways I can repeat myself, so I will end with this.
Women are strong – strong enough to admit when they are victims of crimes and audacious enough to believe that the men who committed those crimes should be punished.