After the heartbreaking story of how one of the most prominent progressive men in the country, Eric Schneiderman, Attorney General of the state of New York, has resigned due to allegations of abuse, I have reached the conclusion that there are no good men. A man who was hailed all over the country, and particularly in liberal circles, as a champion of women’s rights, turned out to be an abusive monster himself.
If you haven’t read the story, here is the piece in the New Yorker. If you cannot bring yourself to read the details, you are not to blame. It’s a story that will give bone-chilling goosebumps, as one reads the accounts of these women who were terrorized by a powerful man. It is always the same old story; just different men. It may be Al Franken and his habit of groping women or Eric Schneiderman and his monstrous abuse of the women he dated; it’s Roy Moore and his exploitation of teenage girls or Rob Porter and his record of repeated spousal abuse; it’s Governor of Missouri Eric Greitens who exploited a woman after continuously abusing her or Trent Franks and John Conyers who were once prominent congressmen but turned out to be sexually harassing women like the rest of them. And who can forget entertainment moguls Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby?
Science tells us that when there is a pattern, there must a common denominator. And the common denominator in all of these patterns of abuse is men. Powerful men who rose to high ranks and appeared to be champions of the causes that fit the ‘values’ of those they represented. And they turned out to be abusive; every single one of them. And while one might say the #MeToo Movement is long overdue, when does the abuse stop? What must we do to create a safer world for women?
I often ask myself this question. Every time I get catcalled as I walk down the street, every time a friend shows me a text of a man who gets coercive upon being rejected, every time a so-called champion of women ended up being another perpetrator of abuse or every time a man ran a campaign on “family values” only to resign after sexual misconduct allegations that were clearly valid.
I’ve been privileged to work in an environment where I have always felt supported and safe. And I’m sure that is because I work in an environment where there are more women than men. My supervisors have all been women, so perhaps I’ve spent my professional life in a bubble and haven’t experienced the perpetual sexism in the workplace so many women face. But I’ve experienced mansplaining, sexual harassment while walking on the street and the anger of a male friend who felt entitled to sleep with me just because I listened to his frustrations during finals one time.
Most recently, I was in the car with two white men, one of whom was a friend and the other was a typical annoying dudebro. We were discussing politics and the dudebro told me I should start a podcast. I initially said I liked the idea but didn’t feel like I had the technical skills to edit, format and do all the things that come with hosting podcasts. He argued that I could easily learn that online and I acknowledged that while that may be true, I also did not want to be on the receiving end of abusive comments. His next statement implied that as a woman of color, I should be used to abuse and that abuse is something women should just expect. While I was reeling in shock from his comment, it didn’t surprise me as much as my friend’s silence. My friend, who claims to be an ally of women and people of color, said absolutely nothing to his friend who had just implied that as a woman of color, abusive comments are something I should embrace as part of being on the internet. I was hoping my friend would say something to defend me but instead, I froze from his lack of a reaction. Here were two so-called progressive men, one of whom turned out to have a low opinion of women himself and another who was complicit in his friend’s behavior by remaining silent.
This is exactly how it starts. Men who have the power in the societal structure don’t speak up when their friends abuse others and don’t believe women when they do speak up about the abuses they’ve encountered. Many people (men) feel that sexism and misogyny are an ancient ideology of the past without realizing that men are still in the highest power structures of our societies. Fighting sexism today does not simply look like allowing women to work but rather fighting for legislative change that supports women in the workplace. Fighting misogyny means fighting for a criminal justice system that supports women so that they feel comfortable enough to come forward and share their experiences without fearing retribution in some way. The women’s rights movement today looks different from the women’s movement in the 70’s but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important. Typically, at this point in an article, I would invite men who are allies to stand with women as we continue to fight for equal treatment, but I’m afraid to extend such an invitation because when allies turn out to be abusers, who can we trust?
(And if this is offensive to you, you’re part of the problem.)