MeToo: A Watershed Moment
Collection of sexual assault narratives illuminates shared trauma and healing.
Posted Nov 12, 2017
When Louis C. K. was accused this week of sexual misconduct, he deviated from other accused celebrities who’d denied it. He seemingly owned it, apologized, and explained that since he’d asked permission, he thought what he did was all right. Only now does he realize that “when you have power over another person…[it is] a predicament for them…And I wielded that power irresponsibly."
This is the kind of thing we hope to hear as women are calling for accountability and change. Yet, responses to his mea culpa were varied. Was this true remorse or just a manipulative attempt to rebuild his damaged career?
The reasons that it’s difficult to believe in the sincere regret of someone who’s selfishly exploited a position of power is shown over and over in #MeToo: Essays about How and Why This Happened, What it Means, and How to Make Sure It Never Happens Again. The woman-owned publisher, Riverdale Avenue Books, has just published these narratives free-of-charge to add momentum to a growing movement of abuse and assault survivors who want to speak out.
Lori Perkins, editor and publisher, told me why this collection is important to her.
“I was talking about these horrible, consistent everyday male predatory experiences all women have – from inappropriate comments and touching, to bargaining and outright violations – and said that I wanted this to be the beginning a change in the way things are handled. I tried coming up with various book ideas for other people to write, and then I realized that I own a publishing company and could put together an anthology of many voices quicker than any traditional publisher, and could give this movement a permanent document that could be passed around both digitally and hand-to-hand.
“The contributors span everything from professional authors of both fiction and nonfiction to first-time authors such as the woman who wrote about harassment from the perspective of someone working in the Human Resources department. One of the most powerful pieces is Trinity Blacio’s “Every Book I’ve Ever Written is a #MeToo Novel.” Jesse Berdinka and Paul Sammon’s insider contributions from men working within the film industry give this book some unique perspective (Berdinka worked for Weinstein). I hope it will be something that will document this movement.”
Reading these essays brought back a lot of stories from my own past. I contributed one to the collection that demonstrated a subtle move that exploits ambiguity and allows the perpetrator to pretend he didn’t mean what the woman thought he meant. He walks away, while she feels violated but unable to take action. The only “evidence” is her perception of what he did.
In fact, half of all claims of sexual harassment in the workplace result in no action, let alone charges. More than 70% of women who said they’d been harassed or sexually pressured said they did not officially report it. Many had feared repercussions. Others knew what “he said/she said” actually means: he will be believed first.
In #MeToo, we learn the terrible story of Patricia Douglas, the first woman who tried to sue a powerful Hollywood figure for sexual assault. We see sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, from Hollywood to politics to Wall Street, and in-between. We get first-hand narratives about the Weinstein “bully culture.” We also see women describe how debilitating a sexual assault can be. Pressured to be “survivors” rather than “victims,” we’re often given no time or resources to fully deal with it. This only deepens the wound.
Among the essays that stuck a nerve with me was “I Was Only…” by Catherine Gigante-Brown. She sums up how easy it is for men to claim, when called out, that they were misunderstood. “I was only joking”…”I was only trying to help”… But we know better. Skillful predators always have an out. They know what to say and how to act to appear innocent.
It’s an old script, based in predatory narcissism. I put it this way in my article, “Tit for Tat”: I have something that you want. You can get it by giving me what I want. We will both be satisfied. The implicit idea, which males seem to believe, is that the woman wants it, too. That she will enjoy it. The female who submits might get something but knows she acquired it through compromise, not merit. She might have gained, but she also has lost, sometimes a lot.
From pressure to outright violence, the need to exert control through any form of conquest will always have victims. A system that tacitly or overtly supports this attitude will ensure that it continues. To know about these incidents, which Quentin Tarantino admitted, and do nothing is to be part of it. As Hollywood insider Paul Sammon says in his essay, “Demanding unwanted sexual favors is a smaller manifestation of our country’s larger, ongoing, deeply troubling war against gender equality.”
What grows from within this culture is an attitude I described when I was writing Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators. It’s called narcissistic immunity. You might see it in a CEO, a high-ranking politician, a celebrity athlete, and even an actor or artist, and you’ll definitely find it in repeat offenders. They have a talent for rebounding from setbacks because they’re certain of their invulnerability. This comes not just from their repeated success but also from quickly learning that others won’t stop them.
But there’s a subtle dimension to this culture of assault as well, which Kate Mara describes in “Protecting Men from Themselves.” It’s not just about those who assault or otherwise misbehave. It’s also about “the good ones” who overprotect with aggression or who seek revenge on a woman’s behalf. These actions also inspire women to stay quiet. “They’re keeping us from speaking our truth for fear of their inability to cope with our trauma.”
Mark Radcliffe says, “This is a problem that men have caused” and describes ways for men to fight it. Don’t give someone a pass, for example, for “locker room talk,” even if it means parting ways with friends. Admit to witnessing inappropriate behavior, even if it labels you as a traitor to “the boys.” Eventually, with enough support, the tide will turn.
The essays in this anthology help to articulate a collective experience that has long been silent. Millions are speaking out. Read this book (free), absorb it, and use it to speak, yourself, as part of a growing community of people mad as hell who aren't going to take this anymore.
Perkins, L, Ed., (2017). #MeToo: Essays about How and Why This Happened, What it Means, and How to Make Sure It Never Happens Again. New York, NY: Riverdale Avenue Books.
Ramsland, K. (2010). Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.