Friday, January 5, 2018

"An Inquisitorial Whiff in the Air"

For some time now I have been hearing women murmuring discontent about the #MeToo movement. I have not asked too many intrusive questions, but I have noticed that women in general believe that the movement has gone too far. They seem to understand that if women go to war against men, they are going to suffer. Don’t declare war when you are—excuse the expression—outmanned.

Apparently, my friend Daphne Merkin has been hearing the same thoughts. Now, in a New York Times column Merkin explains her own doubts and misgivings. She has given us an excellent analysis of this peculiar moment in American cultural history.

She begins by revealing that many women, even feminists, are dismayed to see that the #MeToo movement has lost any sense of discrimination— between rape and inappropriate remarks, for example:

But privately, I suspect, many of us, including many longstanding feminists, will be rolling our eyes, having had it with the reflexive and unnuanced sense of outrage that has accompanied this cause from its inception, turning a bona fide moment of moral accountability into a series of ad hoc and sometimes unproven accusations.

It is looking like a witch hunt. Many women notice this in private and still pile on in public. This shows, Merkin explains, that we live in a politically correct culture where people are forced to voice the correct opinions lest they be shunned:

For many weeks now, the conversation that has been going on in private about this reckoning is radically different from the public one. This is not a good sign, suggesting the sort of social intimidation that is the underside of a culture of political correctness, such as we are increasingly living in….

The women I know — of all ages — have responded by and large with a mixture of slightly horrified excitement (bordering on titillation) as to who will be the next man accused and overt disbelief.

Publicly, they say the right things, expressing approval and joining in the chorus of voices that applaud the takedown of maleficent characters who prey on vulnerable women in the workplace.

What do these women say in private? Merkin shares:

In private it’s a different story. “Grow up, this is real life,” I hear these same feminist friends say. “What ever happened to flirting?” and “What about the women who are the predators?” Some women, including random people I talk to in supermarket lines, have gone so far as to call it an outright witch hunt.

It goes without saying that no one is coming to the defense of heinous sorts, like Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer. But the trickle-down effect to cases like those of Garrison Keillor, Jonathan Schwartz, Ryan Lizza and Al Franken, in which the accusations are scattered, anonymous or, as far as the public knows, very vague and unspecific, has been troubling.

And Merkin is correct to note the outrage suggests that women, after five decades of feminism and after reciting the phrase—strong, empowered woman—as a mantra… are now being exposed as weak and frail, incapable of dealing with even the most banal pass:

Perhaps even more troubling is that we seem to be returning to a victimology paradigm for young women, in particular, in which they are perceived to be — and perceive themselves to be — as frail as Victorian housewives.

What happened to women’s agency? That’s what I find myself wondering as I hear story after story of adult women who helplessly acquiesce to sexual demands. I find it especially curious given that a majority of women I know have been in situations in which men have come on to them — at work or otherwise. They have routinely said, “I’m not interested” or “Get your hands off me right now.” And they’ve taken the risk that comes with it.

The fact that such unwelcome advances persist, and often in the office, is, yes, evidence of sexism and the abusive power of the patriarchy. But I don’t believe that scattershot, life-destroying denunciations are the way to upend it. In our current climate, to be accused is to be convicted. Due process is nowhere to be found.

Merkin continues that these unwanted advances show the power of the patriarchy, and that they are not going to stop because a lot of feminists try to destroy the lives of a bunch of men. 

I take small exception here and point out, as I have in the past, that today's culture was not defined by the patriarchy. It was the work of feminists. Surely, the consequences were unintended, but that does not absolve anyone of responsibility. Having broken down traditional courtship culture, having insisted that women defer marriage and family, and having announced to the world that women want sex just as much as men, feminists produced a culture of impropriety, a culture where impropriety became the new normal.

Merkin believes that we must distinguish between sexual assault and improprieties. This is made all the more necessary because one person is always going to make the first move, and that person cannot really know that the move is unacceptable until he makes it:

And what exactly are men being accused of? What is the difference between harassment and assault and “inappropriate conduct”? There is a disturbing lack of clarity about the terms being thrown around and a lack of distinction regarding what the spectrum of objectionable behavior really is. Shouldn’t sexual harassment, for instance, imply a degree of hostility? Is kissing someone in affection, however inappropriately, or showing someone a photo of a nude male torso necessarily predatory behavior?

Expressing sexual interest is inherently messy and, frankly, nonconsensual — one person, typically the man, bites the bullet by expressing interest in the other, typically the woman — whether it happens at work or at a bar. Some are now suggesting that come-ons need to be constricted to a repressive degree. Asking for oral consent before proceeding with a sexual advance seems both innately clumsy and retrograde, like going back to the childhood game of “Mother, May I?” We are witnessing the re-moralization of sex, not via the Judeo-Christian ethos but via a legalistic, corporate consensus.

So, it’s feeling more and more like an inquisition. And we all  know that this is going to come around to bite women. It isn't surprising that women are uneasy about all of it. They are right to be so:

There is an inquisitorial whiff in the air, and my particular fear is that in true American fashion, all subtlety and reflection is being lost. Next we’ll be torching people for the content of their fantasies.


Anonymous said...

What makes the problem worse is that men, basically, MUST make the first move. If women are required to make the first move that will automatically create a certain lack of respect for the man. The man will also lose self respect as well.

Gosh, what's a guy to do for sexual relief? Flee to the internet and try to find a enormously gratifying erotic image amongst the several million freely available and then engage in an highly pleasurable activity which no longer carries any social stigma whatsoever? Good luck with that, fella!!

Anonymous Lennie

Anonymous said...

Second anonymous "Anonymous Lennie" comment

I'm just wondering when men will strike back with their own #Me Too movement. One where men can "start a conversation" about how they were raped by the feminist legal system in divorce proceedings, losing their wealth and affections of their children in the process

Let this be story one: I reconnected with an old friend named Greg who had never married until he was in his late fifties. So he finally tries "Plenty of Fish" and finds a woman in her early fifties who also had never been married. Met this woman once at the gym and thought that she was really cute, but had an odd personal aspect to her -- not communicative at all. But I didn't say anything because, after all, my buddy's found the love of his life after a lifetime of being alone.

So they marry and within a few months the woman sues for divorce and she takes half of Greg's estate -- an obvious and grotesque fraud on the intent of the community property laws. Greg noted that it would have been kinder if she had simply been a total stranger who a gun to his face and said, "Give me half of everything you own."

But, hey, who am I kidding. How can that compare to an inappropriate comment about a woman's shoes

Anonymous Lennie

Jack Fisher said...

I'm calling total BS on "Greg's" story. Community property accrues during marital cohabitation, and the 50 years worth of property acquired by that loser before marriage would be and remain his sole property after divorce. So the POF-grade chick would get half of a "few months" of income/value that came in while they were married, not half of the estate. Alimony for a three month marriage is laughably unlikely.

Christopher B said...

Jack, it varies. In some states property does become joint upon marriage even if it was obtained before (absent an agreement to the contrary) and I can certainly see some creative lawyering that could result from allowing her to use his property, or if he made the mistake of adding her to his accounts and deeds. It might also be the case that he simply gave into a demand rather than spend his assets fighting it and lose them anyway.

Jack Fisher said...

Which states convert separate property to community property without a written agreement to do so? The converse is true. A written agreement is necessary to make separate property a community asset.

Anonymous Lennie I mean "Greg" is blaming the family law courts for his asset distribution order.

Anonymous said...


Decades ago, after a few yrs of marriage & 2 small children my wife went nuts during an argument & threatened to take everything I had & ruin my business which I had before marriage. I left the house, she calmed & later I went to the biggest law firm in town to determine what a “mad woman” could do. & was told:

If she lies, claiming I’m a danger to her & the children I will be immediately thrown out of the house, will not be allowed to see my children & be required to pay all costs to keep them in the house & at same living standard, independent of my means to pay. Within some months I will be able to ask the family court for a review, but the court is so tilted that it will basically accept anything she says & I may not be able to talk at all, & there will be atty bills for both sides which I will have to pay. It will be nearly impossible to change the circumstances & the original “sentence” will most likely become a permanent court order. I can continue to fight for change over the long haul at huge expense.

I did not get into property split. But thereafter I shutup & let her have her way on most things, waited until the children left the nest after which I have as little to do with her as possible. She can push me no further. I’m no longer in business & don’t care what happens. We remain together, IMO, because it is cheaper than living separate, but I don’t really care much.

Family court is a woman’s world. Not long ago I met a woman working for local gov Family & Services & related my findings from decades ago. Don’t know if she knows for sure, but she said it is the same today, but kids over 12 can have a say. “Taken into Custody” is a book about husband-abuse. Some poor man in NYC immolated himself outside of family court. Also, in NYC, a man must pay child support to his wife now living with the father of the child conceived in adultery, because when she left all thought it was the husband’s child & he’s named by court order to pay – tough luck, not-the-dad cuckold.

Jack Fisher said...

Anon, you got some bad legal advice and/or a bad experience with the family court, can't really say without a look at the case file. I don't know about New York law, but I'd be interested reading whatever statute requires payment of child support under those conditions.

After decades of dealing with both sides, I can match ever story like yours with one involving a deadbeat dad who didn't want to pay child/spousal support and that includes the one about the guy who set himself on fire.

It is a stone cold fact that no one is ever happy with dissolution, especially when there are children involved because then the focus of the court is on the well-being of the little vermin who are always going to suffer one way or the other. In my experience, most family law cases end up about as fair as they can be.

Now, I'm no psychologist, but you did mention the situation so I get to comment. Perhaps you'd be better off if you placed personal well being ahead of financial stability derived from living with a woman you despise.

Estoy_Listo said...

IN a world neatly divided between good guys (us) and bad guys (them) there's not much room for nuance and understanding, nor is there much incentive. Who wants to give up the pleasures of grievance, victimhood, and self-righteousness?

Anonymous said...


Never court. Only sought advice 1 very bad time. I accept not all cases, maybe not most, are so dire. My “bad” legal advice was qualified by “if she lies.” In “he said, she said” without evidence, re safety of wives & children, as with current sexual harassment, males are disadvantaged.

Yrs ago & after my advice I read a family law article saying in some words we have been too aggressive & need to seek more fairness, so, maybe with more wives working, some out earning men, it has gotten better. I’ve read that at least in some cases, non-working wives after divorce are expected to eventual gain jobs & support themselves. But maybe not so much better if a wife is willing to lie.

Karen Straughan has several YouTube videos describing Fem power over men.

I don’t despise my wife. I just don’t care & mostly stay to myself around the house. She is prone to anger, though nothing as bad as drove me to legal advice. Perhaps because I let her have her way mostly & ignored her tantrums as best for the kids. After they were gone, I pushed back, threatening divorce, which restrained her, & we’ve settled in. Both aid as needed, from minor to big things. She cleans & paints the walls. I fix most things.

Encouraged by a friend whose previous wife was also abusive, I thought about seeking another wife. Neither mine nor his were that way before marriage. Mine was very sweet. My buddy’s wife left him for a richer guy after his business failed. He had significant assets, but nothing like her new hubby. My buddy dated a woman who was unusually nice tending to him every way during courtship & I was impressed that such existed & I could find one. Sitting with them after marriage, he told me he was going to buy a boat. He had plenty to do so. She scowled & began lecturing him about it being “their money” & he needed her permission for any big expenditures. Ah, ha, notes me, fems change after marriage & I decided I needn’t look elsewhere. No way to know. Don’t trust any.

Ares Olympus said...

I read this too, seems like a fair rebuttal to a predicament.

When people carry fear and resentment for long periods of time, then its easy to cheer for justice elsewhere and to feel some vindication when some perpetrator has been called out. But unless you can differentiate between assault and discomfort, there can be no justice. Then all you have is a mob prepared to refocus righteous rage and contempt onto whatever the next most convenient scapegoat that attracts the public imagination.

I like the idea that resentment is connected to contempt, with status being the differentiator, and high status is about being heard, and low status about being silenced.
Robert C. Solomon, a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, places resentment on the same continuum as anger and contempt, and he argues that the differences between the three are that resentment is anger directed toward a higher-status individual; anger is directed toward an equal-status individual; and contempt is anger directed toward a lower-status individual.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Happy to hear the views of my old and late friend Bob Solomon... good memories...

the gold digger said...

Is kissing someone in affection, however inappropriately, ... necessarily predatory behavior?

Yes, if it happens at work. Here are the rules:

1. Do not show your penis to someone who has not already agreed to have sex with you
2. Do not show your penis at work, even to someone who has agreed to have sex with you.
3. Do not show anyone else's penis at work
4. Do not touch women at work except to shake their hand
5. Do not take off your clothes at work

James said...

Gold Digger,
I'll add:
6. Do your damn job!