Pas Moi

In a little over four months, the United States has turned into a Kafka novel. Amazingly, it was only on October 5 of last year that The New York Times broke its story of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and October 14 when I wrote about my own horrified reactions. I could never have predicted what a circus would ensue–laughable in its details until one considers the lives forever upended by the accusations of a growing mob of women clamoring for their 15 minutes in the spotlight.

In a scant nineteen weeks, not only have hundreds of men had their “lives . . . shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.” The news organizations I have long revered as the last remaining bastion of constitutional liberty have turned into carnival sideshows, whose barkers scramble for the latest and most salacious revelation that some man, somewhere, in some time perhaps decades ago gave “unwanted kisses” or engaged in “inappropriate conversations.” Feminists have turned into mewling victims, abdicating responsibility for their own actions–including legal promises of silence in exchange for large cash settlements–and demanding pounds of flesh based on nothing more than their own accusations. And I, for one, am utterly confounded by the willingness of those in powerful places across the political spectrum to participate actively or even to look on passively as the foundation of our legal system, the presumption of innocence, is trampled underfoot.

So upside down has has the world become that I actually quoted my bête noire in the previous paragraph. Yesterday, after two of his aides stepped down from their positions following allegations of domestic abuse, Donald Trump tweeted (and I agree):

Peoples [sic] lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as [d]ue [p]rocess?

And so bewildered am I at the unending cacophony that I finally realized I had to raise my own voice in futile but heartfelt protest. Friday, on the last day of the annual spring fundraiser, I canceled my long-standing if minimal financial support of WUNC radio, the local NPR affiliate.  I explained:

I am extremely disappointed that NPR has joined the popular press in its constant coverage of a non-issue, thereby giving credence to the idea that the #MeToo movement and its fallout are actually news. I am distressed that so many men—including a few at NPR—have had their lives ruined by this group of whining women, and I am disappointed that the supposedly balanced NPR never presents the other side of the issue. But there is another side. Plenty of men—and women—in this country are strongly opposed to the insanity that is currently gripping the country, but I have never heard one voice of opposition on the news—sadly, not even on NPR.

In response, NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen sent me links to five recent stories purportedly presenting the other side:

  • Weekend Edition story from November 5, exactly one month after the Weinstein allegations–and long before #MeToo became the primary arbiter in the controversy–reported that “some people disagree about what [sexual harassment] means.”
  • On December 19, Morning Edition staffer Yuki Noguchi reported in “Compliment or Come-On” that men in many workplaces are confused about how to behave around women. Notably, the online transcript of the story features in its lead photo a group of protesting women carrying a huge red banner that reads “The Back the Workplace.” It concludes with advice for men from employment attorney James Vagnini that sounds suspiciously like blaming the victim in the current free-for-all: “If you wouldn’t say it to a man, don’t say it to a woman.”
  • In a January 16 piece on All Things Considered, Kelly McEvers interviewed two women discussing “The Fine Line between a Bad Date and Sexual Assault” in response to an accusation against comedian Aziz Ansari by an unnamed accuser. To her credit, Caitlyn Flanagan of The Atlantic thought the story on violated journalistic integrity by reporting the details of an obviously consensual encounter, even going so far as to point out, “[Ansari] was putting up zero threatening behavior towards her, she said no exactly one time and his response was, let’s put our clothes on.” By contrast, Anna North of Vox described the “recognition” she felt when she heard the story and the confusion rampant among her generation of young women who can’t “switch gears” between “be[ing] really nice to men” and “advocat[ing] for [one]self in a really assertive way.” If that’s not willful victimhood, I don’t know what is.

These three halfhearted attempts to illustrate balanced coverage were all the ombudsman had to offer on the domestic front. The other two stories she included (one with a followup) reported on the French response to #MeToo–seemingly the only voice of reason in the current debate, which has remained largely one sided on this side of the pond.

On January 9, actress Catherine Deneuve, along with 99 other French women in the arts, medicine, academia, and business, signed an opinion piece in Le Monde, which began, “Rape is a crime. But insistent or clumsy attempts at seduction are not. Nor is being gallant a form of macho aggression.” These women denounced as American Puritanism the use of the language of feminism “to better chain [women] to their status as eternal victims, poor little things under the control of demonic phallocrats, as in the good old days of witchcraft.” They described the offenses of many men who have been forced from high positions as having “touched a knee, tried to steal a kiss, or talked about ‘intimate’ things at a professional dinner.” And they courageously named the so-called feminists of the #MeToo movement as the real enemies of sexual freedom, reactionaries who support a Victorian morality code that sees women as “children with an adult face, demanding to be protected.”

There was, of course, backlash, and by January 15, Deneuve apologized for offending victims of sexual violence. And France has its own hashtag, #BalanceTonPorc, loosely translated as “squeal on your pig”–which was actually launched the day before #MeToo. But as recently as four days ago, USAToday ran a story entitled “Why the French Are Balking at the #MeToo Movement,” and two days ago, Variety bemoaned, “In France, Woody Allen Still Gets Respect, but #MeToo Hits Cultural Barriers.”

Just as I am disappointed that Americans have sacrificed their legal principles to placate a group of strident feminists, so I am encouraged the French–citizens of what is still the most civilized country in the world–have refused to budge from their far deeper understanding of the nature of men and women and their relationships with each other. I will close by recommending an article I read as I prepared to write this post. Lauren Elkin, a native New Yorker who has lived in France since 2004, recently published an article in The Paris Review. In “How French Libertines Are Reckoning with #MeToo,” Elkin traces the development of French feminism, recounts two of her own #MeToo moments, and discusses topics ranging from rape to libertine fiction in France. She concludes with a fascinating discussion of the French tolerance for ambiguity.”The true spirit of libertinage,” she posits, “is not that some guy gets to rub up against you on the metro: it’s tolerance for ambiguity, it’s irreverence in the face of platitudes. . . . Where [#MeToo] goes awry is where it shuts down ambiguity. We can’t just clamor for the stories, we have to allow room for them to surprise us, and trouble us. Desire thrives off risk, which makes it risky to legislate, legally or socially.”

Would that Americans had the same ability to recognize ambiguity. Would that Americans approached questions of personal behavior and public policy with such a degree of subtlety. Until such time, if ever, I will simply say, “Vive la France,” and my hashtag, if any, will be #PasMoi.

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