For someone who writes about politics and culture, it seems I have an opinion on everything. I've never been one to shy away from controversial topics no matter how uncomfortable such a conversation would be around a dinner table. It's all a part of the fun, I suppose.
But I've been reluctant to wade too far into the conversation about sex assault and the surrounding #MeToo movement.
Part of it stems from not having anything new to add to the conversation. As a writer, I loathe the idea of simply adding another voice to the echo chamber for the sake of putting something out there. Since I'm not a journalist on the ground in any of these cases, I have nothing newsworthy to bring to the conversation. As an opinion writer, I feel others have already covered appropriately that you shouldn't pressure subordinates for sex, try to hook up with teenagers, force yourself upon people, grab someone's breasts while they are asleep on a plane, or start masturbating in front of someone without their permission.
But let's face it: my real reservation is that I am a man. That means my thoughts on these matters only have so much weight, particularly if the observation turns critical in any way. Andrea Peyser, writing for the New York Post, writes that her concern with the movement is that the trivial is getting lumped in with legitimate sexual assault, and that the result is that the movement is "sliding into absurdity and irrelevance." While I think what she says has merit, I also recognize that as a man, I just need to shut up and listen. I'm not a woman who has ever had a more physically powerful male force himself upon her, or has ever felt she has had to choose between her career or standing up for herself. Andrea Peyser can argue that what George H.W. Bush and Al Franken did isn't as bad as what Louis C.K. or Harvey Weinstein did, but I can't.
However, there is one aspect of this movement that I have concerns about that can be applied to any movement of righteous indignation, and that is the idea that we're going to be so vigilant in weeding out one form of particular evil that we won't even allow the accused to defend themselves or be defended.
Such seems to be the case with Murray Miller, one of the writers on the show Girls, in which the actress and producer Lena Dunham stars. Dunham is now apologizing after she came to Miller’s defense after sexual misconduct claims surfaced. When the claims first came out, she released a statement on his behalf that said, "While our first instinct is to listen to every woman's story, our insider knowledge of Murray's situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year."
After taking heat for her comments, however, Dunham backtracked. Not, apparently, because she no longer believes in Miller's innocence, but seemingly because she was criticized for defending him during a time when every woman should be believed. In her apology, she wrote, "I naively believed it was important to share my perspective on my friend’s situation as it has transpired behind the scenes over the last few months. I now understand that it was absolutely the wrong time to come forward with such a statement and I am so sorry."
If you have true reason to believe that an accusation against your friend is a case where the charge is unwarranted, don't you have an obligation to speak out? Dunham's original statement wasn't one of ambivalence, but one where she was "confident" that this was an accusation that was being misreported. She wasn't taking this position as a casual friend, but as someone with "insider knowledge" of the situation.
Movements such as the #MeToo movement end when they lose their moral high ground, and that high ground is challenged any time the truth doesn't match with the rallying cry. In the case of #MeToo, we're told that every woman must be believed. History tells us, however, that isn’t always the case.
The movement is correct in that it is very much imperative that people have an environment where they can come forward with allegations of misconduct, and that those accusations be taken seriously and investigated diligently. However, it is just as important that we have an environment where people are allowed to defend themselves and others. An environment where one can't be defended is an environment where one can say, even on a credible claim, that there might be another part of the story that we aren't hearing because people are too afraid to speak on that person's behalf. Eventually, doubt gets cast on every claim, robbing cases of true misbehavior of their credibility.
Outside of the Miller case, I’ve seen nothing in any of the high-profile sexual misconduct stories that have come out recently that would cause me to doubt any of the women’s claims. Let’s hope we’re not creating an environment where such information would be suppressed even if it were there. That’s a type of environment that doesn’t end well for anybody.
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