If true

If true. If true. If true. All these men have opinions on my marriage and your uterus, sight unseen. But hand them a story told by a dozen women and suddenly it’s the riddle of the goddamn sphinx.

–Mark Harris

As a young adult, I had always been a strong believer in equality already being an established thing in the US.  It wasn’t until the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings that I really started to think that women had a harder time being heard and believed than men.  That maybe men were not treating us as equals the way I had always thought. That a lot of men were using “boys will be boys” (and worse) to keep women from getting an equal share in power. To keep us scared so we would know our place.

When I saw how few people were willing to believe Anita Hill, it shocked me. I’m not sure why it did. I knew on a logical basis that rape victims tended to be blamed more for their rapes than their abusers did, but somehow it hadn’t really sunk in until the Thomas hearings.

Anita Hill had nothing to gain from coming forward. She had everything to lose. There was no reason not to believe her. And yet, Clarence Thomas is still enjoying his lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. An affront to women, particularly women of color, and to the memory of the man who he replaced.

They might have said “if true, he should refuse the nomination.”

“If true” is something we tend to use in an partisan manner. Only the other side is presumed guilty. Our own side gets the benefit of “if true, they should step down.”  But here’s the thing–sexual harassment isn’t about politics.

It’s about a world in which the power dynamic is not equal.

Men wield more power than women nearly everywhere in the world.

Adults wield more power than children.

White people wield more power than people of color.

And the ones with the power control the way we see the situation, whether they’re talking about welfare queens, terrorists, or sexual abuse. The people in power make the rules and enforce them.

Do I think that sometimes people overreact or that there is a difference between sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and things like uncouth behavior and  inappropriate jokes? That there’s a difference between tasteless and unacceptable? Yes. Some of that difference comes down to intent. Or ignorance. Or changing times. There’s a line that can be crossed, and that line is in flux. That is especially right now where the pendulum of appropriate behavior wants to mow down anyone accused of anything.

The pendulum will self correct, but some innocent people will be impacted. People will lose their jobs who shouldn’t have. People’s reputations will be tarnished.

Do I think that means that we shouldn’t keep moving toward a world in which people don’t think it is OK to demean and abuse other people sexually or physically? No. Fuck no.

You do have to be careful when applying today’s standards to past behavior, and you need to be careful about only applying today’s standards in a partisan manner. Behavior that a Republican thinks is repellent in a Democratic President should also be viewed as repellant  by Republicans when their own President exhibits that behavior. And vice versa.

The news right now is only starting to show the extent of the problem. It’s not only politics, it’s not only Hollywood. It’s the military. It’s families. It’s business. It’s everywhere.

It’s a crime that is almost never prosecuted successfully. Because it’s a crime that occurs with no witnesses. It’s a crime where the entire system that would investigate and punish the crime is also riddled with people committing those crimes. Until both of those things are addressed, we will only have social shaming as a recourse. That in itself is a problem and inherently unjust.

Things will keep changing and men and women both need to work on it.

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