By Cathy Young
The fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandals and the ripples from the “#Me Too” movement are having indubitably positive effects—above all, exposing and bringing to account predators who have enjoyed impunity due to their power and status.
But there are some pitfalls. Many people—not just men with skeletons in the closet—fear that careers may be destroyed over minor misconduct and ambiguous transgressions. Troubling rhetoric abounds, condemning all sexually tinged dynamics in the workplace, stereotyping men as abusers and women as perpetual victims in need of quasi-Victorian protections.
To take one example: Although Weinstein’s shunning has been universally cheered, many journalists (both women and men) have expressed much more mixed feelings—at least in private—about the “Weinsteining” of literary critic and writer Leon Wieseltier, formerly an editor at the New Republic. Last week, Wieseltier’s new magazine project was torpedoed by allegations that he had sexually harassed a number of female employees; a few days later, the Atlantic magazine dropped him as a contributing editor.
Unlike Weinstein, film director James Toback or television journalist Mark Halperin, Wieseltier is not accused of sexual assault or coercion but of what Michelle Cottle, writing in the Atlantic, calls “low-level lechery”: sexualized comments, from compliments on a tight outfit to banter during work-related conversations, and unwanted kisses—mostly on the cheek or forehead, on a few occasions on the lips. (He has not denied the allegations and has offered a general apology.)
Several journalists with whom I discussed Wieseltier’s downfall agreed that while his reported conduct was inappropriate and gross, the punishment seemed grossly excessive. “I don’t think a person’s life should be ruined over this,” said a millennial female journalist who isn’t inclined to cut sexual predators any slack.
In another harsh example, Roy Price, the former head of Amazon Studios, lost his job over a single complaint of propositioning a female executive at a booze-soaked event in 2015. (There is no suggestion that Price tried to retaliate for rejection.)
More broadly, the #MeToo movement, which tends to lump together a wide range of male wrongdoing from rape to “creepy” or boorish behavior, raises a basic question about human relations in the working world: Can work and sexuality or romance ever mix? For many supporters of this campaign, the answer seems to be no.
Concerns that the post-Weinstein climate may lead to witch hunts against any man who flirts with a female colleague have been met with angry comments along the lines of “flirting in the workplace IS HARASSMENT.” A tweet by singer/songwriter Marian Call that got more than 2,000 retweets and nearly 6,500 “likes” asked, “dudes are you aware how happy women would be if strangers & coworkers never ‘flirted’ with us again … this is the world we want.”
But is it? It’s certainly not the world I want: Except in college, nearly every man I have ever dated was either a co-worker or, once I switched entirely to free-lancing, someone I met through work. This is not unusual, even in the age of dating websites and apps. An informal 2015 survey for the online magazine Mic found that men and women under 35 were almost twice as likely to have met their current significant other through work (17.9 percent) as through online dating (9.4 percent). Similar findings have emerged from other such surveys.
There is plenty of other anecdotal evidence as well. A mere eight years ago, the annual conference of the Modern Language Assn. featured a largely approving discussion—led by two female professors—of sexual encounters at academic conferences.
Even aside from dating and relationships, casual or committed, there is little doubt that many women enjoy some degree of sexual interaction in their work lives. Can anyone claim with a straight face that women do not initiate flirting, ribald humor and sexually themed chitchat in the workplace, just as men do?
Much of this behavior is welcome or harmless; some of it can be unwanted and obnoxious.
And some of it is abusive. Although it is difficult to imagine a woman whose actions come even close to Weinstein’s, women do engage in sexual harassment. A male friend of mine who worked for a small magazine as a recent college graduate in the 1980s has less than fond memories of a female co-worker, his senior in both age and position, who sometimes greeted him with jokes insinuating that he was sexually aroused and once groped him under the pretext of straightening out his posture in a motherly way.
Instead of acknowledging such realities, current discourse on sexual harassment not only conflates predation with “low-level lechery” but generally reduces women to sexual innocents who must be shielded not only from sexual advances but from bawdy jokes. This did not begin with Weinstein or the #MeToo movement; however, the current moral panic is making the situation worse.
Sexual abuse in the workplace, or anywhere else, is unacceptable. Even boorishness that doesn’t rise to the level of harassment should be discouraged, especially from people in authority.
On the other hand, sexual interaction will happen unless the workplace is regulated to a dehumanizing degree and realistically, some unwanted sexual attention will happen as well.
As we grapple with these issues, we desperately need nuance. Let’s distinguish between abuse, minor bad behavior and innocent miscommunication.
And let’s not demonize men or patronize women.
Slavery caused the Civil War. A failure to compromise had nothing to do with it.
Yes, I know a thousand people have made that point in the days since White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s nonsensical assertion on Fox “News” that “the lack of an ability to compromise” is what tore America apart. Allow me to be the 1,001st. There are things that need saying here, and I need to say them.
It’s not just that there is no “compromise” between slavery and freedom.
It is also that Kelly’s use of that word is painfully ironic in a nation that has always been all too ready to bargain with the humanity of African-American people.
In 1776, in his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson condemned slavery. Southern states balked, so he compromised.
In 1820, North and South argued whether the new state of Missouri would permit slavery. Congress intervened, and they compromised.
In 1877, there was a disputed election. Someone suggested giving the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes if he agreed to withdraw federal troops that had been protecting former slaves in the South. The two sides compromised.
In 1961, the Freedom Riders pulled into Mississippi. The federal government made a deal with the state that if Mississippi guaranteed no violence, it could arrest the riders, though they had done nothing illegal. They compromised.
And so on. Historically, America always seems to find a way to sell black people out.
Kelly is just the latest in a long line of those who lack the guts to face this straight on. They hide out in textbooks where slaves become “settlers,” flee from “Roots” because it is “depressing.”
And they insist on moral equivalence between people sellers and the people they sold, lynchers and the people they lynched, traitors who fought to destroy America and patriots who fought to preserve it.
“Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” added Kelly in the Fox interview—an interesting take for a military man on an enemy general in a war that killed more Americans than Hitler, Hirohito and Bin Laden combined.
“All of our leaders have flaws,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders in defending Kelly. As if Lee’s ordering two men and a woman stripped to the waist and whipped (“Lay it on well,” he said) for the crime of seeking freedom was in the same moral universe as Barack Obama’s cigarette jones.
I can anticipate how all this will land among certain people. They’ll call it “racist.” They’ll call it “divisive.” They’ll call it everything but untrue.
They are, you see, deeply invested in the myth that struggles with poverty, mass incarceration, joblessness and miseducation arise from something African-Americans chose or did, while the rest of the country, innocent as the dawn, did nothing to cause or benefit from any of it. They will be angry at the reminder that this is ridiculous.
As if this was about them. As if we should give a damn about their anger.
This country stole from black people. It stole their bodies, their children, their names, their land, their lives. Now, some of us seek to steal the very memory of the crime.
Well, let them tell a thousand lies. Let them treat truth like the money card in a game of three-card monte.
Let them salve history with the balm of false equivalence.
But let them know that some of us find strength for our own trials in knowing the trials of our mothers and fathers.
So we will not be fooled and we will not be robbed.
We will remember—and demand they do the same.
I am a social work student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Public health issues are extremely relevant issues in the field of social work. This letter serves to express my opinion in relation to current public health issues, as well as present possible solutions.
Recently, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. There are policies for prescription drug monitoring and greater access to substance abuse treatment, but are these policies really effective if more than half of the opioid overdoses occur in patients who have a legitimate prescription for these drugs? What if there was something else that doctors could prescribe for treatment instead of opiates? Well, there is.
Medical marijuana can be used to treat illnesses such as chronic pain, seizures, anxiety, and depression. Pain is the number one reason for being prescribed an opiate. Medical marijuana has the potential to provide the same relief of nerve pain and muscle spasms, while producing less side effects and a lower risk of addiction.
According to a study published in 2014 by the Journal of the American Medical Association, states with medical marijuana laws had a nearly 25 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states that did not have laws that legalized medical marijuana. That percentage is a tremendous piece of evidence that sheds light on the public health benefits of medical marijuana.
All in all, I believe it is imperative for our state government to consider this research and reevaluate drug laws in Wisconsin.