by Tom Sullivan
Day off the Dead art by José Guadalupe Posada.
“Testosterone poisoning” has been a joke for some time now. But it’s no joke to women harmed by it. This summer, Roger Ailes got the boot at Fox News for a lengthy history of sexual harassment. Then the Harvey Weinstein story broke in October and #MeToo became a phenomenon. With stories of Roy Moore and teenage girls threatening his Senate bid and shaking up the GOP caucus in Washington, it seems we are on the cusp of a cultural shift a long time in coming. Women feel empowered, finally, to bring their stories out of the shadows in the way cell phone videos made visible police violence against black Americans. So many skeletons.
But the cultural moment has had that knife-edge quality that hinted it might tip from healthy reckoning to moral panic. Erin Gloria Ryan writes at Daily Beast that radio host Leeann Tweeden’s story about Al Franken (and his public apology) feels like the first, while a second allegation agsinst Franken worries her for different reasons.
Former KSFO conservative talk host Melanie Morgan now alleges she was “stalked and harassed” by Franken who, she says, called her several times to continue a policy debate they’d begun on Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect.”
Even giving Morgan the extremely generous benefit of the doubt, it’s hard to pretend what she alleges Franken did is the same thing as what Tweeden’s picture shows Franken actually doing. Nor is what Tweeden’s picture shows, horrible as it is, the same as what somebody like Roger Ailes or Bill Clinton did.
Which gets to a problem. Right now, the court of public opinion is faced with the awkward task of assigning degrees of severity to sexual misconduct, because, while they all cause harm, they don’t all cause the same amount of harm and thus don’t merit the same punishment. Furthermore, punishment varies by the power the offender wields. A senator, for example, should have a much higher moral threshold than, say, a comedian. Writing in The New Yorker this week, Masha Gessen treads lightly in making this point, warning that the #MeToo moment could devolve into “sex panic” if we’re not careful. “The distinctions between rape and coercion are meaningful, in the way it is meaningful to distinguish between, say, murder and battery,” Gessen writes.
It’s just that Morgan’s account “reeks of naked political opportunism, of weaponizing victimhood in a way that is so morally bankrupt that it threatens to derail the entire #MeToo conversation,” Ryan writes. Brian Beutler, she adds, days ago expressed similar reservations about how the “believe Women” movement might get derailed by Breitbart, which has already dispatched journalist/hit men to Alabama to discredit Moore’s accusers:
Unfolding against the backdrop of the post-Weinstein revolution, the Moore scandal exposes the conservative propaganda machine in the ugliest and most discrediting possible fashion. But these cultural changes are all but destined to collide with one another in the opposite direction, in a way that exploits both the beneficence of the “believe women” campaign, and the even-handedness of the mainstream media. It is a collision we as a political culture are not equipped to handle, the consequences of which are almost too awful to contemplate.
That’s why this all seems so perilous. We are on the cusp of a cultural shift that revanchist forces would just as soon kill. Skeletons love their closets.
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