I admire Brian Lehrer from WNYC, and his segment on Tuesday, May 8th was insightful and thought-provoking. He interviewed Jane Mayer from The New Yorker on her latest story in which she revealed the misogyny and abuse from one of our liberal #MeToo champions, Eric Schneiderman. He then had Alexis Grenell from Pythia Public with him, responding to callers and discussing the political aftermath of Schneiderman’s undoing. I am acutely aware that as a white woman, the depth of my experience is shallow in comparison to women of color; however, the profiling, stereotyping, and gender discrimination that we are seeing in the #MeToo backlash is only the tip of the iceberg in addressing this sad reality.
It also makes me feel furious as a man. It makes me feel ashamed to be a man, and it makes me feel like Eric Schneiderman, assuming all these things are true as reported, and other men who do these things, make it harder for all men who don’t do these things. Look what we’ve been talking about here today. We’ve been talking about preferring women in certain elected or appointed positions because they’re not at as high risk of committing sexual assault or sexual harassment.
Well, I don’t want to be profiled on the basis of being a man, but it is completely understandable that when these things happen and happen and happen and they happen with men in progressive roles, they happen with men who speak like Eric Schneiderman speaks, other men who don’t commit sexual harassment or assault are also the victims.
This statement came after many callers, men and women, suggested that given all the qualified District Attorneys and other politically experienced attorneys in New York, a qualified woman be selected to replace Schneiderman. Silicon Valley took a similar approach when Justin Caldbeck resigned from Binary Capital and some of the investors insisted that he be replaced by a woman. Some people call this reactionary, overcompensating, or reverse discrimination, but is it?
Many of my female friends have told me that they interviewed for a new job for which they were highly qualified, but hadn’t gotten in the first year or two because of getting married or it being around the time that they had a young child.
I was myself a teacher, and while schools happen to love children, I still knew my pregnancies were a bit of a liability. The administration would have still had to find a maternity leave replacement, parents would complain about the transition and inconsistency, and I repeatedly would face the looming question of, “Are you coming back?” from colleagues and parents. Now imagine a female employee of the New York office of an ad agency, investment bank, or fill-in-the-blank for-profit, client-based company. Find me a man in his early thirties who was overlooked for a role or who hesitated to change companies because he was afraid to be viewed as a “pregnancy risk.”
Alexis Grenell’s advice from the interview, in a nutshell, is that people not dismiss their feelings. She suggests men sit with that discomfort. Explore it and try to work through it because, as she states, “Masculinity is experiencing an identity crisis.”
There is a theme in #MeToo discussions highlighting the disconnect between genders where some men are saying, “This #MeToo movement is important, but what if some companies, out of fear of risk of sexual harassment, don’t want to hire women, especially young women? What if it backfires because they want to play it safe? I’m not saying that’s okay, but it is a risk.”
Here’s the thing though, well-intentioned white men: women have been dealing with that “risk” as a reality for ages. During World War II, women held positions of power and were the majority in many workplaces, but that false sense of opportunity was quickly undone and women have been since excluded from social events and old boys’ networks.
In many fields, women do the work while men take the credit, and they are paid about 70% of what their male counterparts are paid for the same job. They are profiled as being “too attractive to be smar0t”, they fight harder for the same opportunities and if they do experience unusual success for their gender, they are judged as getting ahead because they are a woman and/or because they are attractive. People don’t joke about men sleeping their way to the top very often.
These stereotypes and examples of gender profiling are incredibly problematic, but they are not new. Women have been the subject of victim-blaming and negative stereotypes for ages. They have been navigating the grey areas of gender discrimination and sexual harassment silently and privately.
Do you know any men who were not invited to drinks with colleagues, not given credit for their accomplishments, or not given a job in the first place because they were deemed too good-looking and posed a risk? The Vice President has a history of refusing to dine alone with female colleagues to avoid temptation. Seriously? If there is a clearer example of gender profiling, I would love to see it.
In a world where Schneiderman advocates for women publicly and beats women privately, and where we have women throughout New York State living secretly in shelters to escape domestic abuse, let’s take his wrongdoings and make a bit of room. Appointing a woman is not only a way to reduce the chances of sexual harassment because she does not have a Y chromosome and lifetime of entitlement, it also creates space for more gender balance politically and can increase exposure for women’s issues.
Have you heard about all that research that says diversity increases innovation, productivity, and morale in a work environment? Well, the State Attorney General’s office could benefit from that perspective as well. New York is one of twenty states that has never had a female Attorney General. Here’s the all-male list, going back to 1777, and we are also one of the oldest states: Go Yankees!
No one is suggesting that the role of District Attorney should be given to a woman out of sympathy, but simply given that all the qualified people are already women, we can at the same time use this opportunity to level the playing field one player at a time.
It is time to give well-intended men who are feeling frustrated, men like Brian Lehrer, a wide-armed welcome to the world. Rebecca Traister, author of the book All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, said this in a recent panel discussion when asked what white men should do now that they are afraid of crossing a line, and what parents can do who are afraid for their sons, “Now white men and boys know what it feels like to be everyone else in America. They experience the fear that being misunderstood or interpreted incorrectly might result in life-changing consequences.”
Here is the takeaway from Brian Lehrer’s segment, echoed in the words of many journalists who have been voices in the #MeToo movement: we should all be uncomfortable right now. Unpacking your metaphorical backpack of privilege is not a simple task, particularly if it is your first time doing it. Public discussion of graphic sexual behavior, especially sexual assault, is also uncomfortable. To brush the problem aside because it doesn’t apply to you personally, or to feel you are being blamed for something you didn’t do, is missing the point.
Being a bystander is no longer adequate. We must all become upstanders. This is a time for men and women to talk together, deconstruct these stereotypes, and redefine our identities. Sure, masculinity is having an identity crisis, but femininity has been having one for a very, very long time.
Join in on the conference, men.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join like-minded individuals in The Good Men Project Premium Community.
We have pioneered the largest worldwide conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. Your support of our work is inspiring and invaluable.