Tag Archives: sexual assault

The Law Of Proportional Backlash And The Anti-Harassment Movement

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There comes a point in every social movement where the momentum seems unstoppable. Whether it’s same-sex marriage, racial equality, or finally having a female Dr. Who, there’s a sentiment that certain trends are just going to play out and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

That’s a false impression, by the way. Human beings are complex, erratic, and fickle creatures. I’ve touched on this before and will likely bring it up again because human beings are just that interesting. That said, they can also be quite frustrating.

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When it comes to highlighting those qualities in the midst of an ongoing controversy, though, I have to be careful because I don’t want my points to get lost in the anger. I know as well as anyone else with an internet connection that digital outrage has a nasty habit of undermining meaningful dialog. I want to avoid that as much as possible cause this is one point I feel is worth making.

As I write this, the latest major social movement to combat sexism and sexual misconduct is close to that point I mentioned earlier. It’s still a very hot-button issue and I’ve tried to be fair in discussing it on this blog. However, the current momentum of this movement, which has the wholly noble goal of preventing harassment, is coming up against a force that reflects the eccentricities of human nature.

That force doesn’t have an official or scientific name, but it has many familiar components. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll label it as follows:

The Law Of Proportional Backlash

I’m not claiming this law is definitive or on the same level as the laws of relativity. To make sense of what’s going on, and what often happens with these social movements, it’s just helpful to have a unifying idea to tie it all together.

The essence of this law that I just randomly coined is pretty simple. It’s the human equivalent of Newton’s Third Law, which says for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When it comes to social movements, though, the reaction is more than that. It’s can also be an outright backlash.

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To illustrate, you need only look at the frequency with which political parties gain and lose power. Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, as society has become more connected, open, and diverse, these tendencies have played out with stunning regularity. It often plays out like this:

“Hey! The current social order isn’t the perfect, utopian society I want. Let’s kick the people in power out of office and put in these people making impossible promises to achieve impossible things.”

A few years later.

“Hey! These people we put in power haven’t created the perfect, utopian society I waned either. Let’s kick them out and put in other people in power who are also making impossible promises to achieve impossible things. Moreover, let’s hate, shame, and spit on the other side for failing to do all those impossible things!”

I fully concede that’s a very basic illustration of how political power fluctuates in the modern world. I also concede there are many variations, but in terms of the big picture, this is how the Law of Proportional Backlash works.

A movement begins, be it political or social. It gains momentum. Usually, there’s some sort of event that acts as a catalyst. With racial segregation, events like the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education helped get things going. With same-sex marriage, Massachusetts being the first state to legalize it did the same.

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For the current movement against sexism and sexual misconduct, I think most would point to either the 2016 presidential election or the Harvey Weinstein scandal as the catalyst. I would argue it’s a combination of both, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that the movement gained a lot of momentum. If it could take down someone as powerful as Harvey Weinstein, then it’s safe to say that movement is pretty strong.

As often happens, though, the momentum provokes backlash. That happens whenever a movement fails to achieve every goal and, spoiler alert, no movement ever achieves every goal. The world is too complex and impossible problems tend to frustrate human limitations. As a result, a movement has to overreach and that will spurn a backlash.

With the movement against sexual misconduct, there are plenty of signs of overreach. There are people scorning others for making reasonable arguments about there being a spectrum of harassment. Careers are being ruined on the basis of anonymous accusations and mixed messages that are impossible to discern.

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There was even a distressing article on BigThink that argued that crimes involving sexual violence should not be subject to the traditional standards of proof. The underlying reason for that is too many guilty people get away with their crimes so it’s worth the risk of punishing the innocent to remedy that issue.

It’s that kind of sentiment, one in which the proportion becomes increasingly extreme, that tends to hasten the backlash. Whenever a movement gets to a point it’s deemed appropriate to sacrifice innocent people for the sake of a cause, then that’s usually a sign that it’s reaching beyond its ideals and emboldening opponents.

There are already major news outlets reporting on that phenomenon. Publications like the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and even the liberal Huffington Post have discussed it in various forms. The reactions to those speaking out against sexual misconduct is no longer one of unity and support. Now, there’s criticism and animosity, the first signs of a real backlash.

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Those behind the movement need only look at the LGBT movement to see what that backlash can entail. Even though same-sex marriage is legal, the resulting backlash triggered a surge in “religious freedom” bills that promoted a new kind of discrimination. That backlash is still ongoing. The one surrounding sexual misconduct may just be getting started.

I still don’t doubt the sincerity and ideals behind the movement against sexual misconduct. People want justice for those who have been victimized. Justice is an inherent aspect of the human condition. We’re literally wired to seek it when we feel there’s an injustice in the world.

Unfortunately, in the pursuit of that justice, anger and resentment end up clouding those ideals. We’ve seen that anger directed towards the political process that played out in 2016. We’ve seen it used to demonize and denigrate entire groups of people, including an entire gender in some cases.

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When people are attacked, their first instinct isn’t to admit defeat. It’s to fight back. That’s just basic survival instinct and there’s no way any movement, be it political or social, can circumvent that. By fighting back, the backlash itself gains momentum. Sometimes that backlash gains enough momentum to become a movement in it’s own right. Then, it too may be subject to a backlash.

It seems like an never-ending cycle, one in which little is gained in the long run. While I don’t deny it can be disheartening, I believe there are gains that make many movements worthwhile in the long run. Just ask any same-sex couple who can get married now if they’re willing to risk such a backlash. They would probably do so in a heartbeat.

I don’t know how the movement against sexual misconduct is going to play out, even if the backlash it inspires ends up being minor. I hope, in the long run, it has a net-positive effect on society. It still won’t be a perfect society, but whether it’s from the movement or the backlash, even a little gain in justice and human progress can still mean a lot in the long run.

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On “Demolition Man” And The Path To A Dispassionate Dystopia

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When it comes to foreseeing the future, be it a “Star Trek” utopia or a “Mad Max” wasteland, Hollywood can be downright prophetic at times. While movies are wrong way more often than they’re right, there are the times when certain movies are more prophetic than they probably intended. Every vision of the future varies wildly, but a few of those visions end up being more relevant, albeit for distressing reasons.

One movie that I find myself contemplating a lot more lately is “Demolition Man.” To date, it’s still one of my favorite Sylvester Stallone movies that doesn’t involve Rocky Balboa. When I was a kid who was just beginning to appreciate R-rated movies, “Demolition Man” ranked right up there with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

It wasn’t just because it was a great action movie, complete with over-the-top violence and a charismatic villain that Wesley Snipes played to perfection. Like “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” it had depth to it, something that’s rare in action movies, even today. However, after seeing it again recently on cable, I think it’s vision of the future is more relevant now than it was in 1993.

In terms of predicting certain trends, “Demolition Man” already had a pretty good track record. The movie foresaw things like video chat, self-driving cars, mass surveillance, and Arnold Schwarzenegger getting into politics.

There is, however, one vision that even “The Simpsons” didn’t predict and it’s downright distressing at how accurate it was. Beyond the technological advances, the shiny world of “Demolition Man” has a very dystopian undertone.

While it looks peaceful and prosperous on the surface, the movie quickly reveals that this is a world dominated by an extremely authoritarian system run by the well-mannered, yet devious Dr. Raymond Cocteau. It’s a system that willfully and proudly employs draconian laws that ban anything and everything that might be bad for you, from cigarettes to loud music to spicy food.

It’s a system that doesn’t just punish people for cussing. Anyone who doesn’t go along with Cocteau’s rules is basically doomed to live in the sewers as part of a permanent underclass, as Dennis Leary’s character, Edgar Friendly, so eloquently put it. His world regulates intimate human contact to a level that even the Catholic Church would find egregious.

This is a world where people don’t touch each other. They don’t hug each other. Even when they try to high-five each other, they stop just short so that their skin never touches. Needless to say, the people in this world don’t have much of a sex life. In fact, it makes for a very awkward scene at one point.

This is pretty revealing in the sense that when John Spartan, Stallone’s main character, asks about “the old fashioned way” to Sandra Bullock’s character, Lenina Huxley, she’s repulsed by the idea. She then goes on this long rant about how sex is so dangerous. She even notes that in this future, sex requires a goddamn license from the government.

It seemed so laughably ridiculous back in 1993. Unfortunately, it makes a distressing amount of sense in 2018. We may not need a license to have sex, but we’re already developing apps and legal framework surrounding sex and consent. Is the idea that we may one day need a license to have sex really that outrageous?

The situation we have now is not the same in “Demolition Man,” but the themes are eerily similar. As I’ve noted before, the war against horny men and horny women has been escalating. While we’ve done a lot to reduce the stigma of people having sex for reasons other than procreation, society is giving people others reasons to be as repulsed as Huxley was by the idea of “old fashioned” sex.

We’re now in an era where the mere act of depicting a beautiful woman in a video game is considered oppressive to women. Given the recent surge of sex scandals and public displays by celebrities, there’s a growing undercurrent in our culture that would’ve made Dr. Cocteau’s job that much easier.

There’s now a full-fledged movement against sexual misconduct in all forms, be it harassment in the workplace or flirting in public. Reactions to that movement are still ongoing and changing by the day. Some are adopting the so-called Mike Pence rules when dealing with the opposite sex. Some are taking a more radical approach and attempting to just distance themselves from the entire gender setup.

Both approaches play right into Dr. Cocteau’s hands. Both seem to manifest in the dystopian order that we see in “Demolition Man.” It’s a world that came from a society that only ever saw the bad in people. Dr. Cocteau himself said that before he took charge, people trembled in fear at what society had become. That fear made it easy for someone like him to step in and impose his order.

In “Demolition Man,” the violence and crime of the past was used as the source of that fear. Today, violent crime is at record lows, but fear of crime is prevalent as ever thanks largely to media depictions. At the same time, fear of sexual harassment or being accused of it is growing, even as rates of sexual assault declined by more than half.

Given that potent combination of fear, which perfectly entwines sex with violence, is it any wonder that people in 2018 are avoiding being alone with the opposite sex and are less inclined to resist the growth of mass surveillance? Dr. Cocteau may be a fictional character, but we’re following a similar path without him.

Demolition Man” takes place in the year 2032. Is it really that impossible to think our collective fear surrounding violence and sex in 2018 won’t lead to a similarly dispassionate world? As much an optimist as I am about the future, a part of me does worry that we’ll walk the path that Cocteau laid out in the movie.

In that world, fear about crime and sex is so great that basic touch is seen as a pre-cursor to deviance. We already saw Matt Damon get in trouble for suggesting there was a spectrum for harassment. As a result, our future interactions will have to be micromanaged. Even if the crime rates continue to drop, the slightest chance that someone could harass or assault another has to be taken as a certainty.

That may not mean we dress in the strange robes that the people wear in “Demolition Man,” but it’s very likely that world won’t allow for much provocative attire. We already know how cultures like that manifest today and they’re not sexy or friendly, to say the least.

What makes these manifestations worse than those in “Demolition Man” is that these conditions may not need to be imposed by someone like Dr. Cocteau. We may just become so crippled by our fears of violence, harassment, or being accused of harassment that we’ll just create the repressive world of Cocteau without him. That, in my mind, would be an even worse dystopia.

Now, I concede we’re still a long way from that kind of society. If someone like Dr. Cocteau came along today and tried to impose the kind of society that required a license for any kind of sexual activity, he would probably fail. I take some comfort in that.

However, the more our fears surrounding sex, gender, harassment, and violence escalate, the more inclined we’ll be to craft a more repressive, disconnected world. History and basic human biology has shown that sort of effort never works in the long run and can be very damaging.

There are a lot of lessons to be had from a movie like “Demolition Man” while still enjoying Sylvester Stallone delivering his memorable one-liners. Beyond the over-the-top action that makes the movie such a spectacle, there’s a message that is more important in 2018 than it ever was in 1993.

A world built around elaborate, authoritarian rules that try to regulate human expression may seem utopian on the surface, but it becomes distinctly dystopian when you look at the implications. Some of forces behind that dystopia in “Demolition Man” are already starting to manifest. If it ever gets to a point where a high-five has to be rethought, then we should worry.

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Aziz Ansari: A Case Study Of He Said/She Said And Impossible Justice

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Ordinarily, I prefer to wait until an ongoing scandal involving a celebrity dies down before I comment on it. In my experience, it takes time for the full story to emerge. Most of the time, a more complete story tends to render any premature comments moot. John Carpenter recently provided a notable example of why such prudence is important.

That said, there are times when patience is also moot because the narrative follows an all too familiar pattern. It becomes so predictable that you can practically set your watch to it. Over the past several months, especially since the Harvey Weinstein scandal, we’ve seen that pattern play out in all sorts of disheartening ways. That’s why I’m opting not to wait on offering comments on Aziz Ansari.

By now, everybody with an internet connection, a social media feed, and a predilection for celebrity meltdowns knows the story. Aziz Ansari is the latest case of the Weinstein Effect. His name has officially been added to the growing list of male celebrities being accused of sexual misconduct.

The story first broke on Babe.net where a 23-year-old Brooklyn-based photographer calling herself Grace, which isn’t her real name, told a very distressing story about a night she had with Ansari. That story reads like a bad date, but still echoes with some of the same themes that Harvey Weinstein has helped make infamous. Naturally, this story is already striking a chord with the ongoing anti-harassment movement.

The way Grace tells it, she got into a situation that she lost control over and Ansari took advantage of that situation. I don’t want to get too caught up in the details. They’re just too unsexy, even for an aspiring erotica/romance writer.

Before I even attempt to comment, it’s worth pointing out that Grace said herself that she confronted Ansari about this privately. On the surface, it seemed like a terrible example of miscommunication and mixed messages. According to the article, this was the exchange.

Grace: I just want to take this moment to make you aware of [your] behavior and how uneasy it made me.

Ansari: Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.

If this had occurred several years ago, that probably would’ve been the end of it. The incident would’ve been a nasty experience for Grace and an uncomfortable memory for Ansari, but it probably wouldn’t have made the news, outside a few disreputable tabloids. Since powerful men harassing women has become a far greater issue, though, this is now national news.

It’s already generating the kind of divisive arguments that have been cropping up since the Weinstein scandal. Supporters of the anti-harassment movement are siding with Grace, accepting her story as another example of powerful men exploiting women. Opponents, including a few celebrities, are saying this movement is going too far and devolving into a man-hating witch-hunt.

Neither side is going to convince the other they’re wrong. Both sides have plenty of rhetoric to make their point. When I look at this story, though, I see far greater forces at work. I also see a devolving situation that is doing more to divide people in lieu of addressing real issues surrounding men, women, consent, and harassment.

When you read over Grace’s story and then read the statement Aziz Ansari issued in response, there’s one inescapable fact. It’s impossible to vindicate or disprove either version of the story. It is very much a classic he said/she said ordeal. She said he assaulted her. He said everything they did was consensual. There’s no way to be certain.

Sure, there’s a distinct possibility that one of them is lying. Everyone, celebrity and non-celebrity alike, is prone to lying. There have been documented incidents of women falsely accusing men. There have been men who have lied and gotten away with sexual misconduct. However, without knowing more details about the incident, it’s not possible to truly know.

Me being a guy who places a lot of faith in people, I suspect that both Grace and Ansari believe they’re telling the truth. I believe that if you hooked them up to a perfect lie detector, it would verify that both of them believe their respective stories with all their hearts.

This sounds like an impossible position until you remember that our memories are not very reliable, especially when it comes to unpleasant memories. Beyond simply not remembering the details of a terrible situation, our brains are wired to avoid the kind of mental discomfort that comes with enduring or committing a sexual assault at all costs, even if that means mis-remembering the truth.

It’s because of this that the he said/she said nature of stories like this is difficult to process. It creates a scenario that’s different from most other crimes and injustices. There’s no dead body. There’s no lost or damaged property. There’s nothing tangible to highlight the crime or misdeed. There are only two conflicting stories. As a result, it leads to a situation of impossible justice.

Even if everything Grace described happened exactly as she said it did, there’s no way to prove it in a courtroom or even a civil case. Even if Ansari is one-hundred percent innocent and is the victim of an elaborate extortion plot, there’s no way to prove that either, absent a confession or new information.

In both instances, there’s an injustice being committed. Since humans are wired with an innate sense of justice that shows even when we’re infants, that situation is untenable in our collective minds. People hear a terrible story like Grace’s and that inner justice system goes into overdrive.

Since we don’t have the time, energy, or even the capabilities to gather all the facts, we’re left relying on a certain degree of prejudice. This is where the impossible justice of he said/she said gets real ugly and this scandal with Ansari demonstrates it. When people start relying on prejudices, it tends to bring out the worst in humanity.

For those who believe our culture is full of entitled, misogynistic men who see women only as objects to be owned, then their prejudices will be reinforced by this story. For those who believe the movement against sexual misconduct is going too far and all men are being demonized, this story does the same.

That’s greatest tragedy of an impossible justice. It gives certain people the anecdotal evidence they need to further their agenda. It also gives those who stand against that agenda even more incentive to fight back. In the end, it only serves to heighten hostilities and intensify the rhetoric.

At a time when men and women are increasingly divided, especially in matters pertaining to sex and intimacy, this sort of story really drives us in all the wrong directions. It frames all men as sleazy pigs who jump at any opportunity to harass a woman. It frames all women as victims who must fight back against everyone and everything attacking them, real or imagined.

For me, personally, this story makes me sick to my stomach because it’s one of those stories that’s perfect for pushing an agenda, but not for pursuing justice. If what happened to Grace is true, then I’m in favor of having Ansari face justice for his misdeeds. I say that as someone who has been a fan of his comedy and his work on “Parks and Recreation.”

As it stands, though, there’s not enough evidence beyond the he said/she said dynamic to convict anyone of a crime. Absent that kind of justice, people are filling in the blanks with whatever gender-driven prejudices they want to strengthen.

In my personal opinion, which may put me at odds with both sides, I believe that there’s a third version of this story between Grace and Ansari that is closer to the truth. In that version, Ansari isn’t a total gentleman and Grace isn’t a hapless victim either. It’s just an experience that becomes awkward and unpleasant for them, the memories of which later get conflated and influenced by outside sources.

In the end, it’s still impossible to know for sure. Short of high-definition video, unambiguous audio, and an ability to read the exact thoughts of both Grace and Ansari during those moments when they were together, we can’t know how consensual or hostile the situation was between them. It messes with our desire for justice, especially when it comes to how men treat women.

In seeking that justice, though, it’s important to remember that there are instances where the truth isn’t just elusive. It’s physically impossible to ascertain. In those instances, trying to fill that uncertainty with agendas will only lead to more injustice in the long run for everyone.

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Why The Men Were Silent At The Golden Globes (For Good Reason)

When I was in middle school, I had a particularly vindictive gym teacher one year who had a knack for breaking the spirits of pre-teens. If we forgot to wash our uniforms, failed to take our seats on time, or just farted too loud, we were given a choice. Either we had to run a mile or do 100 push-ups. We got to choose, but both choices sucked.

The real kicker was that if we didn’t choose, then the teacher would choose for us and would go out of his way to make that choice seem extra cruel. It was one of those situations where it really didn’t matter what we said or did. One way or another, we were going to suffer for our actions and inaction.

This brings me to this year’s Golden Globes. Bear with me. I promise that’s not as big a non-sequiter as it sounds. There’s a valid reason I brought up the story of my vindictive gym teacher and it ties directly into the ongoing social movement to combat the sexual misconduct of powerful men.

I’ve talked about this issue before and, to be honest, I wish I didn’t have to keep discussing it. I would much rather be telling sexy stories, sharing sexy thoughts, or discussing upcoming superhero movies. However, these issues surrounding sexual misconduct in Hollywood have an undeniable impact on the sexual landscape and as an aspiring erotica/romance writer, that’s not something I can ignore.

A lot has been said and done since the movement began in wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. There has been a great deal of outrage, complete with protests and hashtags. Powerful men have fallen. Careers and reputations have been ruined. Entire movies and TV shows have actually been changed, as a result of this effort.

In some respects, it’s a good thing and I have pointed out the silver linings. Men harassing or abusing women is not something a just society should overlook. This isn’t one of those irrational moral panics, such as Satanic ritual abuse or the impact of violent video games. These instances of men abusing women have happened and some of the accused have confessed.

However, this ongoing crusade against powerful men, as well as horny men in general, has walked a fine line between a pursuing justice and demonizing any man who ever dared to admire a beautiful woman. It’s not quite at the level of an old-fashioned witch hunt, but it’s already in that dark territory where passions obscure reality.

What happened at the Golden Globes might end up being the most telling sign of all. Initially, the big news for this event was positive. Some of the most prominent women in Hollywood, including Emma Watson and Oprah Winfrey, came together in a show of solidarity against the sexual victimization of women. They all wore black dresses and got behind the newly-created “Time’s Up” movement.

Like other movements before it, the intent is good. This movement seeks to provide legal defense and resources for those who have been victimized by sexual misconduct. That’s an objectively good thing, but that wasn’t the most revealing moment of the Golden Globes. Instead, the biggest message came from what was not said.

It has been reported by more than one outlet. While the women at the Golden Globes were quite vocal in their ongoing efforts to clamp down on sexual misconduct, the men were mostly silent. Other than a brief remark from Seth Meyers at the beginning and some men dressing in black, Hollywood’s male stars were largely silent.

To some, this is already very problematic. I imagine it’s going to stir quite a bit of outrage among those trying to further the movement. However, when you take a step back and look at the situation in which these men were in, their silence makes complete sense. In fact, those same women who are determined to combat the Harvey Weinsteins of the world may very well have made it their only option.

To understand why, think back to my vindictive gym teacher for a moment. That teacher understood that to break the spirits of powerless pre-teens, it was necessary to put them in a situation where their choices mattered less than the ugly gym uniforms the school forced them to wear. By establishing just how powerless they were, it made any effort to speak up seem pointless.

These men, as powerful and successful they may be, were in a situation not unlike the one my hapless classmates were in that year. There was nothing they could’ve said or done that wouldn’t have been deconstructed, dissected, or misconstrued. No matter what they said or didn’t say, it would be used to label them as enemies of the movement and of women, as a whole.

If one of the men stood up on that stage and gave an impassioned speech condemning Harvey Weinstein, then his reputation would suffer. He would be labeled a virtue signaling white knight who was compensating for something. After what happened to Joss Whedon, those concerns wouldn’t be unfounded. He may even still face condemnation among women for not speaking up earlier or naming other harassers.

If that same man stood up and tried to give an impassioned speech on the importance of confronting the issue responsibly, then he would likely have suffered condemnation similar to that of Matt Damon, who dared to question whether all harassment should be treated equally. Even hinting at such nuance would’ve earned that man the toxic label of a misogynistic victim blamer.

Essentially, the men at the Golden Globes knew they couldn’t win either way. No matter what they said, it would’ve been used against them or undermined their career, somehow. These men, as powerful and successful they may be, are still human, despite what Tom Cruise may claim. They want to protect their jobs and their reputations. They can’t do that if they get slapped with these toxic labels.

In the end, silence was their safest bet and that, in and of itself, reveals the extent to which this crusade against sexual misconduct has gone. It’s past the point where people can have reasoned arguments about the issue. Now, it’s all outrage and hyperbole. Either you’re completely on board with that outrage or you’re just as bad as Harvey Weinstein. There is no gray area.

That lack of gray area means men have to be silent, which is the exact opposite of what the women in the movement are trying to achieve. It’s ironic, but understandable. These men aren’t going to garner much sympathy. They’re rich, handsome, and successful. There’s only so much sympathy they can inspire, due to their position.

Silence is the only way to avoid the added scrutiny that would undermine a career. Silence is the only way to avoid saying something that might offend, enrage, or upset a public that has shown in recent times an uncanny unwillingness to ruin lives and reputations. It’s actually worse than censorship, when you think about it, because it is self-imposed rather than coerced.

The fact that the men didn’t speak up at the Golden Globes may or may not represent a tipping point, of sorts. If the anti-harassment movement has created an environment that’s so frail that silence is the safest recourse, then that same movement lacks a critical component it needs to succeed.

Like it or not, men need to be part of the conversation with respect to sexual misconduct. Silence on their part means the crimes, the culture, and the attitudes that fosters such misconduct won’t change. Moreover, their point of view cannot be discounted as virtue signaling or “mansplaining.” The fact remains that if people feel helpless, then they won’t care enough to make the effort.

Like the broken spirits of my old gym class, if the men don’t think their words matter or may be used against them, then it makes perfect sense for them to remain silent. Outrage, awareness, and condemnation alone is not going to inspire meaningful change in the dynamics between men and women.

Both sides actually have to listen to one another and feel their words actually matter. It’s only then when silence will no longer be the most preferred and logical recourse.

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Making Sense Of Sexual Misconduct, Valid Arguments, And Matt Damon

We like to think that when there’s a serious problem, our first instinct is to approach it with a logical, reasoned understanding of what it is and how to go about solving it. Ideally, that’s how competent, civil societies go about these things. By those same ideals, though, nobody ever cheats on their taxes, lies on their resume, or downloads free movies from torrent sites.

In the real world, there are some problems where our emotions surrounding an issue are so powerful, so intense that they undercut our ability to approach it logically. It’s part of the flawed wiring in our caveman brains that seems to crop up in every major issue I discuss on this blog.

That brings me back to one of the most emotionally charged issues of the day in sexual assault. It’s an issue that has touched everything from movies to video games to the comic book industry that I’m so fond of. Between the scandals and the movements they inspire, it’s one of the most heated issues that doesn’t involve Star Wars fan theories.

It’s because the emotions surrounding sexual assault and sexual harassment are so heated right now that trying to force any level of logic or context into the discussion is next to impossible. If done poorly, it can come off as victim blaming, which is tends to intensify emotions even more.

This brings me to Matt Damon, an actor who has built much of his career about having to be rescued. Unfortunately, he didn’t get that memo about the current emotional state of this issue. It’s still very raw and very charged. There’s a reason for that, but that reason is secondary right now and he just found that out the hard way.

It happened during a recent interview for ABC’s “Popcorn with Peter Travers.” During the interview, Mr. Damon decided to give his opinion on the issue, as many other celebrities have on the issue. This is what he had to say.

“I think it’s wonderful that women are feeling empowered to tell their stories and it’s totally necessary,” he said. “I do believe there’s a spectrum of behavior. … You know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated.”

The bold parts are my doing. That’s because these are the parts stirring even more emotion within an already heated discussion that shows no signs of settling. Harvey Weinstein triggered it and subsequent celebrity scandals escalated it. Matt Damon may have escalated it even more by trying to put a kind of logic into a discussion that isn’t ready for it.

On paper, what Mr. Damon said isn’t unreasonable. In fact, it’s fairly logical by most standards. There is, indeed, a spectrum of behavior for sexual misconduct, just as there’s a spectrum for behavior of any kind of deviance.

In the same way that stealing a bag of candy from a grocery store isn’t the same as stealing the Mona Lisa, an unwanted hug at an office Christmas party is not the same as a brutal rape in a dark alley. There is a spectrum for that kind of behavior. One warrants serious punishment and prosecution. The other warrants disapproval and scorn, but not much else.

However, that kind of approach is just too logical for something that’s so emotionally charged. I know I keep saying that, but it’s worth belaboring and it really does matter. Sexual assault is an extremely emotional topic, one that incurs an immense amount of trauma and suffering to the victims. To them, logic and spectrums mean as much as the weather on Neptune.

As a result, the reactions to Mr. Damon’s words have been more than a little charged. The most vocal reaction came from Alyssa Milano and Minnie Driver. This is what they had to say on the matter.

Now, I don’t doubt their sincerity. These are two women who have been in the entertainment industry long enough to know more than a few dirty secrets. There’s plenty of emotion and disdain in their words. They go out of their way to focus on the bigger picture that’s fueling the outrage, emphasizing past injustices and systemic problems that pre-dated them, Matt Damon, and most people alive today.

In terms of the emotions surrounding the ongoing discussion, their words struck all the right chords. They focused on the pain and suffering that sexual assault has done to women like them and many other before them. They also emphasize how these injustices went overlooked and unpunished.

That’s where they have Mr. Damon beat because, like I’ve noted before, we have this inherent sense of justice hardwired into us from birth. Injustice rightly makes us upset, uncomfortable, and outraged. However, it’s that same reaction that can also blind us to the logic behind the injustice.

There’s nothing that Ms. Driver and Ms. Milano said that disproves or undercuts Mr. Damon’s points. They don’t even try to argue that everything, from a hug to a rape, is equally egregious when judging sexual misconduct. They just point out that Mr. Damon is a terrible person and part of the problem they’re trying to fight. As such, there’s no reason for them to take his words seriously.

That may help them win the current argument, but it doesn’t necessarily make them right in the long run. I’ve said before that there’s a huge difference between winning an argument and being right. One matters in the long run. The other doesn’t. For an issue as serious as sexual misconduct, that’s a dangerous precedent.

Again, I get the reason why women like Ms. Driver and Ms. Milano react so strongly. It’s very personal for them. I doubt Mr. Damon has ever been a victim of the kind of misconduct they’ve endured. Therein lies the problem, though, if either side is serious about confronting the issue.

It’s so personal for some people. It’s a problem to be solved with logic and understanding for others. At the moment, those sides just can’t coexist. It doesn’t matter whether Matt Damon, a well-known celebrity, makes a valid point. It doesn’t even matter if that’s an important point to make in order to prevent this movement from enduring a backlash, which some have already expressed concerns about.

However, it has to matter. In order for us, men and women alike, to create a more just society that confronts sexual misconduct appropriately, both the high emotions and the logic has to matter. It’s the only way anyone can be motivated and informed enough to do something about it.

I’m not going to say that Mat Damon was wrong for saying what he said. I’m also not going to say that Alyssa Milano and Minnie Driver were wrong for reacting the way they did, either. I’ll only say that overlooking logic and ignoring context never work out in the long run. At some point, reality catches up to us all. In the long run, reality wins every argument, regardless of our emotions.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, sex in society

Why People Blame The Victim (And How To Avoid It)

In wake of recent social trends and lurid scandals that took way too long to expose, we’ve entered a precarious moment in our history. I’m not just talking about ongoing issues surrounding gender inequality or trends in our sexual behavior, either. We, the same people who can’t even agree on the color of a dress, have come to a rare consensus on an issue.

Blaming the victims a sexual assault is BAD.

I’ll give everyone a moment to stop cringing and rolling their eyes. I know. This feels like one of those issues that shouldn’t even be an issue to begin with. Unfortunately, it evokes all sorts of heated emotions between men, women, feminists, men’s right’s activists, the transgender community, and certain species of baboons for all I know. It’s that a very loaded, very unsexy a topic.

Now, before I go any further, I want to make one thing abundantly clear. In talking about the particulars victim blaming, I’m not getting behind a particular movement or agenda. I’m choosing to confront this issue for the same reason I’ve used for confronting many unsexy issues.

Issues like sexual assault, and the victim blaming that comes with it, tie directly with our sexuality and our ability to love one another, albeit on the more sinister end of the spectrum. Given my efforts to become a successful erotica/romance writer, I can’t ignore these issues, nor do I want to.

I apologize if the way I go about discussing this issue offends or upsets some people. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been clumsy or misinformed with my words. However, this is one issue that nobody, be they a Hollywood producer or erotica/romance writer, should avoid. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are bad enough. Blaming the victim is just the napalm that gets dumped on that fire.

Overall, I think it’s a good thing that there’s rising awareness about sexual misconduct, especially among those in positions of power. Sure, it has been prone to a few misguided controversies, but the overall intent is good. Sexual misconduct is a serious crime. Who could possibly be against it?

That is a rhetorical question, by the way. I’ll skip the part where I recount how various internet trolls would answer that and get to victim blaming, which is where this inherently noble endeavor hits a brick wall and tries to pick a fight with it. Given that brick walls are undefeated against people armed only with profanity and alcohol, it’s a fight that tends to leave everyone bloodied.

It happened with the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It happened with Corey Feldman. It will likely happen again with the next major scandal to break. At some point in the narrative, someone will imply or state outright that the victims bear some or all of the responsibility for what happened to them.

Some will say they put themselves in a bad situation. Some will say they secretly wanted it and just played the victim to score sympathy. Some will say they dressed in a way that made them deserving of it, which is especially common among those who decry beautiful women in sexy attire. There’s another term for this kind rhetoric. It’s called being an asshole.

There’s really not much context here because by every measure, blaming the victim of a crime is a pretty rotten thing to do. Whether you’re a man, a woman, or something in between, scolding someone who just endured a traumatic injustice is right up there with strangling a puppy, drop-kicking a kitten, and slitting a unicorn’s throat.

As nasty a reaction it is, there is also an underlying mechanism behind it. Some of it is tied to the flawed wiring of our caveman brains, but I would argue most of it stems from the inherent difficulty of thinking rationally when we’re in such an emotionally charged state. Given the seriousness of crimes like sexual assault, emotions are often in overdrive.

The moment we hear about sexual assault, it triggers something in our collective minds that makes us want to lash out. It’s such an egregious injustice and most decent human beings seek to right an injustice. It’s actually one of humanity’s best qualities and one of the reasons I believe people are generally good.

However, sexual assault is not like a stolen phone, a damaged house, or a black eye. You can buy someone a new phone. You can help them fix their house. You can give someone with a black eye and ice pack to help sooth their suffering. You can’t easily do that with someone who endured a sexual assault.

Many times, as was often the case with perpetrators like Bill Cosby, the injustices aren’t tangible, nor are they easy to remedy. However, we’re still appalled that such an injustice even occurred. That innate sense of justice that we have hardwired into our brains at birth urges us to right this egregious wrong.

Unfortunately, our brains are still crude instruments that can’t always tell the difference between perpetrator and victim, especially when we’re in an emotional state. As a result, we have a hard time separating the crime from the actual people involved. It’s not some shady, patriarchal agenda. It’s just a byproduct of our inherent need to maintain a just and fair world around us.

Then, there’s the extreme tribalism that comes into play. Yes, that lingering flaw from our caveman past plays a part in this too. Think back to any case involving a sex scandal, be it one involving a celebrity or someone in a position of power. Then, look at those who did the bulk of the victim blaming. Chances are they’ll have some sort of allegiance or admiration to the accused.

That makes sense because we instinctively defend members of our tribe. Whether we share a political affiliation, an ideology, or a fondness for Bill Cosby’s brand of comedy, our first reflex is to defend our tribe, even if it means turning a blind out to cold, hard facts. This is why some people will still defend men like O.J. Simpson against all evidence to the contrary.

On some levels, it’s understandable, even if victim blaming is such an egregious act. Nobody wants to believe that they’re a bad person. Some want to believe they’re the hero of their own story and the world around them is full of villains. That’s where victim blaming becomes a dick move disguised as a defense mechanism.

If anything associated with their tribe becomes affiliated with something as horrible as sexual assault, then it becomes personal for them. When it becomes that personal, then other people can only be targets. As a result, the people those victim-blamers target will, in turn, fire back with the same tactics. Again, the people become disconnected from the injustice and it just becomes a glorified shouting match.

It basically adds another injustice on top of another, turning a crime into a personal struggle to protect your tribe, identity, and certainty that you’re a decent person and those who don’t agree with you are assholes. It’s a great way to rally a tribe in the struggle for survival. In an era where false accusations and poorly-worded tweets ruin lives, it’s downright dangerous.

Within this danger, though, lies the key to confront the fuel that feeds the fires of victim blaming. It’s impossible, at least for now, to know the pain a victim feels or the veracity of an accusation. Absent that certainty, the best we can do is focus on the underlying injustices surrounding sexual assault.

Whether it’s a man exploiting his power to abuse women or a woman going out of her way to ruin a man’s life, the connective tissue to the entire issue revolves around justice. Our desire to live in a just world is one of the few things that transcends tribalism.

To illustrate how that plays out, here’s a quick scenario.

Person One: Help me! That asshole has been sexually harassing me for years!

Person Two: What? What the hell happened? What did you do?

Do you see the disconnect there? The foundation for victim blaming is right there in the initial reaction. If the accused is someone the second person likes or respects, their first instinct will be to defend them. That’s hard to avoid and both sides can turn on each other quickly.

Now, here’s the same scenario with a key change.

Person One: Help me! That asshole has been sexually harassing me for years!

Person Two: What? That’s terrible! Nobody should have to endure something like that.

See the difference? This time, the second person doesn’t immediately personalize the issue. He and the victim are on the same page. They both understand that this is a crime. This is an injustice. That serves as a foundation for fixing it.

I don’t deny that it’s only a minor change and one that’s difficult to utilize in every instance. That’s unavoidable for emotionally charged issues like sexual assault. However, that’s exactly why the effort is so important. Anything we can do to stay on the side of the victims and confront the larger injustices of sexual assault will be far more productive than just attacking one another.

Until we can finally upgrade our caveman brains, egregious acts like sexual assault and victim blaming will likely remain. There are many mechanisms behind it, but there are far more that transcend it. Whatever the long-term outcome of the ongoing efforts to confront sexual misconduct, we have many more reasons to come together than we do to keep casting blame.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

Gal Gadot’s Message To Misogynists (And Why It’s Incomplete)

It has been a good year for Gal Gadot. When you’re the woman who brought Wonder Woman to life in one of the most successful movies of 2017, as well as the highest grossing superhero origins movie of all time, you can objectively say you’re doing pretty damn well for yourself.

Ms. Gadot has every reason to be confident and not just because she’s the second woman since Lynda Carter who can call herself Wonder Woman with a straight face. She didn’t just make the “Wonder Woman” movie an unmitigated success while also getting Chris Pine naked in the process. She did it in a way that was truly empowering to women, female superheroes, and guys who just appreciate women who can kick ass.

As such, Ms. Gadot’s words carry a lot more weight than most people, regardless of their gender. She could say tomorrow that pineapples and beaver testicles are the greatest pizza topping of all time and we, as a society, would still take her seriously. That’s how much power you get from making an awesome “Wonder Woman” and doing part of it while pregnant, no less.

That’s why when, during a promotional interview with IGN with her “Justice League” co-star, Ezra Miller, Ms. Gadot made a bold proclamation. Granted, it wasn’t entirely serious and Miller had goaded her, but since she’s Gal “Wonder Woman” Gadot, these words still carry weight.

“Misogynist sexists, your wrath upon this world is over!”

If you want to see the full interview in order to get the full context of the statement, which is important here, you can watch the video here.

Again, the statement wasn’t on the same level as a full-blown protest, complete with bra burning. This is her and a co-star goofing around, but some of that sentiment stems directly from some distressing recent events involving powerful men being dicks to women. These issues are serious, bringing out the best and worst in people.

That’s why Ms. Gadot’s message matters. As I write these words, there are probably people out there taking them far more seriously than she intended. Some may even use it as a rallying cry to wage war against everyone with a penis who dared to have a dirty thought about a beautiful woman. While those people may be a fringe minority, the message still resonates, due to the unique time we find ourselves in, as a culture.

There’s no question that 2017 is a turning point and not just for female superhero movies like “Wonder Woman.” USA Today is already calling it “The Harvey Weinstein Effect” and has been maintaining a list of powerful men who have lost their jobs and/or reputations, due to sexual misconduct.

At this point, even if you’re a card-carrying member of the patriarchy, you can’t deny the growing trend. It’s gotten to a point where anytime you see a male public figure’s name trending on social media, there’s a good chance that they’re somehow involved in some sordid sexual misconduct. Say what you will about the merits of this trend, but it’s happening.

Going back to Ms. Gadot’s bold proclamation, I think it’s partially accurate in that it’s already being fulfilled. Powerful men who have harassed women are losing power, reputation, and influence. Influential organizations are cutting ties with those who are embroiled in sex scandals.

If you’re a powerful man who loves using his power to coerce sexual favors, this is not a good time for you and Ms. Gadot’s words should strike fear in you. While that part of her statement is valid, and most people would probably agree with it, there is one issue with it. It’s incomplete.

By that, I don’t mean Ms. Gadot misspoke. I am not foolish enough to tell Wonder Woman herself how she should talk when she could probably kill me with her pinkie toe. In terms of the overall substance of her message, though, it’s one of those instances where the rhetoric is more ambitious than the words.

The problem is that the message gives the impression that there’s an actual war going on. Coming from Gal Gadot, who served in the Israeli army before becoming Wonder Woman, it makes sense for her to frame it in such a way.

However, when it comes to powerful men exploiting vulnerable women, that’s not a war. That’s an societal problem on top of a leverage problem on top of a biological problem within the ongoing problem that is our caveman brains. Granted, that’s a lot of problems, but framing it as a war only compounds them.

That’s because wars, and wraths by default, are chaotic and bloody. Wars have casualties and most of the time, they’re not just enemy soldiers. Declaring a war on something, even if it’s an objectively bad thing, is bound to stir chaos that will affect others than the intended targets. Just look at the casualties in the ongoing war on drugs for distressing proof of that.

Ms. Gadot’s comment also implies there’s some shadowy army of evil Harvey Weinstein clones, each plotting and planning to create a world where they can harass and assault women with impunity. That may very well be a plot for another Wonder Woman movie, but it’s not reflective of the real world.

The kind of misogyny that creates men like Harvey Weinstein is not the result of some shadowy conspiracy that only Alex Jones would buy into. They’re largely a result of unequal power structures, outdated ideas about gender roles, and people generally taking advantage of opportunities that other horny men can only dream of.

It’s not an agenda or a wrath that’s in play here. It’s injustice and exploitation, coupled with greed and corruption. That, in and of itself, is a pretty toxic combination that affects people of any gender. It can get pretty bad at every levels of power, but it’s not just restricted to misogyny or general sexism.

Now, there’s no question that there’s still a lot of injustice and sexism in the world. If Ms. Gadot wants to fight that, both as an advocate and as Wonder Woman, I would gladly fight beside her, along with anyone else who would heed her call. That call, however, can’t be the same as a war cry against a secret cabal of misogynist sexists. It has to have more substance than that.

For the most part, people already despise misogynist sexists. Neither Ms. Gadot nor Wonder Woman need to convince anyone of that. Men with sordid pasts are already seeing their reputations and authority being undermined by recent efforts. Ms. Gadot herself even played a part in one of them involving Brett Ratner.

However, it can’t be like Wonder Woman’s final battle against Ares in the “Wonder Woman” movie. That’s not how sexism manifests in the real world. It’s not one of those things that can be fought with fists and godly powers. It’s one of those things that can only be fought with understanding, knowledge, and compassion, all of which are among Wonder Woman’s core tenants.

I don’t know what a better rallying cry would be for Ms. Gadot. Even if I did, it wouldn’t mean much coming from a male erotica/romance writer. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexism are all serious issues. As such, any effort to confront them needs to start with the right message and I hope Gal Gadot is among those who delivers that message.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, gender issues