By David Roberts

Sexual discrimination and abuse constitute a crisis; Louis C.K. will be fine.

Recently, #MeToo has been back in the news, as comedian Louis C.K. — along with other recently disgraced celebrities like Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose — make their first tentative steps back into public life. It has stirred up an anguished discussion about what justice for these men might look like and whether the thirst to punish them has gone too far.

Comedian Michael Ian Black said that “people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives.”

Will take heat for this, but people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives. I don’t know if it’s been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I’m happy to see him try. https://t.co/QmqdGJnIjy

— Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) August 28, 2018

(After the tweet, Black came under heavy criticism and walked back the comments.)

Comedy club owner Noam Dworman also defended C.K.’s return to comedy, saying, “There can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.” SNL comedian Michael Che marveled that C.K. “can be shamed, humiliated, lose millions of dollars, lose all of his projects, lose the respect of a lot of his fans and peers, and whatever else that comes with what he did” … and still people aren’t satisfied.

SNL’s Michael Che has some thoughts about Louis C.K. returning to the stage: pic.twitter.com/bLlKS3UVmH

— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) August 29, 2018

What are we to make of this instinct, this sympathy for the accused and concern over their fates?

The best place to find insight is to read the numerous smart women writing on the subject: at Vox, Laura McGann, Anna North, Constance Grady, and Hana Michels; at the Atlantic, Hannah Giorgis; at the New York Times, Roxane Gay; at the Daily Beast, Danielle Tcholakian; at the Independent, Gabrielle Noel; at Boing Boing, Maureen Herman; and many more.

All of those pieces are impassioned, eloquent, and, yes, angry about C.K.’s comeback. (Read Rebecca Traister on the “summer of rage” and then do yourself a favor and preorder her new book on female anger.)

In all of them, between the lines, there is a familiar plaint: I can’t believe I have to explain this shit.

I was reflecting on that feeling after I got into an exchange about #MeToo with an old hometown Tennessee acquaintance on Facebook. I was gripped by sputtering outrage, but he remained amused and bemused. Did I want C.K.’s blood? What could possibly satisfy me?

As we talked, it became clear relatively quickly that we were not so much reasoning differently as seeing different things. A great many things about the world that from my perspective seem quite obvious seemed controversial or dubious to him. We paid attention to different things, and so our realities were differently constructed — we lived, effectively, in different worlds. Without shared premises, our arguments couldn’t connect.

Suspiria Red Carpet Arrivals - 75th Venice Film FestivalVittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
Italian director Luciano Silighini proclaims Harvey Weinstein’s innocence.

On this topic, accurate perception is as important as valid reasoning. That’s why the term “woke,” despite being overused to the point of parody, still has some resonance. When it comes to certain power dynamics in culture and their consequences, coming to perceive them really does feel like waking up, like noticing something that’s been in front of you all along.

It doesn’t happen in some blinding flash or revelation. It’s a fraught, fitful, and incremental process. But in my experience, among those I know or have witnessed, it proceeds less through being convinced of arguments than through an iterative process of opening oneself to seeing things anew.

Like so many men of my age and demographic, I am but half-woke, still reckoning with the instincts and perspectives my upbringing wrote into my code. But I think I can do a decent job explaining, for my more skeptical dude readers (like my acquaintance in Tennessee), the rudiments of #MeToo — just what it is women see that many men do not.

It goes like this: Sexual discrimination, harassment, and abuse are everywhere. They are not isolated cases, not rare, and not confined to the powerful or famous. They constitute an ongoing, systemic crisis. #MeToo is meant to draw attention to that crisis. Talking about the perpetrators “moving on with their lives” at all, much less with sympathy and solicitude, is a clear signal that the moral weight and severity of the crisis has not sunk in. We’re still not taking this shit seriously.

It goes without saying that legions of women have said all this before and better than me, but for whatever (lamentable) reasons, there are demographics that may be reachable by a dudely voice that are not being reached by female voices. So I figure it can’t hurt to add my voice to the choir.

Let’s start here: what is #MeToo about?

The movement has been around for a decade (the current use of the term “me too” traces to civil rights activist Tarana Burke), but #MeToo was thrust into recent prominence by the exposure of a long string of high-profile sexual harassers and abusers, beginning with Bill Cosby. It is those high-profile abusers who have dominated the headlines.

sexual abuseVox
And counting.

But the movement is not about high-profile abusers. The point is not to punish a handful of powerful men to get some kind of vengeful thrill.

Highlighting the abuses of the powerful is meant to illuminate the fact that those sorts of abuses are ubiquitous. Sexual harassment and abuse go on all over the place, in virtually every institution of American life. Wherever there is a power differential …read more

Read more here: What so many men are missing about #MeToo

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