In the wake of the #MeToo movement, it would be a fair assessment to say that my entire world view changed — almost over night.
The seemingly never ending stream of high profile men accused of horrific acts of sexual assault laid bare the reality most women live in. Far from the equal society many of us believe we inhabit, a world of predatory, deviant, men who abuse, rape, and pester women on a truly unimaginable scale was exposed. The outpouring of emotion and rage was astonishing to watch, and many men I know (including myself) were deeply affected by what their friends, family, and significant others were saying.
We had it all wrong. Our pick up lines, jokes, and attempts to flirt with the opposite sex were not harmless interactions that could be laughed off. They were often offensive, unsettling, and aggressive. Our “locker room banter” wasn’t funny. It was disgusting and revealing of a deep set misogyny that had festered in our culture for far, far too long. We had not been listening to the women in our society, despite their obvious suffering. Now women were taking matters into their own hands and firing shots directly at the heart of the patriarchy — and that meant lots of prominent men were going down.
From Harvey Weinstein to Russell Simmons and Al Franken, high profile men were being made to pay for their sins in front of the entire world. Careers ended, fortunes were lost, and reputations were completely destroyed.
The #MeToo movement did not just tear down repellant sex predators, it changed the way our society dealt with those accused of sexual crimes. For too long, it seemed, the offenders were presumed innocent while (mostly) women were doubted. Did she ask for it? Was she promiscuous? Did “no” really mean “yes”?
Now, the word of the abused was seen as more trustworthy than that of the alleged abuser.
Has the #MeToo movement gone too far?
When comedian Aziz Ansari was accused of sexual impropriety by an anonymous woman ‘Grace’ in Babe, there were signs that the pendulum may have swung too far in favor of the alleged victim. Ansari was crucified publicly for being, well, a bit of a creep.
Ansari had not sexually assaulted anyone or engaged in any criminal activity, yet an unknown woman published an account of what was essentially a bad date, and severely damage his career. What rights now, did the accused have? Had society forgotten the rule of law and the presumption of innocence? Did Ansari have a right to defend himself, or should he just keep quiet lest he be seen as part of the ‘oppressive patriarchy’?
Ansari’s case appeared to slow the ferocity of the #MeToo movement when several prominent women writers coming to his defense. “What she [Grace] and the writer who told her story created was 3,000 words of revenge porn,” wrote Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic. “The clinical detail in which the story is told is intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari. Together, the two women may have destroyed Ansari’s career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing.”
Flanagan tore apart what she saw as an irresponsible hit job by Babe, and sounded the alarm over the excesses of the #MeToo movement. “Allegations against the comedian are proof that women are angry, temporarily powerful—and very, very dangerous,” she wrote. Perhaps Flanagan was being too harsh, but she had a point. Accusers — even anonymous ones — had the power to destroy anyone they wanted by simply publishing a blog post. That had to stop, and Ansari’s case has almost certainly helped do that.
Enter Brett Kavanaugh and Neil DeGrasse Tyson
In light of new public accusations against powerful men that have again shaken our society to its core, there lessons to be learned from our previous mistakes. Some men are more believable than others, not all women tell the truth, and sometimes it really is impossible to know who is guilty.
In recent times, two extremely prominent men have been accused of sexual assault. Both men vehemently deny the accusations, and both men are benefitting from the more restrained iteration of the #MeToo movement. However, there are key differences between the two men and their accusers that make the broad condemnation of men more difficult, but the lessons of the #MeToo movement no less important.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was accused of attempted rape while in high school by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the early 1980’s, and Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has been accused of one count of rape in 1984, and two counts of sexual impropriety more recently.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court was held up by Ford’s gripping, entirely believable testimony in front of the US Senate, but the almost unanimous support from the Republican Party ensured he went through almost completely unchallenged. Ford was an incredibly reliable witness with unimpeachable character. Compared to Kavanaugh, who lied pointlessly on numerous occasions, her account of being held down by Kavanaugh and a friend of his at a house party was the more reliable of the two.
Kavanaugh’s defense was simple: he doesn’t remember it, so therefore in his eyes, it did not happen.
DeGrasse Tyson’s case however, is far more complex and must be explored in more detail. The accusers have claimed more opaque, less definable instances of sexual impropriety, and the woman accusing him of rape accusation is, well, a little odd to say the least. This of course does not mean Tyson is innocent, but his account of events are far more believable than someone like Kavanaugh, particularly given the context.
What is Tyson actually being accused of?
The accusations of sexual impropriety against Tyson, if read in full, do not in any way constitute any form of sexual assault. Tyson tried to examine a woman’s tattoo on her shoulder in one instance, and made clumsy overtures to another in the form of a slightly weird ‘Native American handshake’ which, as the New York Times describes, “involved clasping their hands together and finding the pulse on the other person’s wrist, while looking into each other’s eyes.”
Tyson has admitted to both incidents and apologized for his behavior, believing his intentions were misinterpreted. This brings us to the most serious accusation. Reported the Times:
The third woman, Tchiya Amet El Maat, has publicly accused Dr. Tyson of raping her in 1984, when they were graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin. She said in an interview on Saturday that she recalled Dr. Tyson giving her a drink of water, and that she then blacked out. When she came to, she said, she was naked on his bed. She said that when he saw she had awakened, he started having sex with her, and she passed out again. She said she was blacked out much of the night.
She filed a report with the Austin police in 2014, but according to the police report, her complaint was not investigated because Texas has a 10-year statute of limitation on sexual assault charges.
Maat’s accusation was originally published on her “Hermetic Healing” and “Egyptian Yoga” website, and her account is extremely difficult to parse given it is fully of typos and heavily littered with New Age jargon:
Today is October 8, 2014. 30 years. Today there was an eclipse, during the Ra Aspolia Pi Cot Sahu (Full Moon and Portal of Djehuty (Sun in Sidereal Virgo, Moon in PIsces, Mercury Retrograde). Kinda intense when you really sit bak and take it all in. Tomorrow, Set (Mars, Ego) has an appointment with Master healer Imhotep (Mars enters Ophiuchus: tome for healing from sexual trauma, time for conquering lower nature, etc).
All this to say that this posting is in alignment with the Divine Natural Right Order. Although I know this is the right decision, it has been difficult to take action, because I know this monster is loved by so many of you. However, in order to maintain my own well being, peace of mind, sanity, longevity, positivity, peaceful relationships, health, happiness, self love and self trust, in order to elimnate blocks to my own abundance and prosperity, it has become impossible to keep silent anymore. I continue to wonder if he is still hurting women, children or men. It is also important for me to speak out NOW because it is important for ALL people that have been sexually violated in any way to stand up and speak out if we want this type of cruelty to cease.
END THE SILENCE, END THE VIOLENCE. THE BLUE LOTUS SPEAKS!
Here is Maat on the actual assault:
Don’t you mean COWARD? A Self Hating Coward?
The ONLY way you could EVER be with a Black Goddess, a true Celestial Being, not just one that talks about them, would be by DRUGGING HER, THEN DRAGGING HER TO YOUR BEDROOM, WHILE FULLY UNCONSCIOUS, TAKING OFF HER CLOTHES, AND THEN, WHO KNOWS WHAT WITH HER, OR FOR HOW LONG, WHEN SHE AWAKENS, UNABLE TO MOVE, YOU CONTINUE YOUR DEMONIC ACTS. Is this what you mean by curiosity?
I only recall being at the astronomy department the next day. I do not know how long I was in his apartment. I have no idea how I got back to my apartment. I do not even remember waking up the next day. All I remember is seeing him in the hallway at the astronomy department at UT Austin, and I asked him, “Why did this happen?” He responded, “We are in this alone, and we are in this together”.
She continued later in the post:
I wen to his apartment to visit like I did almost everyday. He was like my big brother, or so I thought. He offered me a glass of water. I accepted a liquid in a cup made out of a coconut shell. I recall coming back to consciousness briefly, then next thing I remember is seeing him in the hallway the next day. I have lived in this nightmare for 30 years, and it stops today.
Maat’s bizarre writing, interest in Astrology and New Age healing does not negate her account of events, but it is a sign that her grip on reality isn’t exactly great. Also, when you look at exactly what she is saying, there isn’t really that much to go on. As Tyson wrote in a statement on Facebook:
It is as though a false memory had been implanted, which, because it never actually happened, had to be remembered as an evening she doesn’t remember. Nor does she remember waking up the next morning and going to the office. I kept a record of everything she posted, in case her stories morphed over time. So this is sad, which, for me, defies explanation.
Tyson has also welcomed an independent investigation into the claims, stating:
I’m the accused, so why believe anything I say? Why believe me at all?That brings us back to the value of an independent investigation, which FOX/NatGeo (the networks on which Cosmos and StarTalk air) announced that they will conduct. I welcome this.
None of this means Tyson is innocent or that Maat is lying. Given she has publicly accused Tyson of a very, very serious charge however, it is entirely fair to investigate her credibility. Tyson does not have a history of lying (that we know of), and the other accusations of sexual impropriety are not criminal in any way.
Discerning the guilt of the accused is an almost impossible task when it comes to he said/she said cases like the ones above. If you were to hold a gun to my head and force me to express my opinion on both cases, I would say this: My instincts tell me that Brett Kavanaugh probably did assault Dr Christine Blasey Ford, particularly given Ford’s credibility. My instincts also tell me that Neil deGrasse Tyson is probably a little bit creepy, as are many older men in positions of power. They also come up blank when it comes to him being capable of rape. Haat’s account is so weird that I have a hard time taking it completely seriously. That being said, she most certainly deserves to be listened to.
I seems then, the lesson is that each case absolutely needs to be examined on an individual basis. The #MeToo movement likely did go too far, and many men’s lives have been unfairly destroyed in the court of public opinion. While this pales in comparison to the number of women whose lives have been ruined by sexual predators, it is important we at least allow the accused the ability to publicly defend themselves before presuming their guilt. Aziz Ansari was not afforded that right, and fled the limelight for fear of a severe backlash that would have finished his career.
Both Brett Kavanaugh and Neil deGrasse Tyson however, had a chance to address their accusers and have provided their version of events in great detail. There are no easy answers here, but it seems our willingness to hear both sides is finally a sign that our society might finally be heading in the right direction.
(Image via AP)
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.