#MeToo, Denial, and Backlash
Last month, Children’s Publishing Reckons with Sexual Harassment in Its Ranks. The conversation and discussion will be familiar to many. When I checked, there were 475 comments, many of which named and talked about known harassers in children’s publishing and elsewhere.published an article called
Last week, author Anne Ursu published the results of a survey she’d done, along with a great deal of discussion and analysis, in Sexual Harassment in the Children’s Book Industry.
We’ve had similar conversations in the SF/F genre, and we’re seeing it in society in general. Sexual harassment isn’t limited to any one region or profession. If you think your field is immune, you should probably brace yourself for an unpleasant reality check coming your way soon.
As always, there’s been backlash. People — mostly men, from what I’ve observed — protest that #MeToo is turning into a witch hunt. “We all want to support real victims and punish real harassers, but what about all the innocent people whose lives and reputations are being ruined?”
Others worry about due process and false accusations. (Pathetically, the most recent false accusations I’ve seen came from trolls who complained about how easy it is to make a false accusation, and tried to prove it by making false accusations. Which…WTF, dude?)
Then there’s that sense of overwhelming disbelief. “I know harassment happens, but it can’t possibly be this big a problem, can it?”
Yeah, it can.
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace found that “anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.” In other words, depending on the study and how the question was asked, a minimum of 1 in 4 women had been sexually harassed at work.
- ABC News last year found, “about 33 million U.S. women being sexually harassed, and 14 million sexually abused, in work-related incidents.”
- A study of employed women by Potter and Banyard in 2011 found, “38% had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Study after study shows that sexual harassment, particularly (but not exclusively) of women, is common. Millions of victims in the U.S. alone. And for so damned long, companies have swept these incidents under the rug and created ridiculous hoops to discourage victims from reporting.
These two factors — the frequency of harassment and the backlog of unreported or silenced incidences going back longer than we’ve been alive — explain why we’re now seeing so many people coming forward. We’re dealing with one hell of a backlog. It’s why we’re going to see a hell of a lot more of these stories, now that the dam is beginning to crack.
It is overwhelming, especially if you’ve had the luxury of not seeing it. As a guy, I’ve rarely been directly affected by sexual harassment. I had the ability to close my eyes and get on with my life. Not anymore. And that’s a good thing. It means everyone has to face the facts — facts we’ve known about from study after study after study.
This flood is what the data has been telling us all along.
What About False Accusations and Due Process?
Employers, conventions, and other organizations need to have good harassment policies in place, and they need to follow those policies.
An individual who chooses to speak out about being harassed is not a company. They aren’t the judicial system. They’re an individual who has every right to disclose what a predator did to them.
We know false accusations of sexual assault or domestic violence are rare — just like false accusations of other crimes. I’ve not found reliable research on false accusations of sexual harassment, specifically. But in general, hysteria over the idea of women destroying men’s lives with false accusations has drastically overshadowed the reality.
There’s a proven epidemic of sexual harassment. There is absolutely no evidence for an epidemic of false accusations.
Yes, it happens. We had the false accuser of Roy Moore last year who inadvertently proved how good the Washington Post was at investigating and substantiating such accusations. There’s a notorious SF/F troll who likes to accuse a bestselling author of being a rapist, based on the troll’s inability to understand satire. There’s the case of Jemma Beale, who was jailed for 10 years for making false accusations of rape. And one individual in the comments of the . (As of 2/14 at 5 p.m., the admins have not verified this is the same commenter who made the accusation.) article has said they made up an accusation about two men
It’s not that false accusations never happen. It’s that they’re rare. But time and again, the overblown hysteria over false accusations is used to derail and drown out discussion of the demonstrably real flood of sexual assault and harassment.
Does “Believe women” mean women never ever lie and there’s no such thing as a false accusation? Of course not. What it means is that if someone says they were sexually harassed, the odds are extremely good that they’re telling the truth. (And those odds increase exponentially when multiple victims come forward.)
If a sexual harassment case goes to human resources or the judicial system, there should be a process to be followed. (Preferably a process that doesn’t actively punish victims for reporting.) I haven’t seen anyone suggest otherwise.
I’m neither a business nor a court. And I believe the victims.
But That Person Has Always Been Cool Around Me!
It’s hard to see someone you know named as a harasser. I’ve been there. I felt the instinctive shock and denial. I automatically thought back to my own interactions with the person, and I couldn’t remember anything inappropriate.
I had a similar reaction when I learned a friend at the crisis center where I volunteered had embezzled roughly $13,000 from the organization. I couldn’t believe it. He’d always been a kind, friendly, generally awesome guy. I’d never seen anything to suggest he was a thief.
But maybe that was because he didn’t march around stealing money in front of me!
It’s the same damn thing with harassers. They’re not running around harassing everyone who crosses their path. Predators choose and isolate their targets. They test boundaries. They use guilt and manipulation, and they make you question yourself. They get their victims into a situation where they can harass them without witnesses.
They also build relationships with people who’ll vouch for them. They don’t just groom potential victims; they also groom potential character witnesses. Harassers and abusers can be incredibly charming. They can do genuinely good things in other areas. You might like and trust them.
But saying, “All of my interactions with Bob have been great!” does nothing to address the accusation that Bob sexually harassed people. All you’re doing is saying he didn’t sexually harass you. Which is great, but not really relevant.
Let’s see how that conversation would look in a different context.
- Jill: “Fred murdered my grandfather.”
- Jack: “Well, Fred never murdered either of my grandfathers!”
- Jill: “WTF is wrong with you, Jack?”
It’s a little exaggerated, I know, but hopefully you get the point?
This Is Only the Beginning
Sexual harassment is built on generations of inequity. It’s been going on for centuries. It’s not going to go away overnight. This is a long-term, systemic problem, and it’s going to need long-term work to try to fix it.
I get how disheartening it is. I’ve hated seeing people I respected and admired outed as serial harassers or worse. (I’m still pissed and grieving over Bill Cosby.)
You know what I hate even more? That their behavior was allowed to continue for so long. That so many women and men suffered because the rest of us looked away or refused to listen. That the careers and lives of so many victims were derailed.
However painful it might be to me to read these stories, it’s nothing compared to the pain of everyone who lived them. However tired I might feel, it’s nothing compared to the exhaustion of those on the front lines, fighting — demanding to be heard. Demanding change.
It takes tremendous courage to speak out about being sexually harassed. The least the rest of us can do is find the courage to listen, and to accept the reality of a problem we might not want to face.
February 14, 2018 @ 1:53 am
“Harassers and abusers can be incredibly charming. They can do genuinely good things in other areas. You might like and trust them.”
Say it again for the people in the back.
Seriously. So many times people’s first response is, “He’s never done anything like that around me.” Yeah, that’s your clue that said person is not “socially awkward”–someone who has trouble with social interactions… has trouble with social interactions. Period. They don’t suddenly spout social awkwardness when a potential victim is in sight; they’re very deliberate.
February 14, 2018 @ 3:11 am
^ co-sign Jim and Laura.
And I’m furious for all the women Cosby hurt AND pissed off personally that I can’t watch “I Spy” any more, nor giggle about “what’s a cubit?” We can be mad about all the levels of bad at once.
February 14, 2018 @ 7:27 am
Well said, and thank you for saying it.
February 14, 2018 @ 8:23 am
Worth noting that sometimes when a man says an incident was a “false accusation”, it is far more likely a disconnect in expectations. He knew his INTENTIONS weren’t to harass anyone, soooo…
Yeah, men (yes, all men, this responsibility is on you all), y’all need to stop and think about how your words are seen and heard by people with vastly different experiences than yours. If someone says they were hurt by something you said or did the best response is to find out what it was and how you can avoid that sort of thing in future. Do not assume that a thing you or someone you know found funny or acceptable is universally so. Pay attention to little details that may mean the person you are talking to is distressed, and if (when) you see them, stop talking.
And if you think you have never hurt or made anyone uncomfortable, you are probably wrong. Humans have such a broad spectrum of experiences and viewpoints and sensitivities that it is practically a guarantee that you will hurt someone without meaning to and often without knowing. That doesn’t make the revelation of the injury a “false accusation”.
Misti, a.k.a. Carradee
February 14, 2018 @ 10:57 am
This applies to all sorts of abuse, not just sexual. I myself have cause to wonder about a certain someone’s quickness to accuse me of trying to kill them.
The ability of abusers to (usually) heed their audience and adjust to fit makes me doubt that they’re necessarily as unwitting as is commonly claimed. In my experience and observation, abusers either have been taught to abuse and therefore perceive it as acceptable or rightful behavior, or have actively chosen to do it—and the first type is caused by the second.
February 14, 2018 @ 12:17 pm
“These two factors — the frequency of harassment and the backlog of unreported or silenced incidences going back longer than we’ve been alive — explain why we’re now seeing so many people coming forward.”
Also, the protection offered to the harassers and abusers meant that they knew they wouldn’t be punished, even if they got caught. There was no penalty for their behavior, nothing to discourage them from continuing, which meant that they learned over time that their behavior was “acceptable.” And continued.
February 14, 2018 @ 7:25 pm
There’s another factor that makes it hard for people to accept how pervasive this all is. If you find out that some powerful person in your organization has been harrassing people, and that there are examples of people who gave up their jobs or even their careers because of that harrassment, it means you have benefited from the harassment, even if you didn’t do it, even if you find it abhorrent. Every person person pushed out of some area of endeavor makes the competition for jobs less, makes it easier for others to compete. If we acknoweldge how pervasive and commonplace this all is, we must also acknowledge the spaces created by pushing talented people out. None of us wants to think we benefitted from this kind of awful behavior, but an awful lot of us did, whether we meant to or not.
February 14, 2018 @ 8:57 pm
I am really concerned to hear that people are making false accusations to prove how easy false accusations are to make. This means that *in order to* further their ideological agenda, they are willing to not only ruin someone else’s life (which they maintain others are doing) but they are making those of us who have been assaulted or harrassed less likely to be believed (even than we are now). So, in order to say women are sometimes making things up, they take those of us who aren’t making it up and get people not to listen to us.
This is basically a strategy of weakening a case by purposely muddying the waters. It is very much the same as accusing news outlets of lying, in order to get people to accept that the truth can never be determined. It is the same as The Big Lie–tell a lie big enough, and people will believe it must be true, that no one would make that big a thing up.
So now, instead of invalidating this woman or that woman by saying that her abuser is “not really being abusive”, the attempt is made to discredit the *whole concept* that women are being harrassed and abused. So, as an incest survivor not only do I need to convince people that knew my father that he “would do such a thing” if they didn’t know it, I need to fight the concept that “these things are all made up” from people who don’t know him at all. The first was plenty bad enough. The second is purposeful poisoning of the whole well, and is even more inexcuseable.
February 15, 2018 @ 10:15 pm
To SorchaRei’s point, “Every person person pushed out of some area of endeavor makes the competition for jobs less, makes it easier for others to compete.”
I left genre publishing due to harassment and bullying. My replacement seems to be both flourishing in the role and completely unaware of the price I paid so that someone else could fill it. While I’m glad that they’re apparently not suffering the abuse that I did, I can’t help but occasionally have “What if?” thoughts, such as, what if my bully had been the one to be pushed out instead?
First women, then guns: a link post | Fraser Sherman's Blog
March 5, 2018 @ 5:13 am
[…] is not about women playing the victim. And it’s not about false accusations. Or about somehow making money off accusations. Jonathan Chait adds that #metoo seems impressively […]
May 11, 2018 @ 8:14 pm
So Carolyn Bryant should have been believed?
Jim C. Hines
May 11, 2018 @ 8:27 pm
Marina – Popping up three months after the post to name-drop a 60+ year old case, as if the post doesn’t already acknowledge that false accusations, albeit rare, do happen? Sorry. Go troll somewhere else.