We are in what some might consider a second wave of the #MeToo movement. Consider the first wave of the #MeToo movement to be marked by ‘revelation:’ the admission that sexual harassment, assault and rape culture are common and pervasive, and the revelation that such sexual violence and gender discrimination infect our most beloved and revered institutions.
The discovery of high-powered perpetrators like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Jian Ghomeshi and others added to the sense that abuse of power was breaking open. For most women, this revelatory stage was in fact neither revelatory nor shocking. As conceptual artist, Jenny Holzer conceived back in 1983 that “Abuse Of Power Comes As No Surprise.” So now what? Do we give those who abuse power a second chance?
“There was a sentiment among them that, regardless of any legal exoneration, I was almost certainly a world class-prick, probably a sexual bully, and that I need to be held to account beyond simply losing my career and reputation,” argued Ghomeshi in the highly controversial essay “Reflections from a Hashtag,” published in the Oct. 11, 2018 issue of The New York Times Review of Books.
In 2011, Ghomeshi was fired from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the Canadian equivalent of NPR, making Ghomeshi an Ira Glass-like public figure) after evidence arose that he was physically abusive to a woman. More than 20 women eventually accused him of sexual harassment, with six accusations resulting in sexual assault charges. He lost his career and his reputation, but he was acquitted on five of the charges. The last was settled out of court, with a peace bond and a public apology.
If the first wave has been marked by revelations, the second wave of the #MeToo movement could be characterized by these ‘fallouts’ or ‘second chances.’ In recent months and weeks, several examples have surfaced.
On Aug. 26, disgraced comedian C.K. made a surprise appearance at New York’s Comedy Cellar bar and performed a 15-minute set. In months prior, C.K. admitted to masturbating on women without their consent, using his fame and power to sexually harass and bully women. He subsequently lost various comedy gigs, TV shows and appearances and then faded from the limelight, until a controversial comeback nine months later.
On Sept. 25, Cosby, accused by more than 60 women of sexual harassment and rape, was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand.
On Sept. 27, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave testified during the Senate confirmation hearing that she was sexually assaulted to by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. To add to the list, Ghomeshi’s article, online currently, is to be published in print Oct. 11.
The article was so polemic because many felt that Ghomeshi lacked remorse, was guilty and unjustly acquitted and should never again be given such a powerful platform to vocalize his opinion.
It was unjust that Ghomeshi did not accurately detail his accusations, offering instead a false account that glazed over the damning facts so he would look better and less culpable. These omissions were called out by fact-checkers and fellow citizens, and examined in follow-up articles published in Slate and Canadaland.
Ian Buruma, the editor at The New York Review of Books responsible for publishing the Ghomeshi piece, was deemed factually negligent, and left the magazine during the flurry of public outcry. In Ghomeshi’s ‘second chance’, which he didn’t deserve, it was Buruma who took the loss.
A supportive letter was written and signed by many important writers condemning Mr. Buruma’s exit. Among them was Joyce Carol Oates, who agreed with the critics of Ghomeshi’s essay, but stated in a Sept. 29 Guardian article, “I thought that terminating Mr. Buruma’s contract so abruptly was not a good or necessary decision. Mr. Buruma (whom I don’t know) is a distinguished critic, writer and editor who is certainly to be defined by far more than a single misstep. We would all wish to be given a second chance.”
Again, the notion of the second chance. What do you do with these men after they have been exposed? In the best-case scenario, the hope is that they are brought to justice, tried in a court of law and sent to jail. Cosby would be an example, and perhaps Weinstein will be. How do we determine which actions are single missteps, and which are patterns, systemic, ruinous and unworthy of a second chance?
What is the fallout around their behaviour if their actions are legitimately violent, harassing or non-consensual (as with Ghomeshi, who admitted this, and Louis C.K., who apologized) but are unable to be prosecuted or have been legally exonerated? What if someone is predatory, abusive, aggressive or just plain creepy? How long it long enough? Is it ever? It depends on the case, but in order to affect real societal change, it seems that we should defend those who haven’t had a first chance at justice before defending those seeking a second chance.
“What you truly feel in the first days after being publicly accused is fear and anger,” wrote Ghomeshi. He omitted key elements of his accusations to better his image, but in that sentiment I believe Ghomeshi was honest: fear and anger, and also rage, bubble up in men when their power is threatened. Rage was clearly visible in Kavanaugh, clearly visible in several senators too. Their rage matters, but not in the way they would hope.
In this world, as human beings, we want to believe that we matter and that what we do matters. We want to have agency, the power to change things and to be effective. What we forget is that what matters isn’t just the good stuff, our positive achievements.
Kavanaugh insisted he “busted [his] butt” and got into the prestigious Yale University. He coaches his daughter’s basketball team. Ghomeshi described himself as “a doctriniate activist [who] wrote progressive songs.” Rapist Cosby was America’s favorite TV dad. These accomplishments are used to justify second chances.
The question of what matters is particularly relevant in light of Ford’s testimony against Kavanaugh on Sept. 27. Should such a person accused of sexual assault, whether it was in high school or yesterday, hold a position on the U.S. Supreme Court? Should such a person be determining the lives of American citizens? — not just the girls and women hoping to have agency over their own bodies, but the millions of men who are affected by such institutionalized rape culture? Kavanaugh’s sense of entitlement and hostility was palpable.
There is this idea that Kavanaugh is being dragged through the mud, and might have his career ruined over Ford’s testimony and accusation. This comes from a growing fear, particularly amongst men, that can’t one bounce back from accusations of bad behaviour.
But C.K., and Ghomeshi are examples of comebacks, however fraught and controversial those comebacks are. Some might say Kavanaugh is already getting a second chance. The FBI investigation brought by Senator Jeff Flake gives Kavanaugh and his supporters a chance to put the sexual assault allegations to rest.
Even Flake’s decision to force an FBI investigation led many to believe it was done because of a confrontation he had in the elevator with two victims of sexual assault. The women pointed fingers and demanded Flake look at them while they recounted their abuse. Maria Gallagher, one of the women confronting Flake said, “You’re telling all women that they don’t matter.”
In the realm of fallouts and second chances, who matters?
In a Sept. 1 article in The Guardian about C.K.’s return to the stage, writer Arwa Mahdawi asked, “Do people deserve second chances? Of course. But the more important question to ask is why some people get second, third and fourth chances, while others are never even afforded a first chance.”
This second wave of the #Metoo movement is a quagmire of fallouts and second chances. For many women and survivors, they are not afforded any opportunity to bring accusations to light, let alone perpetrators to justice.
For many, the power remains in the hands of the high-profile and privileged. Many recognize that the FBI investigation is Ford’s first chance to have her claims truly justified.
Hopefully, as we wade through the realm of fallouts and second chances, what we do and say really will matter.