It says something, doesn’t it, that I’ve been more hesitant to speak about this than I’ve been of getting on the wrong side of the mafia or al-Qaeda?
It now takes only one accusation to destroy a man’s life. Just one for him to be tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion, overnight costing him his livelihood and social respectability. We are on a frenzied extrajudicial warlock hunt that does not pause to parse the difference between rape and stupidity. The punishment for sexual harassment is so grave that clearly this crime — like any other serious crime — requires an unambiguous definition.
We have nothing of the sort. Some of the charges sound deadly serious. But others make no sense. Some have been accused of offenses that aren’t offensive, or offenses that are only mildly so.
The things men and women naturally do — flirt, play, lewdly joke, desire, seduce, tease — now become harassment only by virtue of the words that follow the description of the act, one of the generic form: “I froze. I was terrified.” It doesn’t matter how the man felt about it. The onus to understand the interaction and its emotional subtleties falls entirely on him. But why? Perhaps she should have understood his behavior to be harmless — clumsy, sweet but misdirected, maladroit, or tacky — but lacking in malice sufficient to cost him such arduous punishment?
Do not mistake me for a rape apologist. Harvey Weinstein stands credibly accused of rape. No civilized society tolerates rape.
No woman in her right mind would say, “I want the old world back.” We know what that meant for women. But perhaps, instead, we are fantasizing that the old world has come back, rather than confronting something a great deal more frightening: We are the grown-ups now. We are in charge.
Maybe it doesn’t matter where the sources of the present moral panic lie. But could we at least get enough of a grip to realize that it is a moral panic — and knock it off? Women, I’m begging you: Please.
Claire Berlinski wrote a longer version of this for The American Interest, where you can read her full article.
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