It isn’t easy to speak out against injustice when it threatens your livelihood, your friends and family, or your physical and/or psychological self.
But what can be worse is NOT speaking out when any or all of the above are being threatened or at stake.
As news publicly broke this week of showbiz mogul-producer Harvey Weinstein being a serial sexual predator – in rolling stories and testimonies chock full of the kind of salacious details one’s eyes and brain wish they could un-see but certainly never will – I was ironically reading What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s book explaining her 2016 presidential election loss.
No, the irony did not escape me.
No man can write with much authority about the very particular challenges women face when a powerful man tries to crush her and centuries of patriarchal power automatically conspire to protect him and ensure his victory and her suppression. But en masse pushback and testimony from both women AND men can begin to slowly dismantle this kind of oppressive traditionalism and hopefully one day assure this kind of bull crap doesn’t continue.
As a gay guy, I never bought into the macho stance of patriarchal power despite the fact that I’ve clearly benefitted from it. I am not threatened by powerful women. In fact, I usually gravitate towards them. Before it was fashionable, they gave me a chance and didn’t judge me by an unintentional swish of a hand or an unconscious sibilance from my mouth.
I’d like to say my attitude was merely because I was raised by this type of female and am an innately nice guy but in my heart of hearts I know it was more than that. Each of us are a product of our environments AND experiences and in turn are imbued with both learned and inbred prejudices we have a responsibility to recognize, dismantle and not make excuses for.
So as a male who is close to Mr. Weinstein’s age and who also grew up in his hometown of Queens I can say with great authority that he’s totally full of S*IT when he chalks up his actions to statements like:
I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.
- NO ONE I grew up with would trap a woman in a restaurant vestibule and, when she refused a kiss, JERK OFF in front of her.
- NO ONE I grew up with would suddenly grab a woman’s breasts or PUT HIS HAND UP HER SKIRT in the office and think it was okay or anything but criminal.
- NO ONE I grew up with would delude themselves into believing beautiful young actresses like Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan would be jonesing to give unwanted massages to our naked overweight, older Jewish guy bodies – especially when we sign their paychecks.
Well – that I know of.
Of course, this is part of the problem. We just can’t fathom someone we know fondly in one context being a predatory pig in another. Or even if we can imagine it, we don’t want to believe it. Or even if we believe it, we’re not sure it’s our business or what we can do about it. Or even if we can do something about it, if it’s worth the risk because surely we can’t fight someone with all of that fame, power and money.
This goes for women as well as men, albeit for different reasons.
Which brings us to Hillary Clinton.
There is no need to itemize the litany of predatory jabs Mrs. Clinton has been hit with over many decades of public life based on her gender. It’s bad enough to be accused of not being able to do the same job as a far less qualified man (Note: Or man/boy serial sexual predator), or slammed merely for the tone of your voice; likability; hair, makeup and wardrobe; or lack of…stamina?
Still, it’s quite another brand of gender politics when your man/boy opponent goes so far as to weaponize your husband’s former mistresses (LITERALLY) in front of you and the world in order to somehow get the public to place the moral blame on you for his dalliances during a presidential debate.
Hillary has many things to say about what happened in her book, which manages to finally cut through all the doctrinaire thinking about her and her campaign and do the one thing she seemed unable to do for enough people during the campaign – humanize her. And that’s a value judgment coming from a guy who always saw her as human. At least, I thought I always did.
Which made me wonder, what is it about what she writes in this book that makes her seem even…more human? Perhaps it’s passages like these, when she reflects on her feelings the morning of her concession speech:
… I wear my composure like a suit of armor, for better or worse. In some ways, it felt like I had been training for this latest feat of self-control for decades. Still, every time I hugged another sobbing friend – or one stoically blinking back tears, which was almost worse – I had to fight back a wave of sadness that threatened to swallow me whole. At every step, I felt that I had let everyone down. Because I had.
There is nothing more humanizing for us than a woman not only admitting defeat but blaming herself for it. One hates to believe this is why certain sections of her memoir paint a more appealing Hillary but one also can’t fail to recognize it greatly contributes to the reason.
Nevertheless, it feels a lot better to focus on what Mrs. Clinton (Note: Why do I feel disrespectful consistently calling her Hillary?) humbly and wisely writes about learning from one’s mistakes and the ability we all have to use our virtues in order to soldier on for a better tomorrow.
Quoting a long passage from one of her favorite books, Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son (Note: Imagine that, a presidential nominee who reads!) about how she began to personally recover from her loss, she reflects:
Nouwen calls that the “discipline of gratitude.” To me, it means not just being grateful for the good things, because that’s easy, but also to be grateful for the hard things too. To be grateful even for our flaws, because in the end, they make us stronger by giving us a chance to reach beyond our grasp.
My task was to be grateful for the humbling experience of losing the presidential election. Humility can be such a painful virtue. In the Bible, Saint Paul reminds us that we all see through a glass darkly because of our humbling limitations. That’s why faith – the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen – requires a leap. It’s because of our limitations and imperfections that we must reach beyond ourselves, to God and to one another.
No, The Chair has not gone soft. I cop to not being a particularly faithful person in the traditionally religious sense. Still, here’s what coming of age in the 60s and 70s did for me – it gave me an undying faith that love and peace and caring could eventually win the day.
Sure I might not always remember this, and it will take time and we all might not be around to see the final result. But if time teaches you anything it’s the value of baby steps, the path of incremental change and the revelation that evolution means this all keeps going ad infinitum (hopefully).
Mr. Weinstein’s behavior is, sadly, just one more mere iteration of Mr. Trump’s. It’s not about who is more ill or who is more dangerous. It’s about all of us speaking out for what we know is right the moment we realize something is very wrong.