Among us, it seems, lives a class of men who call to mind Caligula and Elagabalus not only in their depravity, but in their grotesque sense of impunity. Our debauched emperors, whether enthroned in Hollywood, media front offices, or the halls of Congress, truly imagined their victims had no choice but to shut up, take it, and stay silent forever. …
All true; yet something is troubling me. Recently I saw a friend — a man — pilloried on Facebook for asking if #metoo is going too far. “No,” said his female interlocutors. “Women have endured far too many years of harassment, humiliation, and injustice. We’ll tell you when it’s gone too far.” But I’m part of that “we,” and I say it is going too far. Mass hysteria has set in. It has become a classic moral panic, one that is ultimately as dangerous to women as to men.
If you are reading this, it means I have found an outlet that has not just fired an editor for sexual harassment. This article circulated from publication to publication, like old-fashioned samizdat, and was rejected repeatedly with a sotto voce, “Don’t tell anyone. I agree with you. But no.” Friends have urged me not to publish it under my own name, vividly describing the mob that will tear me from limb to limb and leave the dingoes to pick over my flesh. 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, al-Qaeda, or the Kremlin?
But speak I must. 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. …
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?
In recent weeks, I’ve acquired new powers. I have cast my mind over the ways I could use them. I could now, on a whim, destroy the career of an Oxford don who at a drunken Christmas party danced with me, grabbed a handful of my bum, and slurred, “I’ve been dying to do this to Berlinski all term!” That is precisely what happened. I am telling the truth. I will be believed—as I should be.
But here is the thing. I did not freeze, nor was I terrified. I was amused and flattered and thought little of it. I knew full well he’d been dying to do that. Our tutorials—which took place one-on-one, with no chaperones—were livelier intellectually for that sublimated undercurrent. He was an Oxford don and so had power over me, sensu strictu. I was a 20-year-old undergraduate. But I also had power over him—power sufficient to cause a venerable don to make a perfect fool of himself at a Christmas party. Unsurprisingly, I loved having that power. But now I have too much power. I have the power to destroy someone whose tutorials were invaluable to me and shaped my entire intellectual life much for the better. This is a power I do not want and should not have.
What’s in it for women, otherwise?
Women, I’m begging you: Think this through. We are fostering a climate in which men legitimately fear us, where their entire professional and personal lives can be casually destroyed by “secret lists” compiled by accusers they cannot confront, by rumors on the internet, by thrilled, breathless reporting denouncing one after another of them as a pig, often based only on the allegation that they did something all-too-human and none-too-criminal like making a lewd joke. …
In a world with such arduous taboos about male purity and chastity, surely, it is rational for men to have as little to do with women as possible. What’s in this for us?
None of this would have happened if Hillary had been elected.