Here’s Barry Diller on #metoo:
“We recently had a formal complaint made by a woman who said that she was at a convention with her colleagues and she was asked to have a drink with her boss. Period. That was the complaint. And we said, ‘Here’s the thing. Anybody can ask you anything, other than let’s presume something illegal, and you have the right to say “Yes” or “No.” If it’s “Yes,” go in good health and if it’s “No,” then it’s full stop.’
“But the end result of that is a guy, let’s presume he is heterosexual, and his boss, heterosexual, and guy asks guy for a drink and they go have a drink and they talk about career opportunities. And the boss says, ‘Oh, this is a smart guy. I’m promoting him.’ A woman now cannot be in that position. So all these things are a-changin’.
“God knows, I’m hardly a sociologist. But I hope in the future for some form of reconciliation. Because I think all men are guilty. I’m not talking about rape and pillage. I’m not talking about Harveyesque. I’m talking about all of the spectrum. From an aggressive flirt. Or even just a flirty-flirt that has one sour note in it. Or what I think every man was guilty of, some form of omission in attitude, in his views. Are we really going to have only capital punishment? Because right now, that’s what we have. You get accused, you’re obliterated. Charlie Rose ceases to exist.”
This reflects what I tried to talk about when I was on PBS earlier this year. In the year and a half since my pre-#metoo moment I have done a lot of listening, and what I heard has brought me to where Barry Diller is.
I remember living in New York City and coming to the realization that literally every woman I knew had been sexually harassed on the subway. Whether it be unwanted physical contact or, more commonly, a dude whipping his dick out on the train, I could not find a single woman who didn’t have some sort of terrible experience. And it was so common that most women were cavalier about it, the way that I was cavalier about watching people urinate on the subway – it was something gross that you just got used to.
But it was the last year and a half that was really eye-opening. I came to understand so many things I hadn’t understood before. Perhaps the biggest one is that we don’t get to decide how what we say or do impacts another person. We don’t get to tell another person that our behavior wasn’t that big a deal, that we didn’t mean it the way it was taken.
That might seem fundamentally unfair, but it’s just reality and it turns out that reality has no vested interest in fairness. And it also turns out that we all act this way – we all internalize and personalize things other people say and do to/around us without ever double checking to see if we’re right. And that’s just the basic stuff, the interactions you have with a barista or whatever. Now let’s explode that out into the infinitely messier world of interactions between the sexes.
This is the powerful thing to understand: if you are a man reading this you are probably some woman’s #metoo. Even if you’re gay. Even if you’re an assiduous gentleman (honestly, especially if you’re an assiduous gentleman). You may not be some woman’s number one #metoo experience but you have probably interacted with a woman in a way that made her feel unsafe or dehumanized based on her gender. You’ve made a comment or lingered your gaze too long on a body part or brushed aside a woman’s viewpoint. And I’ll be REALLY honest – if you think you have not done one of these things you should start wondering if you’re either a great saint of our times or, more likely, have internalized misogyny to such a degree that you don’t even notice when you’re doing this stuff.
I’m not trying to attack anyone. I’m not trying to excuse away my previous actions by saying “everybody does it.” I’m simply trying to bring the perspective that I have gained, and that perspective is that the problem isn’t a few bad apples like me. It’s a whole culture that has trained men to behave in certain ways, and trained them so well they don’t even know they’re behaving in those ways.
And Diller’s example above isn’t about blaming the woman, it’s about recognizing that our centuries of socialization have created a scenario where standard avenues of advancement like networking have taken on different connotations for women in the workplace, meaning that a man and a woman are on inherently unequal footing in these situations.
And I also believe in the other part of what Diller is saying. I believe we need a reconciliation process. But that process CANNOT start with women. It has to start with men. It has to start with men owning up to who they are, how they’ve been conditioned and what they’ve done.
I can tell you from personal experience that speaking up brings freedom. My PBS show reran last week, and when it did I got a number of messages from women. One of the messages was incredibly powerful – a woman told me she had been date raped many years ago and the man never took responsibility for what had happened. She said that watching me speak offered her some healing, that she could see that it was possible for men to take responsibility.
I know that the woman who accused me of groping her isn’t the only woman I’ve hurt in my life (or the only person, for that matter). Going back through my history and figuring out where I have been wrong isn’t fun. It’s hard. It sucks. But it’s necessary. I need to go through all my interactions and figure out where I have been thoughtlessly misogynistic. Not just to make amends to these women, but mostly so that I can be mindful of these behaviors and stop them from happening in the future.
There’s no question that I will never grope another person. But will I ever again pressure someone into sex through guilting or emotional manipulation? Will I ever again devalue a woman’s ideas because they came from a woman? Will I ever again leer at a woman on the street? Will I ever again take a friendly gesture from a woman in the wrong way and make her deeply uncomfortable? Will I ever again react with anger at rejection?
I hope not. But hoping isn’t enough. It requires mindfulness of my behaviors and a willingness to admit when I’m wrong and a dedication to changing the way I act. I’m not some perfect white knight good guy, and I never will be. I will always treat people in ways they don’t like. And I will always say or do things that get taken in a way I didn’t intend them.
But I’m also learning how to watch my words and my actions to reduce those situations. I’m learning how to cause less harm every day, and when I do cause harm how to work immediately to repair it. And I’m willing to take responsibility for the ways I’ve behaved and the ways I continue to behave.