It was a gorgeous Sunday morning and I was trying to soak up the sun and stay away from the news when my phone started angrily pinging non-stop.
One notification, then a second one, then another… I would soon realize that four separate male friends had tagged me on a Huffington Post article about Nathan Larson. Larson is a Congressional candidate in Virginia who openly says he’s a pedophile, ran online forums for misogynists and pedophiles in the not-so-distant past, and has admitted online that he raped his late ex-wife. Salt of the earth kind of guy…
Larson has said, “We need to switch to a system that classifies women as property, initially of their fathers and later of their husbands,” and that “feminism is the problem, and rape is the solution.” He’s also advocated for father-daughter marriage, killing women, and raping virgins.
If I were writing a novel and created Larson as a villainous character, an editor would undoubtedly tell me to tone it down. And yet, here’s this 37-year-old innocuous-looking accountant with the face of a boy-next-door wearing his Sunday best, staring straight at the camera while discussing a platform that includes protecting “benevolent” white supremacy, the legalization of incestuous marriage, and child pornography.
Outraged and shocked by the article, these friends had tagged me, either wanting to notify me or eager to see my reaction. Larson’s declarations in the article are so stomach-churning, they left me feeling slightly sick. There’s something deeply unsettling about being unexpectedly confronted with a terrifying trifecta of misogyny, pedophilia, and sheer angry male entitlement because someone had insisted you had to see it.
As well-intentioned as my friends probably were in tagging me, it aggravated me. It bothered me that only such extreme cases get so many men riled up. When women address less egregious cases we are often dismissed as exaggerating, eager-to-complain, angry feminists.
I thought of the recent New York Times sit-down interview with the cast of Arrested Development, where they discussed Jeffrey Tambor and the accusations of sexual harassment against him.
Lead actor Jason Bateman was so eager to minimize his co-star Jessica Walter’s revelations that Tambor had also been verbally abusive to her on the set. With Walter sitting right next to him, Bateman talked about the “artistic process,” the subjective nature of harassment, and basically did everything he could to mansplain the situation away. I’m happy to say that he quickly realized his mistake and followed up with a public apology to Walter, but I’m so tired of the good guys who just don’t get it.
A Twitter user interjected online, “I think most people know not to be Jeffrey Tambor; we need more people to stop being Jason Bateman.” This tweet pinpoints the very essence of what needs to be tackled.
It isn’t difficult to be outraged at the extreme. Someone publicly and unapologetically stating that they believe in child rape, incest, and the murder of women is easy to denounce because it’s so over-the-top grotesque, it’s simply impossible to condone or explain. It’s the middle-of-the-road stuff that routinely goes unchallenged. For every Harvey Weinstein there are a thousand Glen Becks who have no qualms about calling Clinton “the stereotypical bitch” and questioning whether her “‘nagging voice’ would prove offensive to mankind.” For every raging and entitled Elliot Rodger there are a thousand Judge Camps who don’t think twice about asking a rape victim why she didn’t “keep her knees together,” or MP Ted Falks who yelled out, “Abortion isn’t a right for women!” in Parliament, or Jordan Petersons who think “enforced monogamy” is the solution to the anger of aggrieved men.
For every single rapist, incel supporter, and pick-up artist who treats women like objects, there are thousands more “good guys” who dismiss and minimize the ordinary sexism women are exposed to daily. The ones who go out of their way to question, undermine, and challenge women on their own experiences of their world; who shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s just locker room talk”; and who scoff at accusations of sexism and insist “it doesn’t mean anything.” There is no gaslighting more pernicious than the kind so-called good men who want to play Devil’s advocate engage in daily.
Recently, the City of Montreal came out with measures to combat sexual harassment against women at summer festivals, taking their cue from a survey compiled last year, indicating roughly 50 per cent of Montreal women have experienced some form of harassment at a festival.
The first men that commented didn’t rush over — tripping over chairs and small children — to applaud the new measures. Instead, they came to question the results. “That number seems excessively high,” said one. “What exactly do they mean by “sexual violence? Are we lumping it all in the same category?” Asked another. After all, catcalling or grabbing someone’s ass isn’t the same as spiking a woman’s drink, right? Why would we treat all harassment with the same seriousness? That would just make women think they were human beings entitled to things like safety in public spaces and the right to have a decent time at a music festival without some creep yelling “Nice tits!” at them. What is this world of political correctness that we’ve arrived at where we are no longer free to be jerks in public? Give me my money back, Susan!
Of course #notallmen are guilty of violence and sexism. I’m exhausted from having to repeat my awareness of this basic fact. But all men have a responsibility to acknowledge that sexism and violence against women are real problems.
The Good Men of the world, who are too often quick to minimize and dismiss casual sexism and verbal abuse against women, are creating a breeding ground for real violence. The Good Men of the world who want to ponder what Jordan Peterson “really means” when he advocates for “enforced monogamy” as a logical solution to incel’s anger don’t seem to care that damaged individuals with violent tendencies and deep-seated misogynistic beliefs are using his words to justify their hate. The Good Men who are always so eager to tone police angry feminists to help them to get their message across more successfully don’t realize they’re actually attempting to silence and shame these women because their words are hitting a deep-seated nerve.
We all have a collective responsibility to shut down sexism and misogyny when we see it. Dismissing it or minimizing it — unless of course we encounter grotesque examples of extreme violence like the kind Nathan Larson advocates for — only perpetuates it. I’d like to hope that there are more good men in the world than there are bad, but we can’t prevent the bad ones from causing harm if the good ones are only willing to get outraged when the misogyny is so horrid it manages to finally offend them too.