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Me Too Movement

The #MeToo Moment: When Mothers and Daughters Talk #MeToo

As the #MeToo accusations began to swirl, Josephine Phillips, a fundraiser in her 50s, remembered how when she was just 14, a friend’s older brother crawled into bed with her at a sleepover. She jumped up and hid before he could do anything besides touch her, telling no one. But years later, she learned that the friend’s mother had called her mother to say, “Josephine saw a ghost.”

She had suppressed the memory until the #MeToo movement.

“It brought back something that happened 40 years ago, and made me start thinking about it,” Ms. Phillips said. “It was everybody labeling and saying it.”

Now she is confused. Should she have told someone what happened at the time? Could he have done this to anyone else? Was the interaction really a #MeToo moment?

“I don’t know what #MeToo means, really,” Ms. Phillips said of the hashtag that started this cultural reckoning. “Does it mean you were raped, or does it mean you went out on a bad date with someone? Does it mean someone like me?”

Ms. Phillips’ 25-year-old daughter, Pearl Stanley, has no such qualms. Watching her Facebook feed fill with stories of women abused by men, she said she sees it as “intense, dark,” yet exhilarating and clarifying.

“Everybody pretty much has dealt with something that you could put on #MeToo,” she said. “The #MeToo movement just appeared, so it’s not perfect. But it’s here now, and it’s better than not.”

I too am a mother. How to talk about predators is tough. We have told our daughters not to talk to strangers, that their bodies were their own, to trust their instincts. We want to give them a sense of power and confidence, not vulnerability and weakness.

But surely the Harvey Weinstein revelations and the rise of #MeToo has created a new chapter in this mother-daughter conversation. Should we now be talking more openly about sexual harassment and exploitation? And if so, what do we say? Is it really that bad?

As I was thinking about these questions, I asked my younger daughter, now a college student, whether she thought there was a generation gap in the way women see the #MeToo movement. “There was at Thanksgiving,” she answered.

In my recollection of our family meal, it was not that the mothers at the table denied the existence of sexual harassment, far from it. But they voiced whether the reports were accurate — was the behavior really that prevalent, or that corrosive. “It’s only sex,” a 50-something female guest at the Thanksgiving table said.

But the daughters at the table, including my own, did not see anything “only” about it. They saw #MeToo in more starkly black-and-white terms, as a wakeup call to change society, and as an invitation to men, even men of good will, to rethink their behavior.

My niece, 16, a Louis C.K. fan, talked about how saddened and betrayed she felt by the downfall of someone whose wit and intelligence she had respected—but glad it was clear that such behavior was no longer acceptable.

Another woman I spoke to, Deirdre Diamint, 52, said her 15-year-old daughter has been old enough to absorb the anger of the movement, but too young to completely understand it.

Ms. Diamint, who works in sales, has noticed that her daughter has begun to attract men’s attention on the street. S he tells her just to keep walking.

She said she wants to teach her the resilience that she says has served her well.

“I don’t want to teach my daughter to be a victim,” she said. “I want to teach her to be strong about what she wants. I want to teach her to get up and leave. I want her to call me and tell me, ‘You gotta hear about this terrible date we had last night,’ and then we both laugh about it.”

Those conversations may reflect how far the women’s movement has come — that daughters are willing to speak out about abuse their mothers and grandmothers once learned to put up with. Their mothers have been too polite for too long, the daughters say.

“They’re just too used to it,” said Ms. Stanley, the 25-year-old. She said that when she worked as a waitress in New Orleans, male customers seemed to think that they could get away with pinching her behind if they left a good tip.

But “you don’t have to say ‘it’s OK.’ You can be like, ‘I’m OK.’

The #MeToo Moment: I’m a Straight Man. Now What?

As sexual misconduct continues to dominate the news, we’re providing updates and analysis in a weekly newsletter. Today, Daniel Victor, a reporter who covers breaking news and culture, writes on the conversations he’s heard recently among men. Tell us what you think at nytgender@nytimes.com, and sign up here to receive future installments of this newsletter.

Ten men, ranging in age from their 20s to 50s, arranged their chairs in a circle. The only woman in the group, a sex educator who had organized the gathering, promised not to speak.

The event — called “I’m a Straight Male. Now What?”— was branded as a place for men to “unpack aggression” and share “not-so-politically correct thoughts” in the midst of the cultural moment that has become highly politicized. The men who’d shown up — among them a marketer, a journalist, a podcaster and an organizer of sex-play events — were encouraged to say to each other what they were uncomfortable saying publicly about #MeToo. It took place in a small event studio in downtown Manhattan.

“There is a sense that women want us to be talking about it: ‘Guys, go figure it out,’” said Bryan Stacy, the co-founder of a sexual health app and one of the event’s hosts. He encouraged the participants to tap into their feelings as a way to release any simmering frustration, anger, fear or confusion.

The resulting discussion mirrored the private discussions that I’ve observed many men, including my friends, having over the past few months.

First, there was an acknowledgment that men are important allies in the #MeToo movement — they have an ability to call out bad behavior when they (we) see it. (Bystander intervention, as my colleague Claire Cain-Miller has written, is one of the few prevention mechanisms that actually works.)

Second, the men wondered how they could participate without being viewed as disingenuous — or elbowing out female voices. They sensed they could do more to help, but didn’t know how.

Lastly, they wondered: How should they be assessing their own past behavior in this brave new world?

One man, a former human-resources director, said he was reported for harassment in the ‘90s — unfairly, he believed — when he told a female colleague that “You were in my dream last night.” He didn’t mean it sexually, he said.

Another said that while he logically knew that false accusations are rare, he couldn’t help but worry that it could happen to him.

Some men said they saw a lot of themselves in Aziz Ansari, the actor who recently was accused in an online article of ignoring the verbal and nonverbal cues of a former date. In the article, she described his behavior as sexual assault. They wondered if and how often they missed those cues themselves.

At times, it seemed the men were seeking validation as much as solutions. As they revisited their own possible missteps and complicity, they said they were wrestling with the distinction between “I am a bad person” and “I made a mistake.”

“We’re all kind of guilty to an extent,” one of the men said.

As the men unloaded, the event’s female organizer, who goes by a pseudonym, “Lola Jean,” sat silently as promised. She said that while she disagreed with some of what she heard, she felt it was important for men to air their apprehensions — with the goal of better understanding how to address them.

“Ultimately, I believe it’s going to be men helping men in order to be better humans, better allies and better advocates,” she said.

The #MeToo Moment: Parsing the Generational Divide

As the sexual misconduct scandals continue to unfold, we’re providing updates and analysis in a new newsletter. Sign up here to receive future installments, and tell us what you think at nytgender@nytimes.com.

We recently asked readers to share conversations they have had with parents, grandparents and children about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault in the wake of #metoo.

We heard from more than 140 of them. Some told stories of discussing long-hidden shame, others shared experiences of trauma using descriptions that were remarkably similar. Still others, like 83-year-old Geraldine Wallace, wrote in saying that she told her granddaughter that “I’m glad your generation isn’t putting up with this.”

This week, after an anonymous allegation against Aziz Ansari was made public in an online magazine called Babe, those conversations seemed to take on a different tone. Women of all ages debated what the article, which recounted a date between a 23-year-old woman known as “Grace” and the actor in 2017, actually depicted. Was it, in Grace’s words, a case of sexual assault — or was it merely a really bad date? The opinions seemed to fall starkly along generational lines.

Caitlin Flanagan, a critic in her 50s writing for The Atlantic, argued that the article was, in effect, “3,000 words of revenge porn”— a case in which a woman who did not clearly say no stayed in a situation in which she was uncomfortable. (“Apparently there is a whole country full of young women who don’t know how to call a cab,” she wrote.)

Meanwhile, a 33-year-old staff editor and writer, Bari Weiss, wrote in The Times Opinion section that Mr. Ansari was guilty of only one thing: Not being a mind reader.

In Vox, Jezebel and The Guardian, women in their 20s and 30s noted that while they considered the Babe piece to be poorly reported, it had sparked an important and necessary conversation about the complicated dynamics of sexual consent.

We gathered Ms. Weiss and two other Times staffers — ages 29 and 59 — to talk sexual consent, #metoo and the seeming generational divide.

JESSICA BENNETT: This particular story has left me grappling with a particular question. Is it possible for something to be nonconsensual but also not sexual assault?

BARI WEISS, STAFF EDITOR AND WRITER, OPINION, 33: One of the most remarkable aspects of this truly remarkable moment is that we are collectively and openly reassessing what we regard as kosher when sex and power is involved. But one of the more distressing and underreported aspects of this re-moralization is that some younger feminists are telling older feminists that they don’t understand their own lives. They are telling women who experienced what they considered “bad dates” or “bad sex” that those experiences were, in fact, assault. Or worse.

Many older feminists I know are sitting there saying “How dare you look at me — me who has kicked open the door of every room you occupy, who had to beg for the paid maternity leave you now enjoy, who endured the alienation of being the only woman at the table so that now you get to sit at its head — and tell me I’m not self-aware enough to understand my own life?”

FAHIMA HAQUE, SOCIAL STRATEGY EDITOR, 29: I probably sound salty but it doesn’t surprise me that women, generationally, are differing on the #MeToo movement. I am a younger feminist, but I’m not an unthinking one who assumes I have no agency. I am a survivor of childhood sexual assault and I’ve grappled with, nearly every day of my life, what needs to happen for men to be better and for women to feel strong enough to use their voice clearly to hold men accountable. So I fully admit that I’m pretty militant about male behavior.

SUSAN CHIRA, SENIOR GENDER CORRESPONDENT, 59: I share my generation’s general unease with labeling sexual awkwardness sexual assault. It’s not only about refusing to see yourself as a victim, but also it’s a fundamental act of fairness. I also think all generations are confronting that sex is an area of great uncertainty, vulnerability and, at times, abuse of power. Just because it’s common to emerge from bad sexual encounters feeling bruised doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question why it’s so common and what needs to change.

There seems to be one thing some younger women have insisted on: That Aziz did abuse his power in the situation, even if it wasn’t professional power. What do you think?

BW: Refusing to give a factory worker a promotion unless she blows you? That is an abuse of power. Going on a date and hooking up — however boorishly — with another person? That is simply not an abuse of power. If we are going to weigh every relationship on the scales of power, well, then investment bankers won’t be allowed to date baristas. We need to draw a bright line between what happens in the workplace and what happens in the privacy of our apartments (or kitchens). Right now they are getting conflated.

SC: I think it’s crucial to make distinctions, and Aziz’s accuser fell far short because she didn’t. Yes, he was more powerful than she was — not only as a man who often takes the role of aggressor in sex, but also because of his celebrity. But he held no institutional power over her career or advancement. And yet if he behaved boorishly or insensitively, if he failed to pick up cues she may have been too embarrassed to verbalize, he, like other men who’ve behaved this way, should be reflecting on why this encounter went so awry.

Bari, you wrote this week that the only thing Aziz is guilty of is not being a mind reader. That’s true, but Grace also describes expressing her discomfort in multiple places. Shouldn’t we have a higher bar for men’s emotional intelligence?

BW: Absolutely. But that is not going to happen overnight. And until that blessed day of universal male emotional intelligence is upon us — or when someone figures out how to clone Jeff Goldblum — I want fewer women to be harassed, assaulted and raped. In part that means telling women to use their common sense.

FH: Aziz Ansari did write a (very good) book on modern romance, but this just highlights that even the most sensitive, thoughtful — dare I say ‘woke’ — kind of man also has a lot to learn. We need to have a higher bar.

Daphne Merkin, a critic and novelist, recently made the point in our Opinion section that we are treating women like frail Victorian-era housewives. I heard similar from a middle-aged friend, who wondered why Grace didn’t “just get up and leave.” Thoughts?

FH: The “get up and leave” theory is, in theory, a good one. But that just feels ugly and callous in practice. It paints some women as strong warriors and others as weak fools. I will always respect first- and second-wave feminists for taking those crucial first steps for women’s rights, but to shun the new wave of women because their approach is different is divisive. We won’t move forward. I get that Grace’s actions are grating, because ideally she would have felt confident enough in herself to leave. But I remember that at 23 it can be daunting to be the one who says no.

SC: Not sure this cuts generationally, though it may. That is, there are so many reasons women may be constrained from saying explicitly when they’re uncomfortable, or they end up staying what turns out in hindsight to have been too long. Yes, it’s important to learn to say no firmly. But we all know men don’t always listen to that. And we also know that women themselves are often conflicted. Sex is always going to be messy and fumbling, to some degree. And I personally think we have to be tolerant of some uncertainty, some grayness. But if #MeToo is going to spur real changes, men have to curb their sense of entitlement.

Here’s a question we get often from readers: What about due process? Is it really fair to place Aziz Ansari’s name on the same spectrum as Harvey Weinstein?

BW: Our current situation — guilty because accused, as Margaret Atwood put it — is absolutely terrifying to me. And it should be to anyone that cares about justice and due process.

FH: The #MeToo movement is the best part of social media. And trial by Twitter is the worst part of social media. But, most people aren’t on Twitter exhaustively the way media folks are, so frankly while it’s troubling that some bring out their 280-count pitchforks, I’m just not too concerned that it’s going to sideline the overall power and scope of such newfound, increased transparency.

SC: What’s extraordinary — and deeply unsettling — is that #MeToo gives women power that men have had for so long. Men could ruin reputations, undermine or destroy women’s careers, act impulsively. I hope and believe that women can wield power more responsibly and more justly.

DMU Timestamp: September 17, 2018 17:21





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