My Ex was caught up in #Metoo

The man I married when I was 24 and divorced at 30, a high-powered celebrity whom I’ll call Robert, was fired recently for inappropriate sexual behavior.

My first reaction was a pulse of schadenfreude: he was due for this. I’d been waiting for the shoe to drop since the onset of the #Metoo movement. He’d been sexually aggressive since his teens, and when he’d been drinking, he was known to make advances that weren’t always wanted. When a friend told me he’d stuck his tongue in her mouth when hugging her goodby… I’m ashamed to admit this, but I said, with a shrug, “That’s just Robert.”

 

After I saw his photo plastered across the Internet, and after that pulse of satisfaction, I felt sadness and concern. I had loved this man, we’d built our careers alongside each other, and shared deep intimacy. He believed in me, in my writing, he consoled me when I was hurt, and he rooted for me—he was a fierce advocate. He had my back, though he often went behind it. He had a gift for covering his tracks by making up detailed stories that sounded so plausible and sincere that people believed them. And yet, he understood me, I felt, as no man ever had.

Confusing? You bet.

That’s because we’re dealing with the intricacies and contradictions of the heart, and with the deep and often treacherous river of sexual urges.

Let me be clear: I believe that anyone who forces himself sexually on another human should be held accountable. I stand with those who wore all black to the Golden Globes. And I also believe the punishment should fit the crime. But how is this possible, when behavior is not black or white but falls along a continuum? At one end is the rapist/serial predator, and at the other end is the obnoxious flirt.

Claire Berlinski

As Claire Berlinski writes in the American Interest, “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.”

 

This is dangerous for both genders. Men who’ve been tried in the court of public opinion—for everything from forced cunnilingus to giving an unwanted neck-rub—have had their careers and lives destroyed. Women who’ve come forward are risking a backlash that is sure to come, as night follows day.

Dave Chappelle warns, in a comedy special, The Bird Revelation: “You got all the bad guys scared, and that’s good. But the minute they’re not scared anymore, it will get worse than it was before. Fear does not make lasting peace.”

Do we want to move toward a society where men are scared to be alone with a woman at the office? A society where women who’d like men to be assertive in the bedroom find themselves with partners who’re afraid to take that role?

In the early days of the Women’s Movement, Nora Ephron wrote that while she campaigns for the liberation of women, in her erotic fantasies, she wants to be ravished. She daydreams of men who rip off her clothes and carry her to the bed.

Another feminist, Sally Kempton, now a spiritual teacher, wrote in Esquire, “It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.”

So… How are we to proceed in the post-Harvey Weinstein era? What troubles me is that none of the cases in the headlines (and probably none of the ones we haven’t heard about) has been adjudicated openly. In no case has the accused been able to speak to his accuser in a safe setting. Daphne Merkin writes in the New York Times, “To be accused is to be condemned. There is nothing like due process.”

If the drive to punish sexual harassers is carried to extreme… If, for example, the works of every painter and sculptor who harassed women during his lifetime were expunged from museums, who would suffer?

What if we could set up the kind of Truth and Reconciliation process that helped people in South Africa, Ireland, and Rwanda move forward after prolonged violence and human rights abuse? When South Africa created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995, Nelson Mandela said the question was: “Can we forgive the past to survive the future?”

Victims gave testimony and perpetrators could also give testimony and request amnesty from prosecution. Consideration was given to the weight of the crimes committed. Reconciliation and “restorative justice” were the goals.

Even before the #Metoo movement, individuals have attempted to do this privately. In 2016, Thordis Elva from Iceland and Tom Stranger from Australia gave a talk at Ted Women,* “Our Story of Rape and Reconciliation.”Elva and Stranger at Ted Women

They’d met at age 16, when Stranger was an exchange student in Iceland. They fell in love, became inseparable, and at a party, Elva had too much to drink, grew nauseous and wobbly, fading in and out of consciousness. Stranger took her home, removed her clothes, put her in her bed and penetrated her. She was too weak to resist and recalls it as painful and traumatic. She did not speak to him again, and, humiliated, locked the experience inside herself and told no one.

Nine years later, she wrote him a letter, he wrote back, and after months of emailing, they agreed to meet at a location between Iceland and Australia—Cape Town, South Africa. “The city was a powerful place to focus on reconciliation and forgiveness,” Stranger said.

Elva says that at first, she wanted revenge, “to hurt Tom as badly as he’d hurt me. When the plane landed, I thought, why didn’t I just get myself a therapist and a bottle of vodka, like a normal person?”

For a week, they told each other their life stories and analyzed them. The ground rules were that they had to be honest, had to listen to the other with open minds, and had to stick out the week.

“At times our search for understanding felt impossible,” Elva said. She wanted to give up and go home to her husband and son, but by the week’s end, they had a “victorious feeling,” Stranger said. “I had to accept that I did hurt this wonderful person. That I’m part of a large group of men who’ve been sexually violent toward their partners.” They created their Ted Talk to demonstrate that “something constructive could be built out of the destruction.”

In our country, the healing might begin locally, with a forward-thinking company or community setting up a truth and reconciliation commission. Accuser and accused could speak to each other, with mediators present, and, most important, listen to the other. If a man concluded, as Stranger did, that he had caused harm, he could make amends.

Todd Hixon, writing for Forbes, suggested community service or “a hefty donation to an organization…that’s working to stop these crimes from happening in the first place.” Hixon added, “Maybe Kevin Spacey could make a monthly contribution to Lambda Legal (a non-profit that supports LGBT people)— a constant reminder to him and others that he acknowledges his guilt and wishes change.”

Unrealistic? What, then, could be the road to peace in this arena—which won’t be attained, as Chappelle says, by fear?

Please weigh in with your ideas. CLICK HERE.

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I’ll be writing more on this.  NEXT: The Men Speak.

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If you’re in Colorado, I’m singing with a band at two concerts on January 26 and 27, at 7 pm, in Boulder. With a sublime pianist, two singers, guitarist and drummer, we do uplifting pop, rock and soul covers of works by Jason Mraz, Aretha Franklin, Beatles, John Mellenkamp, James Taylor, and others. Awesome harmonies, and after the concert, we’ll have a rousing singalong. If you’d like to come, please respond to leap@saradavidson.com for directions.

* Note that this talk was given at a Ted Women Conference, not the major Ted Conference, in 2016. Apparently rape was still considered a women’s issue.

 

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22 thoughts on “My Ex was caught up in #Metoo

  1. Audrey Seidman

    As someone who provided sexual harassment prevention training post Anita Hll/Clarence Thomas hearings, I have watched this all unfold both eager to end the plague and concerned that, as you say, all is appearing as black and white. I agree that many shades of gray are needed. Thank you for sharing your own story and for the reconciliation story and suggestion, clearly another option for some situations.

    Reply
  2. Terri Shaw

    I miss “Robert” whenever I drive to NY weekends. You make very good points about backlash. Although I am not sure making monetary contributions would change Kevin Spacey or his ilk.

    Reply
  3. Marian

    Having been a volunteer for LCJP, a model restorative justice program for Longmont and environs, I say “YES!” to Truth and Reconciliation. In a safe circle with trained, volunteer facilitators, victims get to speak personally to the harms experienced, as do the offenders and volunteer community members. The process is powerful and often transformative. The entire circle creates a contract for the offenders to repair the harms to the best of their abilities. Taking responsibility for their actions and repairing hams keeps family members at home instead of jail, and the recidivism rate is a low 10% as compared to the state prison system’s 70%.

    I no longer live in Colorado (so will miss your concerts, darn!) but wish to encourage your local audience to volunteer for the important work of this 23-year old community restorative justice program. (http://www.lcjp.org/)

    Reply
  4. Allison

    ME TOO and Thinking Out Loud
    As a regular, ordinary mature women of 72, been in corporate business and rubbed elbows with corporate executives since being in my early 30’s.I was either naive, aware and confident at the same time of the sexual connection between the sexes on the corporate playground. Primarily in ‘high places’.

    What was not acceptable, from my perspective at that time,yet passively understood that ‘this is what it is, shut up and play their game !’.

    Being in the ‘high places’ of corporate did propel me to grab the golden ring.
    I was single,successful, good looking, a single mother and had one darn goal. Get ahead, save as much money as I could to set aside from my daughters college education, then get out of corporate and start my own business.
    The voices in my head had nowhere to go or anyone to listen…..at that time when I was in my 30,40,50’s !
    Who does one talk to ? Who does one confide in ? I was not a famous person that everyone would want to listen to. Yes, I did have standards,yet no example of what to do with situations that I had no background or experience. My mother did not want to hear of ‘such things’. My adult girlfriends had similar stories as they traveled the corporate ladder in the late l970,80 and 90’s.

    My question: For all of the famous people that are participating in ME TOO, what about all of the thousands and thousands of mom’s, wife’s and regular women that have come face to face with the vile men such as Harvey Weinstein, yet these women are just regular people like me.
    Who is their sounding board ? Are they OK? Or is it all about famous, well known, high visual women that
    have gotten on stage and jumped up to become the voice for all other women ?

    Reply
  5. Sally

    Maybe my experience of spouse does not fit — I leave it to you to tell me —
    For sure he was more sexually demanding than I was willing, over 37 years of marriage — oh and 4 years before we married, too.
    Yet with other women (three times I know of during our marriage), he could be so caring/understanding/gentle/almost feminine that they may have melted…
    Don’t know for sure how far the first two of these went — #3 became his second wife, 34 years younger than he and mother of their 12-year-old daughter. They’ve made it 17 years. She’ll be his nurse. But at the time of our divorce, he was living at her place and stoutly denying anything more than friendship between them. He peeled that back bit by bit with our daughters once the divorce was final, and he married her in less than a year.
    I guess I am thinking — a wolf in sheep’s clothing — let the buyer beware…
    PLUS my own mindset: If I can just get this right, he will not be so difficult/demanding/strange…
    Feedback most welcome! Esp if you can reassure me that I am not the only one with such an experience!

    Reply
  6. Gini Maddocks

    Humans being. What a complexity. It’s been many years since I’ve been able to see things as purely right or wrong–we’re a hard lot to judge. But as you say, once the light shines on the crime, the jig is up–denial drops away and despicable behavior is no longer able to dwell in shadow.

    I think your proposed reSOULution is sound–let those who have forced themselves on others do something constructive and purposeful. Change is always a sloppy jostling from extreme to extreme so the news and the thrill seekers will most likely blow it up. But when the dust settles, we can hope–always hope–that women and men know better and grow beyond reconciliation into true partnership.

    This had to happen before equal rights–equal pay and equal status could actually happen. We’ve been living a two-faced viewpoint which couldn’t last much longer. Now that the thorn has been identified–let’s pull it out and let it heal.

    You’re going to rock it out in Colorado?! I love your music choices–and see that you, too, have found jason Mratz! Go sista’ !

    Reply
  7. renee missel

    Sara: I could not have said it better. Thank you for writing this blog about #Me Too. Can you post it on FB and Twitter. Or at least a link to this blog. It is so important to hear a voice of reason.

    Reply
  8. Cory Davis

    Hi, Sara,

    Did you ever stop to think that maybe sexual assault victims would only be re-traumatized by being forced to face their rapists in some woo-woo healing session? Do you honestly think it’s more important for you to have the freedom to explore your submissive sexual fantasies without actually communicating with your partners about them first, than it is for women to avoid assault and harassment from the type of “sexually aggressive” men you like? And you’re really going to quote Dave freaking Chappelle’s thoughts on this issue, but not a single woman of color?

    ~Cory

    Reply
  9. Patrick Grace

    Sara – Thanks for your reflections. Think you probably speak for many. Question often not asked: Where is the line? How much “being forward” with someone is too much? Even criminal? Where is a woman’s responsibility if she flirts openly, “goes along,” then decides “whoa! I didn’t ask for THAT kind of a response?” What to one person may feel like “playfulness” to another may be “assault.” Who arbitrates? Who sets the standards? The courts? Don’t really think they want that responsibility. CEOs, HR folks, shrinks? To whom do we look for answers?
    For sure Al Franken’s and Garrison Keillor’s “over-the-top” moves do not equate to Roy Moore’s putting a 16-year-old girl’s hand on the bulging member beneath his underpants.
    The whole area is fraught with “What if’s…..?”

    Reply
    1. Kim

      Conflating an (allegedly) accidental slip of the hand onto a bare non-sexual body part, unwanted flirting, a tasteless photo involving an unaware woman who at the time apparently was involved n risque performances, unwanted but not resisted touching of intimate parts of the body, repeated unwanted and resisted touching of intimate parts of the body, and rape into one category is logically and morally wrong — especially when we have the paradoxical situation where people simply accused of some of the former lose their jobs while most of those perpetrating the most egregious go free.

      The role of alcohol in so many cases that, at least later, are contested and controversial is something that needs serious discussion. Just one aspect is the case where both parties are equally quite inebriated, and later one of them claims abuse or rape.

      Reply
  10. Linda Newton

    I recall traveling in Europe and Israel in 1966 and knowing that it was safe for women to be out walking at night–something that was not consider safe in America. I must say I enjoyed that freedom. Here in America women spoke of taking back the streets in some year past. Ntozake Shange wrote in “For Colored Girls” about date rape–that we get raped by people we know. To consider that we aren’t even safe with people we know is even scarier. And “now” we get to add that we aren’t safe from sexual harassment with co-workers or bosses.

    Making sure that none of these things would happen to me when I was a young woman, I didn’t allow much room for myself with experimentation and learning in the world of coupling. So much for living through the Women’s Movement. Did straight-laced me never get harassed? Of course I did–twice that I vividly recall. I am grateful that young men then did know when “no” meant “no”–at least when I said it. And one boss figured out (on his own because I froze and never said a thing) after one day when he put his hand on my shoulder that that was a no-no.

    Young women today seem even more vulnerable. Perhaps I’m still naive. They have been raised in a culture to take risks, dress immodestly and, in some cases, binge drink. These all put them at greater risk. And how are men raised?

    Reply
    1. Kim

      What was wrong with the boss putting his hand on your shoulder? Was it sexually wrong, or was it wrong in terms of domination?

      In parts of Europe in the ’80s, a hand on the shoulder would have been so normal that the actor would not comprehend a freezing reaction. And then there was Italy, where male aggression (pinching buttocks of unaccompanied women in particular) was rampant.

      Reply
  11. Jeanne C. Davis

    Good article. It’s okay to want to be ravished. It’s okay to be ravished. It’s not okay to say no if you mean yes. It’s not okay to ignore someone who says no.

    Reply
  12. Roxana Dapper

    My wonderful Sara Davidson: You pose the question, “Do we want to move toward a society where men are scared to be alone with a woman at the office?” The obvious answer is “Yes,” but like your question, this answer hovers on a continuum. I ask you: Do we have a society where women are scared to be alone with a man at the office, in an elevator, in a medical examination room?

    Gender equality can happen only when gender harassment is butchered. And one tool we use to fight that harassment is empathy. Empathy begins in language–the language of our feelings.

    We do live in a society where women are scared to be alone with a man in many social or professional scenarios. When men empathize–through first-hand experiences–the fear that we women will learn to unlearn, they too will enter the gender equity fighting ring. This effort requires all of us to participate.

    I appreciate your continued, heroic efforts in the good fight(s). I’ve been following and reading and delighting in your work for years. Thank you.

    Best,

    ~Roxana Dapper
    American English writing activist-educator, feminist, non-sexist language advocate

    P.S. I give three-hour workshop presentations to adult professionals in San Diego from my series, “The Legacy of USA Jane Crow Laws: Separate but Equal in Language, Legislation, Life.” If you’re interested in my work, please let me know. My focus is always on language–that thing that creates, defines, and shapes our attitudes and ideas about…everything. 🙂

    Reply
  13. RT

    Right on. Oh, and, I am a major Claire Berlinski fan. Good luck reminding people that there is a spectrum of bad behavior: Matt Damon tried it, a few weeks ago, and all he got was hate. It was plain this had gotten absurd when Keillor was tossed under the bus. I hope nobody in metoo-land thinks that Al Franken would have been booted if the governor of his state were not a Democrat (i.e., is, consequently, certain to appoint a Democrat successor.)
    First they came for Harvey, and I said nothing, because it seemed like it was pretty bad and indisputable.
    Then they came for (fill in the blank), (fill in the blank), and (fill in the blank), and I said nothing, because it was fun to watch Hollywood eat itself — and for years all these (fill in the blank)s had been lecturing the rest of America about how we should vote and behave.
    ~~ Add as many more layers as you like … ~~
    Then they came for me and, by that time, there had not been anyone to speak out for quite a while already.
    Hmm, by the way, they never did come for the so-called news media, which — it has become plain — could have blown the lid off this years earlier.

    Reply
  14. Linda W,

    Thank you for writing this. I have been very uncomfortable with the lack of due process for the accused.
    Yes we do need a reconciliation commission!
    I also agree that there are so many nuances in sexually charged interactions and that there are some “middle ground” scenarios where it is harder to draw the line…

    Reply
  15. sita

    I don’t really want to be the one to bring this up, and I certainly agree that men must take responsibility for their dishonorable actions. Yet, men had virtually “owned” women for how many millennia? And have only had the past (MAYBE) couple hundred years to get the message that their rights have changed. I am NOT condoning men’s actions, but this sort of learning needs to begin in childhood (along with yoga and communication skills by the way).
    Speaking of honorability, women (including some of those in black) publicly dressing in extremely sexually provocative ways is often an unconscious–or conscious–tease or call for sexual attention, isn’t it? Perhaps we could take a tiny bit of responsibility for that, knowing how men’s minds work. . .

    Reply
  16. Scott Brown

    Thank you for this thoughtful post Sara! The principles and practices of restorative justice could indeed go a long way, not only toward healing the associated harm but also in addressing root causes and changing systems. We need a restorative approach to addressing the full range of harm and violence in our society and communities because business as usual clearly isn’t working. And we need look no further than Colorado to make it happen. We are a hot bed of restorative justice and I have a very specific and concrete vision for how we can empower ourselves to engage in this type of community peacemaking. More info. on this at:
    http://www.4activepeace.com/2018/01/03/time-community-peacemaking/

    Thanks again!

    Reply