It’s challenging to go onto Facebook and Twitter right now and face the ever-swelling river of “me too” posts from women sharing their horrible stories of sexual harassment. It’s good that these posts are happening, good that it’s challenging. Part of what I find challenging is that I don’t know how to respond other than to bear witness.
The spark that started “me too” is Harvey Weinstein’s despicable, sexually predatory behavior — as reported by both The New York Times and The New Yorker. It’s a good thing that this has come to light and that the entertainment industry is exiling him.
And it’s shocking that he got away with it for decades.
Actually, it’s not shocking at all, which is the real problem.
What I don’t understand — what I find curious — is why “me too” is happening now.
Please don’t get me wrong: it’s terrible that — near as I can tell — every woman I know has been sexually assaulted — and it’s courageous and admirable that they are sharing these terrible experiences with the world.
What I’m wondering is why “me too” didn’t happen, say, after the Bill Cosby stories came out. I grew up in Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s, and the child of a celebrity once mentioned that Cosby was a known philanderer, but I never heard stories of him drugging women and raping them. Hannibal Buress started talking about Cosby as a rapist onstage in 2014 — and it’s fucked up that it took a man talking about it for this to become a thing — and after that women started to come forward to share their horrible Cosby experiences.
But the Cosby stories did not create “me too,” where women all over the world are sharing their stories of sexual harassment by men who aren’t famous.
Nor did the Access Hollywood, Donald Trump, “pussy-grabbing” story — the story that shockingly failed to derail his candidacy — create “me too.”
Perhaps the Cosby stories seemed too bizarre. Although countless women have been drugged or plied with alcohol and then raped, maybe the scenario of the most famous screen dad in the world slipping rufies into the drinks of young actresses didn’t resemble the experiences of other women enough to create “me too.”
In contrast, maybe Harvey Weinstein’s behavior, although profoundly weird, sounded like the experiences most other women have had with a lot of other men, making “me too” less of a leap.
Maybe the rapid succession of Cosby, Trump, Ailes and O’Reilly stories made it possible for women to create “me too” once the Weinstein story broke.
It’s good that “me too” is happening. Why is it happening now?
Shortly after the “pussy-grabbing” story, Eugene Wei posted a remarkable piece called, “The Age of Distributed Truth,” in which he talks about Cosby, Justin Caldbeck, Trump and Susan Fowler’s post about the toxic bro culture at Uber. Wei then talks about Michael Suk-Young Chwe’s book “Rational Ritual,” and Chwe’s notion of “Common Knowledge”–
Knowledge of the message is not enough; what is also required is knowledge of others’ knowledge, knowledge of others’ knowledge of others’ knowledge, and so on — that is, “common knowledge.”
By this logic, after the New York Times article — followed quickly by the New Yorker article — it was impossible not to know that others knew about Weinstein, which made “me too” possible.
But that still doesn’t explain why it was the Weinstein story that provoked “me too.”
I don’t have an answer, and my question is far from the most important question about me too.
If you have an answer, please share it.