Help me have this discussion with my father
December 12, 2017 3:24 PM   Subscribe

As a 20 year-old woman, the growing conversation about sexual harassment and emotional labor has influenced me deeply. Conversations on Metafilter have expanded my perspective over the past few years, from the emotional labor thread to the #MeToo movement to Cat Person. Today my dad posted a link on Facebook to an article characterizing the #MeToo movement as an overreaction, and said it was a "viewpoint that deserves to be heard." I want to try to convince him otherwise.

Here is the article he linked. I feel like this article uses a strawman (I know Real Sexual Harassment is Very Bad, but MeToo is allowing women to destroy men's lives at a whim by accusing them! Women are silencing men!) and completely ignores the underlying imbalance of power that women have to deal with at all levels of their lives. I immediately thought of sending him @MenCatPerson, which shows how much more prevalent and awful the backlash against women standing up for themselves is than the reverse. I've sent him the emotional labor thread and articles about emotional labor before, but he never responded to them meaningfully and I never asked him about them further.

I'm too angry/upset at the moment to think clearly, so I want to take some time to gather a few resources and compose a meaningful response. I want to be able to create a counterargument to this article specifically, but I also want to point out why the movement matters to me and why he might not perceive the underlying power dynamics present in these conversations. It would help if you could link me to some comments on mefi that explain the problems with the backlash against MeToo and related discussions in a compelling and clear way. Articles about the topic would be useful too, as well as any experiences you're willing to share where you successfully changed a friend or relative's perspective.

I realize that writing a long letter to him will take a lot of emotional and mental effort without guaranteed change, but this matters enough to me that I want to at least try my best. I might not be able to get him to understand what being objectified is like, but I know that he values a solid argument and I have faith that he values our relationship enough to listen to what I have to say.
posted by Lurch to Human Relations (26 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I am not unsympathetic to many of Berlinski's points, to be honest, although I am also very sympathetic to the #metoo movement -- so I will let others chime in about resources, but this source and this source might be good starting places for helping you think about how people change other peoples' minds about things.
posted by pinkacademic at 3:42 PM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

The crucial paragraph in that article is this one:
The things men and women naturally do—flirt, play, lewdly joke, desire, seduce, tease—now become harassment only by virtue of the words that follow the description of the act, one of the generic form: “I froze. I was terrified.” It doesn’t matter how the man felt about it. The onus to understand the interaction and its emotional subtleties falls entirely on him. But why? Perhaps she should have understood his behavior to be harmless—clumsy, sweet but misdirected, maladroit, or tacky—but lacking in malice sufficient to cost him such arduous punishment?
This is the logic predators have always used: I was just having fun; maybe YOU should've understood that. And it's combined with the implication that the damage done, in case of a miscommunication one way or the other, is equivalent.

It doesn't hold up. The article brushes aside women's fears as meaningless and irrelevant - she should know he was just playing around. Because it would be totally stupid for her to think a he might assault her for not laughing or a coworker would kill her for not going out on a date or that someone she knows well might kill her if she mocked him, or that a husband would kill his wife for refusing sex.

This all comes back to that core issue: Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them. Men, here, are afraid women will "ruin their career." Women are afraid men will rape and kill them.

Tell him he's free to start a meme where men whose careers have been ruined by false accusations can speak up. I mean, the way he's upset, there must be millions of them, right?

Over half of all US women have faced unwanted and inappropriate advances - that's over 175 MILLION WOMEN. One in five has been assaulted: that's 70 million.

Ask him how many millions of men have had their careers hurt by someone speaking out falsely against them.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:22 PM on December 12, 2017 [83 favorites]

This article that has been making the rounds today might be of interest.
posted by olinerd at 4:36 PM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't have specific resources to suggest, but would it be possible to have this sort of conversation in person rather than via other people's articles? It seems like the goal here is not necessarily to have an intellectual points-scored type of debate, but rather for your father to gain some insight into your experience as a young woman.

As an example, I have an uncle-by-marriage who was a very vocal Trump supporter. After the Access Hollywood tape story last year, I went to him and said, "This. This the man you claim to support. You claim to support someone who would be perfectly willing to assault me." He protested a bit, but I just kept saying, "This is the tape. These are his words. Do you support him still?" It's a slightly different scenario from yours because it was a more distant relationship, and I was so shaken/retraumatized by everything that I was willing to walk away from that relationship. However my uncle saw how hurt I was and I guess decided that he cared for me enough to stop promoting Trumpism.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, appeal to your dad's love for you and tell him (ideally in person, though I know that's hard) that when he posts/sends out articles like that, you feel belittled and angry/upset. If he cares for your relationship as much as you say he does, the fact that he is hurting his own daughter should be enough to make him stop.
posted by basalganglia at 5:02 PM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

This article boggles my mind. Talk about some internalized misogyny.

I have the power to destroy someone whose tutorials were invaluable to me and shaped my entire intellectual life much for the better. This is a power I do not want and should not have.

Of course she should have it. And of course, it's her moral choice as to whether or not to use it. But it happened to her. It really did happen. It was real. His actions created that power - not hers.

The whole thing is extremely handwavey. It partakes of this shallow notion that all a woman has to do is lob a vague accusation, and someone's career will be "destroyed." As I've mentioned to many people who raise the spectre of "destroying" someone's career over harassment, this almost never goes down like that. as a manager, I've been close enough to some of these situations to know that no one's career is "destroyed" by just a few words or a single accusation. That's basically impossible. What normally happens instead: the issue is raised by the person who experienced the harassment. The matter is investigated by a third party. The third party (and sometimes the experiencer) also talk directly with the accused. The accused confirms or denies what happens. Other people are also asked if they witnessed or experienced anything untoward. People talk to their lawyers. It's after an awful lot of this sort of thing that people either resign, or are asked to leave, or are charged with a criminal act, or outright deny it and call it defamation.

To act as though the person who is the victim of that process is the accused - is ridiculous. Their acts have consequences, and their acts have risks. If you don't want to risk being charged with assault, it's simple - don't force yourself on women. Sure, you might be lucky and be good at identifying women who have thoroughly accepted their subjugation (even imagining it as power) like this one. But you can't guarantee that. So it's a very bad risk to take, because you have committed an act that is punishable in itself, and having chosen to take that risk, you've also chosen to accept the consequences - which is that your behavior, if reported, might cost you your job and bring on other punishments. It's fair.
posted by Miko at 5:29 PM on December 12, 2017 [10 favorites]

probably a decade or so ago I got so angry with a parent saying different but related things that I said, "This is why if I were ever raped, I couldn't go to you for help and I would never tell you. because you can't be trusted." or maybe if I said "if I had been," I forget -- my point was that she had no idea whether the things we were discussing and the horrible things she was saying were personally applicable to me or not. she was completely confident that it was hypothetical because she had no ability to understand that her political opinions and her 'common-sense' style of victim blaming had a real-life effect on my respect for her and trust in her. and that I had not, would not, and could not go to her for a parent's help if I were victimized, knowing what I did about her views. a mild shock was the only way I could get through to her, and unfortunately I think she wrote it off as something I was saying purely for shock value instead of the literal truth. still, it quieted her for a good while.

so if this is a true thing you can say, you could try saying it. but if he really means what he says he means, his reaction may be so awful you wish you hadn't. but even so, I don't think you should censor yourself for his benefit, in the hope that if you just keep your anger down and stay gentle, he'll listen. He'll listen if he feels like it.

this angle depends on him being the sort of man who makes a special hypocrite's exception for his own daughter. it is a blow to the ego to discover that your daughter refuses to make a special reciprocal hypocrite's exception for her own father. but a productive blow, sometimes.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:43 PM on December 12, 2017 [24 favorites]

What I would say is that in 99% of instances of sexual harassment nothing happens to the perpetrator. Nothing at all. Either the victim doesn't mention it out of fear that the consequences for her will be even worse than the original event; or they do tell and the powers that be do nothing; or those powers take superficial steps to make it seem like they take it seriously without having to really deal with the situation in a substantive way.

Then I would follow up and say that this is exactly what happened to me [your history may vary of course!] when I was sexually harrassed at work. When my three decades older colleague who I never met before, made multiple comments about my body, while trapped in a car with him, in a strange city, telling me these things while leaning in so close to me that he was practically sitting in my lap, well, I was told that is "just how he is."

Anyone who is focusing on the tiny sliver of men losing their jobs because they harass or assault people, and not on the comparatively towering mountain of harassment taking place that is not dealt with in any way, is not arguing in good faith. They are telling you "that is just how he is" for all men.
posted by scantee at 7:34 PM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

"Dad, would it change your mind about the #MeToo movement if I told you ME TOO, or would you tell me I'm also overreacting just to ruin someone's life? I am not giving you any more information than that. Just think about it and consider the whether the stuff you post on Facebook is really worth posting."
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:25 PM on December 12, 2017 [11 favorites]

"Let's play a game. I'll name someone - probably a woman - who's been harassed or assaulted, and then you name someone whose life was made worse because of false accusations. Let's see who runs out of names first."

There are people whose lives were ruined by false accusations, but I bet he's not actually thinking of Emmett Till.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:49 PM on December 12, 2017 [12 favorites]

My father went quiet after I replied to his "why don't you just ignore it" with "Just ignore it doesn't stop it"
posted by brujita at 12:11 AM on December 13, 2017 [8 favorites]

The time to quibble about the smell of shit is after the Augean stables have been cleaned out, not during.
posted by flabdablet at 4:52 AM on December 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

Some men I know are reacting defensively to #metoo and especially Franken's resignation. Talk to your Dad, listen to his concerns. They're real feelings. There will be or have been false accusations, though they will be a small percentage, based on my experience and reading. Your Dad doesn't get how hard it can be for women in the workplace. Try to assess your own experiences and describe to him how it affects you.

Am I being wishy-washy? That's not my intent. I feel quite strongly about this. Your Dad is probably 50 or so. That's younger than me, older than men who have made my work life a misery at times. But he's your Dad, and I don't think you gain with angry confrontation in your family, but with a steady dose of the truth, but maybe in not-huge doses, and with him seeing how it affects you, someone he loves dearly.

Sexual harassment can be violent assault, or it can be weird awkwardness or hostile environment. It can be the assumption that some skills and talents are male-oriented. It can be the reality that women do not get heard, literally. Start sending and posting articles about mansplaining and all varieties of harassment. Just the fear of violence keeps women from jobs and experiences, from living our lives. How many times did your Dad worry about you being out late? Not because you needed sleep, but because he was afraid a man would assault you.

Some men will be accused who didn't do the thing. That's unfortunate, but it's outweighed by the legions of women who have been harmed. Collateral damage sucks, but it is part of the process of changing a system that's really fucked up. Keep up the pressure by sending him stuff regularly. Incremental change.
posted by theora55 at 5:32 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

71-year-old curmudgeon here. I guess if someone has play the Grinch, it might as well be me.

Lurch, you are asking your father to be more open-minded. I'd ask you to take a deep breath and consider that perhaps, just perhaps, there is something to be learned from differing points of view. For example, there is a blog post here explaining how preferential protection for women can operate against their long term interests.

And for those asking for examples of men who have been hurt, there is one here who lost his job and reputation for some undescribed activity at some unknown place and time. If it doesn't bother you much, consider that it could happen to your father or your husband, and if this legal paradigm creeps across our legal system, it could happen to you.

And I'd add that people who have tried to change human nature by rule of law have been generally unsuccessful.

Note: Scott Greenfield, the blogger to whom I linked, is a criminal defense attorney. Driving holes though other people's arguments with a bulldozer is his stock in trade. If you demand total civility, don't go there.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:33 AM on December 13, 2017

there is one here who lost his job and reputation for some undescribed activity at some unknown place and time. If it doesn't bother you much, consider that it could happen to your father or your husband, and if this legal paradigm creeps across our legal system, it could happen to you.

Granted. But as a 55-year-old apprentice curmudgeon, I feel bound to reinforce the point that this is a numbers game, where the only honourable aim is minimizing total injustice.

Even though some people will undoubtedly end up suffering from being falsely accused: provided only that the rate at which that happens doesn't approach that at which people have already suffered from being falsely discredited, then #MeToo is a net win for society.

Further, as #MeToo keeps on raising awareness that sexual harassment absolutely does have consequences now, the amount of behaviour that could possibly be construed as harassment will undoubtedly decrease over time, meaning that the fury and resentment behind some proportion of such false accusations as do exist will also decrease.

Calling #MeToo a "moral panic" is bullshit. An actual moral panic would pertain to stuff that wasn't happening. But these particular Augean stables are demonstrably long overdue for a cleanout.

And sure, there will be a backlash. There's always a backlash, every time some part of the patriarchy seems to be in danger of some degree of disassembly. But as a 55 year old man who has undoubtedly caused more offence than I intended to at various times in the past, I welcome the kind of social feedback that lets me and my sons and grandsons learn how to avoid doing that in the future.
posted by flabdablet at 7:32 AM on December 13, 2017 [10 favorites]

In all categories of crime, a certain percentage of reports are going to turn out to be false. We know this, but don't use that fact to extend hyperskepticism to all people who report a crime. We only do that when women report sexual mistreatment by men.
posted by Weftage at 7:44 AM on December 13, 2017 [26 favorites]

And for those asking for examples of men who have been hurt, there is one here who lost his job and reputation

There is no question that this happens.

The question is, how many millions of men does this affect?

Guys will point out that one person they know, who lost his job or got into hot water with management over a false accusation, and ignore literally dozens of assaults they see every day, sometimes hundreds - patting the waitress on the ass, or a guy crowding a woman in an elevator, or women being groped at a concert, or of course, the woman who quit her job instead of working for the manager who repeatedly tried to rape her in private meetings, and HR did nothing. Or a woman who tweets, "ugh some guy at work told me I should smile more; he can go to hell," and gets hundreds of "hey don't be a bitch" or "if you took that tone with me I'd beat you" responses.

We do understand the message. It's a matter of balance: the suffering of one man is more important than the suffering of thousands of women.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:42 AM on December 13, 2017 [8 favorites]

That article on The Myth of the Male Bumbler got me to think about my own behavior in a different light.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:14 AM on December 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

For all of us who struggle with these discussions, please let us know how it goes if you want to.
posted by agregoli at 9:58 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

The whole thing is extremely handwavey. It partakes of this shallow notion that all a woman has to do is lob a vague accusation, and someone's career will be "destroyed."

In that vein, this stuck out at me:
It now takes only one accusation to destroy a man’s life. Just one for him to be tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion, overnight costing him his livelihood and social respectability.
In recent weeks, one after another prominent voice, many of them political voices, have been silenced by sexual harassment charges. Not one of these cases has yet been adjudicated in a court of law. Leon Wieseltier, David Corn, Mark Halperin, Michael Oreskes, Al Franken, Ken Baker, Rick Najera, Andy Signore, Jeff Hoover, Matt Lauer, even Garrison Keillor—all have received the professional death sentence.
Leon Wieseltier: multiple accusations from many women.
David Corn: multiple accusations from many women.
Mark Halperin: multiple accusations from at least a dozen women.
Michael Oreskes: accusations from at least two women.
Al Franken: multiple accusation from many women. I'm not going to take the time to look up a cite for that one.

And so on, generally, down the line.

There is a pattern there, and it isn't that 'one accusation' destroyed anyone.

The case where a single accusation from a single woman 'silences' a man is rare. It's just not what's actually happening, speaking generally, and Berlinski doesn't really offer any serious support for the idea that one accusation could 'silence' someone (whether or not we might think that one accusation should). The thought that because in rare cases one accusation is sufficient is really slippery-slope thinking that the article doesn't really go into -- if that's the issue, then let's talk about that head-on and see why that's happening, rather spending this time focusing on (as Berlinski does) men who face multiple accusations. And worth mentioning in that context is how 'a single accusation' often turns out to be the tip of the iceberg, once people start looking deeper -- look at how, for example, the Al Franken story developed in the press. Franken didn't resign because of one accusation, even if one accusation started him down that path, and he most likely would not have resigned had no one else come forward.

That's not even the most important strawman in the article, really, but it is the most easily addressed, if you think that trying an counterpoint will be helpful. It gets the facts wrong; why then should we presume it gets it's conclusions correct?


I don't have a good sense of how best to help your father understand, but I wish you the best of luck in talking with him.
posted by cjelli at 10:32 AM on December 13, 2017 [7 favorites]

My dad, the one who taught me to "consider the source," became convinced that Fox News was wholly accurate. He was retired and watching way too much tv. I suggested he step away from the remote and get back in the real world. I concur that f2f is the best way to have this conversation.
posted by MichelleinMD at 10:56 AM on December 13, 2017

I think your results will be much better if you talk to your father in person about this. Sending links or articles is nice but he may ignore/skip entirely/skim over lightly and that will just frustrate you more. A week or so ago my DH made a remark that the accusations may be getting flimsy lately. We were both occupied doing household stuff and I stopped and asked him to sit down. I explained how most women have been marginalized at the minimum, and many incl myself, harrassed and worse. I gave concrete examples. I did not get mad. He said he was shocked at all the stuff coming out and I expressed my sadness that he has lived 60 yrs blissfully unaware of this fact that women have had to deal w/it and so few men would listen and that it is structural, w/examples of that. I told him the floodgates have opened and women can finally be honest and we are just warming up. Maybe you could do that with your dad? In a loving way, with concrete examples that pertain to you, or other women he knows and respects. A lot of men seem shocked and want this whole mess to die down, and things to go back to the way they were a few months ago. If we are to make real permanent changes, we have to get the men behind us*, and I don’t think articles or arguments will do it. Facebook crap is junk food, don’t waste your time or energy on that shit. At most I’d comment ‘c’mon Dad, you know better than this junk’ but really, I wouldn’t bother commenting on it on his facebook page. People don’t like being challenged on the shit they link to on facebook ime.

*For men in our personal lives. For the ones using and creating the imbalance of power, we have to smash their fucking heads in and fight to make changes, in the workplace, in legal settings, as we navigate the world. But I don’t want to do that to my dad or my husband etc. I haven’t been mistreated by men I love and don’t think they have benefitted from the imbalance more than any other man so my goal with them is trying to be an ambassador of feminism if that makes sense.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 1:00 PM on December 13, 2017

If it is an overreaction, it will likely self-correct over the next year.

It may be a more useful discussion to see whether or not it can be agreed that this has been a problem in the past, and if so, whether or not it is reasonable for society to set a new standard for appropriate conduct. (The answer to these things has to be yes.)

What has transpired in the past is a tragedy that cannot really be changed, and different people are likely to feel differently about how to deal with men (or women?) who sexually harassed others in the past. Would you feel differently about someone like Weinstein, who appears to have consistently preyed upon young aspiring actresses over many years, and deserves to never be in that position of power again, than a man who mistook an interaction at work as an invitation and ended up making an unwelcome advance, was rebuffed, and everyone moved on? Those seem like very different ends of the spectrum. Where is the threshold where a man has done something so bad that he should become unemployable? If a man did something fifty years ago, when society had somewhat different values, does that count for anything? I think there's a lot of fear over the backlash, because there don't seem to be any quantifiable boundaries if the past is treated as a very deep well of past bad behavior that can be punished.

It may be more productive to see if there's agreement about new social standards moving forward. If you can't agree on that, then there's not likely to be much common ground to be found in discussions of the past.

Grinding axes over what has transpired in the past isn't much of a win for society. It is creating a better environment going forward that is the big win. If there's some Weinsteins and Lauers who get taken down along the way, that's also a bonus win, but it isn't as important as how we shape things moving forward.
posted by jgreco at 4:52 PM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Would you feel differently about someone like Weinstein, who appears to have consistently preyed upon young aspiring actresses over many years, and deserves to never be in that position of power again

Most people expect serial rapists deserve to be prosecuted and incarcerated, as may yet happen to Weinstein. The terror of consequences so well elaborated in this comment apparently extends so far that even for serial rapists, the greatest consequence we can all agree on is that they shouldn't have extraordinary privilege and power over women. not that that they should be punished under the terms of a legal system that has held both rape and other assault and harassment to be crimes for considerably longer than the last year or two.

Nobody but nobody is getting caught up in a widening web of scandal for "making an unwelcome advance, was rebuffed, and everyone moved on." I will tell you how I know: because if "everyone" moved on, who would be left to make a complaint or tell a story?

OP: your position, and the position your father and many commenters here don't understand, rests on the assumption that women and girls are part of "everyone." that we are part of "society," that same society which had "somewhat different values" as lately as the last time someone willingly acted in a Woody Allen picture or measured out Brock Turner's sentence or discussed the #metoo discourse in a public forum, like this one. In 50 years, people can and will point to opinions like those in the previous few comments to prove that back in 2017, it was a different time -- nobody understood mistreatment of women to be a serious thing, so you can't hold men responsible for what they did back then, it isn't fair. And those of us who were alive right now, who remember, will be barely believed.

So your position rests on the understanding that history is not a black hole only accessible through guesswork and selective charity: that women who were harassed and abused 50 years ago in this mythic different time with different standards are still alive, with working memories, able to contradict wishful imaginings about how nobody really minded or knew it was wrong. what this means is that although you should do your very best, men and women who are paranoid about old crimes floating up out of the dead past, who are upset that victims willfully remember what perpetrators forgot, can only be really effectively shut down by women who are as old as they are or older.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:01 AM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Have a look at this twitter thread. In sum, a prof lists what she predicts will happen if she names her harasser. It's pretty disheartening and she's totally bang-on - it shows why and how men aren't ruined if someone names them, and how difficult it is for a woman to report or come forward.
posted by foxjacket at 9:52 AM on December 14, 2017

Nobody but nobody is getting caught up in a widening web of scandal for "making an unwelcome advance, was rebuffed, and everyone moved on."

I would have thought that this was pretty obvious. I went to both ends of the spectrum on purpose. You were *supposed* to agree that this isn't an issue.

The terror of consequences so well elaborated in this comment apparently extends so far that even for serial rapists, the greatest consequence we can all agree on is that they shouldn't have extraordinary privilege and power over women.

No, that wasn't the point, and wasn't intended as a limit on consequence. The point was to help the OP understand that there is a lot of potential for people to have differing opinions on the severity of past behavior and where the line should be drawn, and that the past is unchangeable in any case. The legal system may be able to cope with some of the most egregious perpetrators, and for those it fails to, then identification and ostracization is at least a partial remedy, but the fact of the matter is that many people will disagree on these boundaries or even how important the issue is. One only has to look to Alabama, where nearly half the electorate saw fit to ignore, rationalize, or disbelieve credible allegations of pedophilia (clearly illegal!) against a candidate. If you cannot recognize that there will be different opinions as to how to cope with past behavior, you may not be as effective at promoting better social standards going forward.

In order to have a useful conversation with someone who is concerned about the consequences, it may be helpful to avoid having a discussion of the consequences, and you can start that most easily by framing the discussion as one of "what should we, as a society, want as a standard for acceptable behavior moving forward." This doesn't entirely preclude looking back. It's simply a technique to get a foot in the door and create an opportunity for a positive discussion to happen.

If you want to change hearts and minds, it is much easier if you are able to find some common ground.
posted by jgreco at 3:02 PM on December 14, 2017

You should just talk to your father the next time you see him, not to express your frustration, but to listen to him and then start a conversation.
posted by Kwadeng at 10:32 PM on December 14, 2017

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