Imagine this: What if everybody could just admit that they are probably wrong a lot of the time? Instead of having the last word, try listening. To be alive is to be in a constant state of ambiguity. Why pretend otherwise? Why act like children, hoping our parents will just tell us what to think? No one knows the answers, because the questions are always changing.
I bring this up because of the irritating sense of certainty at the core of every “backlash” piece I read. What if, instead of an instantaneous backlash to literally every thought expressed online, we just sat with our discomfort for even ten minutes? Six months? Three years? The “reckoning” (as we’ve been calling it) began in full force only a few months ago, and already the very same media outlets that broke the first stories are giving credence to an impending backlash. But what is that backlash, exactly? It seems to me it’s a lot of women afraid of “losing the room” or people deeply invested in keeping things the way they’ve always been. It’s simply too hard to live in a state of uncertainty. But we must acknowledge that people can experience contradictory feelings and still function.
I can, for example, understand that there are women who do not want to be flirted with at work and also feel sorry for men who don’t understand why they are now on trial for behavior that seemed “innocent” several decades ago. I can relate to the rage that leads to anonymous spreadsheets while still worrying about the long-term effects of such an approach. I can respect a man’s work while also recognizing his shortcomings when it comes to women in the workplace. I can see that while I may not feel paralyzed in certain circumstances, someone else might, and I can understand that where I found the strength to speak up, it might not have been so easy for someone else. I can imagine how a woman who grew up during the sexual revolution, who forged her identity around the idea that she was free to fuck as she pleased, might resist #MeToo. I recognize why gay women and men, perpetual targets of conservative sexual moralizing, might worry that the moment we are in has the potential to create “a sex panic.” I can say that some misdeeds are worse than others without denying that many things about sex and work still suck for women and that talking about them might help make it better.
I can keep all those things in my head and still support #MeToo.
I understand the instinct for writers to jump on the “backlash” bandwagon — there are columns to be written! Democracy to defend! Eros to protect! But what’s really needed is time. Time to work out how to deal with this new reality.
But anyway, don’t trust me, I’m probably wrong.