Mind your own business, brother: As predators fall, women find strength in sisterhood

Lillian McNee

Columnist Lillian McNee

I have read C.W. Cannon’s most recent column several times now and I am still trying to find the point of it. To let us know about his really high libido? To give Trump a virtual high five over their shared enthusiasm for really good “p—-?” To wring his hands over the future of “courtship?” He seems more worried about the future of his sex life than he does about the very urgent issues that are taking place right now.

I do not speak for all women, obviously. But I can say that every woman I know has experienced sexually predatory behavior. These transgressions come in many forms, varying from the low-grade ass grab to violent rape.  I know this because over the past year, daily revelations about sexually predatory politicians, actors, chefs and newscasters have provoked our own painful and personal memories. Memories we thought we had buried deep.

I have been turning to my female friends as never before and having the conversations that we would prefer not to have with even the most sympathetic men. I have been able to express feelings of rage, sadness and frustration with a minimum of words or a mere gesture. I don’t have to explain myself because they just get it. Women often meet rebuff or rebuttal when expressing themselves about these things.

It gets exhausting; we are tired of this fight.

It astonishes and dismays me that men feel free to offer their opinions on matters with which they have little if any experience. The stereotype holds that women love to talk; yet in the debate over sexual abuse, it is always men who speak loudest and interrupt most frequently, drowning us out — or trying to. They feel the need to tell their #MeToo story when in reality they rarely have a #MeToo story.

For a moment, what we need men to do is to step aside. We don’t need a helping hand, we just need room to breathe. Bite your tongue, brother. Bide your time and get out of the way.

Most of the women who have come out against sex predators have hesitated to come forward, sometimes for years. There are myriad reasons why women do not come forward. We should know them all by now: to protect themselves and their families, to keep jobs they can’t afford to lose, because women’s recollections are doubted or mocked, etc.

There are also plenty of reasons why women do come forward: in solidarity with other women, to seek justice for the crimes committed against them, to expose a predator.

Cannon gives an example of the “sexual predator” in his life: a woman twice his age with whom he enjoyed sex before he turned 17, the age of legal consent. The writer describes feeling pride after the interaction, though he also acknowledges guilty feelings for having cheated on his girlfriend.

I had a similar experience at 16 with a much older man. He was in a band and all the girls had a crush on him. I was excited and confused — why had he chosen me?! The relationship was consensual in the strictest sense, but looking back I take no pride in it. Instead the memory, when it returns, is like a kick in the gut; I grieve for my 16-year-old self. When I see the man today, I turn away, hoping he doesn’t recognize me. I share this experience only to mark the contrast between our two stories, not to ask for sympathy.

Quoting TV talking head Geraldo Rivera strikes me as an odd way for Cannon to get into a discussion about “criminalizing” courtship, given the recent accusations of sexual predation raised against Rivera. The assaultive behavior that women are coming out against could never be considered courtship. Men need to realize that this isn’t about sex, or men’s need to satisfy their “high libidos.” This is about harassment, perversion and behavior that is abusive and sometimes criminal.

A couple of years ago I was flashed by a man in a clothing store. I was walking by the dressing room and he called to me with his penis in his hand. I walked away shocked and he proceeded to follow me through the store. Was this his version of a courtship? Was Louis CK trying to court the women that he exposed himself to?

Flashing may be on the lower level of sexual aggressions, but I was on edge for weeks after the incident. I dreaded being on elevators alone with men. I was suddenly hyper-aware of what certain men are capable of. What if the next unwanted interaction was less benign?

Recently a friend of mine posted an article about Dustin Hoffman repeatedly harassing an intern during the 1984 production of a TV version of “Death of a Salesman.” Since her article was posted additional women have come forward with accusations against Hoffman. His response to the accusation was abysmal.

“I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation. I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am.”

This won’t do. It’s inadequate. It’s an excuse masquerading as an apology.

Men like Hoffman must realize that their actions absolutely reflect who they are. What do his actions say about him? Was he merely inept at showing his affection and crossed some lines? Or is he a predator with multiple victims?

Women are constantly being held accountable for their actions, tone of voice, outfits. What we are asking is that men be held to account just as closely. Having the utmost respect for women means that you must also actually respect women. How hard can that be?

Why do some people profess to be so “shocked” when revelations of sexual impropriety topple yet another public figure — Charlie Rose, Louis CK, Garrison Keillor, Matt Lauer. Just because someone can ask insightful questions, tell a joke, or otherwise entertain us does not put them above damaging behavior. Just because a man supports women’s rights in the abstract doesn’t mean he can’t mistreat the women he knows personally — or wishes he did.

My hope is that the plethora of recent revelations brings real change in the lives of average women:

  • That offices and restaurants and governments review their sexual harassment policies and make sure they are fair and just.
  • That the average woman feels safe, not only in her workplace, but walking down the street or riding the bus, one of the places I most frequently endured harassment. It’s our turn to decide what is acceptable and what is not.

We roll our eyes when politicians trot out the tired line that they are the fathers of beloved daughters. We are all the daughters of men. Many of us are also the sisters of men, the wives of men, the friends of men, and we demand more from you.

Lillian McNee, a resident of New Orleans since childhood, is enforcement coordinator in the city’s One Stop Shop for permits and licenses. She is married and has a 7-year-old daughter. 

Views expressed in the Opinion section are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Lens founder Karen Gadbois.

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