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I, Too, Am Thinking About Me, Too

Sarah Silverman recently made a video in which she described the painful conflict she was feeling about her good friend of 25 years, Louis CK. Watch it and you will see cognitive dissonance in action: on the one hand, she loves and admires the man, and values their long friendship. On the other hand, she detests and condemns the exhibitionist sexual behavior that he acknowledged. Many of the people watching this video wanted her to reduce that dissonance by jumping one way or the other: disavow their friendship, or trivialize his behavior. In this brave embrace of her emotional conflict and their friendship, she did neither.

Our whole country is living in a constant state of hyper-dissonance: “my political candidate/my most admired actor/a brilliant artist/my dear friend has been accused of sexual abuses and misconduct; how do I cope with this information? Do I support him/see his movies/enjoy his art/keep the friendship or must I repudiate him entirely?” Living with dissonance and complexity is not easy, but surely skeptics, of all people, must try. We hear a story that outrages us and, just like true believers and justice warriors of any kind, we’re off and running, and once we are off and running we don’t want to hear quibbles, caveats, doubts, complexities. Thus, when the Guardian (Dec. 17, 2017) reported Matt Damon’s remarks that there was “a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation. Both of those behaviours need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated,” Minnie Driver blasted him: it’s not for men to make distinctions; “there is no hierarchy of abuse”; men should just shut up for once. “If good men like Matt Damon are thinking like that then we’re in a lot of fucking trouble,” she said. “We need good intelligent men to say this is all bad across the board, condemn it all and start again.”

No hierarchy of abuse? Really? That is one of the universal symptoms of revolutionary zealotry: go for broke, ignore gradations of villainy, who cares if some innocents are thrown over the side, we are furious and we want everything at once. No wonder those of us in the boring older generation, who have lived through cycles of anger and protest, are so annoying. “Wait!” we keep saying. “Be careful! Remember the stupidity of ‘zero tolerance’ programs in schools, where a kid who brings a pocket knife for show-and- tell, or a 6-year-old boy who kisses a 6-year-old girl, got expelled?” We have also learned that while there is a time and place for revolutionary zealotry, the hardest challenge comes next, because change will not be accomplished without allies.

While many celebrate the courage of the accusers who are coming forth to tell their stories, let’s keep in mind that in today’s climate it also requires courage to raise dissonance-producing dissent. In case you missed this essay—and you might have, considering how hard it was for the author to get it accepted anywhere—here is some of what Claire Berlinski wrote in “The Warlock Hunt” for The American Interest (December 6, 2017):

This article circulated from publication to publication, like old-fashioned samizdat, and was rejected repeatedly with a sotto voce, “Don’t tell anyone. I agree with you. But no.” Friends have urged me not to publish it under my own name, vividly describing the mob that will tear me from limb to limb and leave the dingoes to pick over my flesh. It says something, doesn’t it, that I’ve been more hesitant to speak about this than I’ve been of getting on the wrong side of the mafia, al-Qaeda, or the Kremlin?

But speak I must. 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, over-night costing him his livelihood and social respectability. 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.

Of course she has been “more hesitant to speak about this” than about Al-Qaeda, not only because of the predictable tsunami of attack, but also because we are always more hesitant to criticize people on our side, or those whose goals we share. It feels…disloyal. And disloyalty feels dissonant.

In a previous column on the belief in the “cycle of abuse,” I noted that if you created a fourfold table (“abused as a child? yes/no”; and “abusive as a parent? yes/no”), most people pay attention to only two cells: the abused children (yes) who become abusive parents (yes). They don’t attend to the many people in the invisible cells: abused children who do not become cruel parents (yes/no), and the nonabused children who do (no/yes). Thus, in the current intoxicating rush to accuse and bring down sexually coercive, abusive men, what cells are we overlooking?

The men and women who do not conform to the stereotype; the women who are not victims and the men who are. In the legitimate exhilaration of hearing women’s stories being believed and accepted at last, what voices are missing?

  • The voices of women who thoroughly enjoyed their years of sexual freedom and experimentation; who slept with professors and bosses and coworkers for pleasure and excitement, and whose careers were not ruined thereby.
  • The voices of women who had some awful encounters, or boring ones, or regrettably stupid ones, but would never blame, let alone sue, their partners on the grounds that they were at least 50% of the people in the bed.
  • The voices of women who enjoy being groupies, who seek celebrities and other powerful men for trophy sex and bragging rights, just as men have done with glamorous women.
  • The voices of shy men and boys who have felt pressured or even coerced by women, whether the women were their employers or dates.
  • The voices of men who would not dream of having sex with a woman who is blotto drunk, unconscious, or unwilling. The negativity bias dominates: we hear and remember so much about the bad guys that the good ones become invisible. Further, the good ones who would and should be allies are demonized and dismissed because they are not 100 percent ideologically pure.

I asked my friend Leonore Tiefer, a sexologist and feminist, for her concerns on the “Me, Too” movement and she responded: “There’s a rush to judgment. A conflation of all offenses. An underlying truth about the lasting effects of shame. Little room for complexity. Some bastards getting their long overdue due. Lots of lawyers looking for cases and money. Lots of institutions needing to cover their asses for money/legal reasons. Opportunists galore with axes to grind.”

That about sums it up.

Whenever a movement is fueled by rage and revenge, it is more important than ever to tolerate complexity and ask questions that evoke dissonance. We can all imagine the ways in which “Me, too” might benefit women, but how might it backfire? Because it will. Moralistic crusades to censor “sexist” pornography, for example, led to suppression of lesbian books, sex-ed books, and plain old sexypleasure books that someone thought offensive. What might be the consequences of a moralistic crusade to root out any behavior that might be misconstrued—now, next week, in 10 years—including affectionate touches, supportive hugs, jokes? Do professional women really want a Mike Pence world where they cannot have a business dinner or go to a party without a chaperone? When feminists find themselves in bed with right-wing puritans, they are going to get screwed.

What, exactly, are the goals here? The answer is clear in the case of hotel housekeepers, fast-food workers, and immigrant women who are routinely subjected to disgusting sexual harassment and who rarely have recourse to protect themselves from the powerful men who feel entitled to abuse them; in the case of women who enter formerly male-only occupations (tech, science, the military), where hostile harassment and rape are weapons to convey “you don’t belong here; get out.” The answer is always clear when the goal is to bring down some bad guys and protect the powerless.

But the goals of “me, too” seem eerily non-political, other than “bring down the patriarchy and by the way let me tell you about me.” For the vast majority of women in their personal and professional lives, where the complexities of sexuality abound, surely another goal is to become more assertive and clear about their wishes. If women seek true sexual equality, they have to do some hard thinking about their own behavior. As Laura Kipnis observes in Unwanted Advances, when did “empowerment” for women come to mean filing an assault claim months after a drunken night rather than developing the ability to say to the guy, “take your fucking hand off my knee”? She writes:

Why would she go to the apartment of a guy she already didn’t trust? This isn’t victim blaming. It’s grown-up feminism, one that recognizes how much feminine deference and traditionalism persist amid all the “pro-sex” affirmations and slogans… And that’s what has to be talked about, along with changing male behavior. (p. 219)

Finally: What do we learn when we follow the money? When schools and companies feel they must expel or fire someone without due process, solely on hearsay and unfounded allegation because they are terrified of lawsuits, how is justice aided, how is it impeded?

Epidemics are always clearer in hindsight. In the 1980s and 1990s, I watched as the recovered memory hysteria, aided by beliefs that Satanic ritual abuse cults were proliferating across America and that daycare centers were run by pedophiles, tore hundreds of families apart. In 1981, Ms. magazine had a cover story on Satanic cults, with the overline: “Believe it!” Without evidence? No, thank you. But the mere fact that there was no evidence for recovered memories of trauma, Satanic sacrifices, and other preposterous claims did not slow the steamroller—and steamrollers always leave the wreckage of human lives in their wake.

And so, in 1993, I wrote a review of the many best-selling books promoting this dangerous nonsense—most notably The Courage to Heal and Secret Survivors—showing that their psychological claims would be obliterated in any Psych 101 course. I was deluged with hate mail, and this was before the echo chamber of the Internet. A sociologist colleague wrote to express her dismay and fury that I, a feminist, could possibly disbelieve any of the women coming out of therapy having newly “remembered” that their once-beloved fathers had sexually molested them for 15 years, somehow doing so without leaving any corroborative evidence from family members or others. A few months later, she wrote to me again, to apologize—and to ask if I knew a lawyer who could help her brother. Who was being falsely accused.

I hadn’t thought about that essay in many years, until journalist JoAnn Wypijewski sent me an email:

I reread that NYTBR piece of yours last night, amazed to see that you had written this: “To raise these questions does not mean that all ‘reawakened’ memories are fraudulent or misguided. It does mean that we should be wary of believing every case of ‘me too’.” The very phrase…down the decades … and what have we learned? END

About the Author

Dr. Carol Tavris is a social psychologist and coauthor, with Elliot Aronson, of Mistakes were made (but not by ME). Watch the recording of Science Salon # 10 in which Tavris, in a dialogue with Michael Shermer, explores cognitive dissonance and what happens when we make mistakes, cling to outdated attitudes, or mistreat other people.

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62 Comments

  1. ACW says:

    Yes, yes, yes. I’ve been saying the exact same thing all along — and I’m a woman who, at age 62, has experienced sexual harassment ranging from lewd comments and uninvited gropes to attempted rape, as well as a variety of sexual experiences, including consensual sex that was just plain ‘bad sex’. I wish I could promulgate this article everywhere.

  2. Pam P. says:

    You expressed my concerns precisely. To some abused individuals touch becomes more, to an individual with an “axe to grind” it becomes a method of revenge. And there will rarely be proof for either side. Thank you for your wise comments on a very difficult subject,

  3. Kathryn Bay says:

    Thank you Carol Tavris. A breath of fresh air to clear out the absolutes and make room for the more accurate but less beguiling gray areas.

    How about a new Golden Rule, a commandment that says, “Thou shall not bully.”

  4. Tristan Hubsch says:

    Scream it from the rooftops: “Whenever a movement is fueled by rage and revenge, it is more important than ever to tolerate complexity and ask questions that evoke dissonance.”

    Retribution is well-nigh never precise.

  5. Steve says:

    I would like to know how mankind can change his genetic code to reproduce, protect, defend, and feed his family, for 6 million years in one generation.

    There is never an excuse for being rude or crude. It is wrong in today’s society.

    However a males genetic code is testosterone production to make us successful in a very pre historic world. So I’m going to grab that female and take her back to my cave and produce offspring so that my tribe will survive. ……

    Help!.

    • Simon says:

      Steve, it is not clear what you are saying here. Are you virtue signalling or admitting to your own inability to control your urges and projecting that onto men in general?

      Morally impaired men will tend to commit overtly aggressive crimes while morally impaired women will tend to commit more covert crimes like false accusation. Both are means of accomplishing a desire and both require moral impairment. The desires are not the problem, the moral impairment is.

  6. Michael Jones says:

    thanks carol tavris for an excellent article. i read it quickly though so my one quibble may actually have been addressed, and that is, of all the guys that I have heard and read about being accused in the media, my take has been that, even the less egregious conduct (such as the Al Frankens in the world?) still says SO MUCH about the individual that I feel even these particular individuals should be repudiated. This wasn’t simply `misguided’ behavior. It was assault. creepy assault. Other than that quibble, you make excellent points.

  7. oiojes says:

    Very good, reasoned article.

    However, within the article is this: “And so, in 1993, I wrote a review of the many best-selling books promoting this dangerous nonsense—most notably The Courage to Heal and Secret Survivors—showing that their psychological claims would be obliterated in any Psych 101 course.”

    And, at the end of the article on the net is a shop for related projects pair of links for, you guessed it, The Courage to Heal and Secret Survivors. No doubt the action of an automated bot that put them up.

    The convention of the net is that these are works supported by the article. The author is condemning the works by reference and then selling them.

    How the heck are we going to move forward in our culture when we have set up systems that undercut exactly what we’re trying to do?

    • Maureen Spain says:

      YES YES! i noticed that, too.
      so jacked up.

    • Larry Winkler says:

      Why shouldn’t the criticized books be referenced? When Tavris references these books, it’s good policy to references the books themselves. Reading these books shows the general style of writers who are pushing myths if not lies.

      If you’re less inclined to read the books Tavris cites, a couple of books by Tomasz Witkowski are quite good, and covers in detail some of the material Tavris mentions in this article.

      • oiojes says:

        Referenced, yes. And if the author wants the reference represented all she has to do is highlight it or refer the reader to the works.

        But that is not what occurred. Instead, we have a “shop related products” link. I suspect the author did not want to shill for the books she despised.

  8. brad tittle says:

    I like everything you have written here. Attempting to point at that which cannot be pointed at will never be successful. You did a fine job of trying. The people who understand, understand. The people who don’t don’t. They might at some point realize the conundrum. But they obviously don’t now.

    I was in therapy for a little while. My therapist told me about testosterone poisoning. As he explained it, he also said “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EXPLAIN THIS”. So I will violate his dictate here.

    As Steve points out, testosterone is a chemical that makes both good and bad things happen. The example he provides is both good and bad at the same time. It depends on the reference frame you take in the moment. There is a case to be made that it benefits the female in the situation as much as it does the tribe. Coming to terms with the idea that being abducted is a good thing is dissonance. Believing it to be impossible is irrational.

    That testosterone also makes it so when an attacker presents himself, the brain becomes slightly insane. A big man with a knife charging at you is not a friendly sight to see, but a little extra testosterone and rage causes us to pick up the club and defend our family. The logic, tactics, and strategy we have carefully learned helps temper that into better survival responses, like moving out of the way, but that does not negate the slight insanity involved in picking up the club and the benefit of picking it up and snarling at the attacker. The Haka is nothing but an expression of this.

    In a similar vein to the yes/no abuse question is this..

    Why is it sane for a woman to stay with her abuser? I don’t think any woman should. We will get a lot closer to helping such an individual when we understand why it is the correct answer to not run away.

    But this discussion can go on forever, because we are pointing at something that isn’t easily pointed at.

  9. Evan Gough says:

    Thanks for writing this article.

    I knew as soon as I read Matt Damon’s words that he was in deep doo-doo. He must have known, too, because I don’t think he’s a stupid guy. It took some balls on his part to face what he knew must be coming.

    But what he said was important, and it was the right time to say it.

    The importance of the #metoo movement will be lost unless we start thinking critically.

    There are grey areas. In most things, and especially in sexual matters. We have to be adults and face it.

  10. Gina Bisaillon says:

    At 14, I was the victim of attempted rape and believe me, it felt very different from a guy trying to get into your pants at a party.

    And, I’m glad she talks about the groupies, the women for whom sleeping with a celebrity is something they seek just for the bragging rights. Remember Monica Lewinsky?

    • KellyL says:

      I agree w everything but using Lewinsky as your example. She was an intern, NOT a groupie, and he was POTUS, not Jim Morrison. Not remotely the same.

      • Dorothy Sieradzki says:

        Sure it’s the same, it’s the adoration not the medium; pop music, politics. But we expect the POTUS to know better than a rock star.

  11. Ed Kreusser says:

    A nugget of clarity… bringing back a rational balance-scale. It should “go viral” to rein in the chaotic extemists…

  12. 123elle says:

    Unquestionably, there’s a spectrum of severity among the experiences of #metoo. Also unquestionably, punishment for rape or assault should be more severe than that for a pat on the rear.

    In an environment that is so new, it’s difficult to set up a hierarchy of severity. This is particularly so when the offending party tends to deny, minimize or distance the offense, while the victim demands exposure and justice, as well as sometimes recompense or even revenge for a lost career and perhaps decades of pain and outrage.

    When you add in the uncountable number of incidents among people not famous, but nonetheless routinely and cruelly abused in the workplace or in their personal lives, the wave of accusations becomes a tsunami.

    Those in the neglected table cells the author mentions, such as women who sought and enjoyed relationships with men of power (I believe Arianna Huffington is one), sort of muddies the water at this point. It goes without saying that this is not harassment per se.

    The Al Franken concern, which many now think is a career ruined over comparatively minor acts, is often used as an example of going overboard or “warlock hunting.”

    But in a way, Franken troubles me more, in that this man who seemed so WYSIWYG, actually has a dark side that may be even darker than we know. Why on earth would he commit such transgressive, blatant and risky acts — in at least one case right in front of a husband? How many acts didn’t get reported? They actually pose the question, who is Al Franken, really?

    The ability to commit those aberrant acts in that way, and perhaps frequently, speaks to hidden issues and intentions that definitely demand explication. Should he have lost his Senate seat over them? Honestly, I don’t know, until his acts have been thoroughly investigated and he has come clean (which I don’t believe he has even begun to). It may be a rush to judgment, but I’d rather err on the side of women yet ungroped than assume that his behavior is of no overriding concern and allow him to continue as before.

    In fact, the overwhelming majority of harassments that I have read about have been aberrant, serial, hidden, probably underestimated in number, and probably ongoing. So we run the risk, by explaining them away or brushing them off, of missing or failing to address a true pathology in the perpetrator and true personal and professional damage to the victim.

    At this point, since we don’t yet have a seamless and legally tested way forward, we have to treat each incident as unique and individual. What’s important now is that the log continue to be lifted, the incidents exposed, and the victims acknowledged. We must not prematurely dismiss or minimize any accusations, or we risk leaving the act unadressed, unredressed, and perhaps concealed, the victim re-victimized, and the public even more confused and at odds.

    I do believe that, with time, the less rebarbative harassers may recoup at least part of their careers, but they will never again be considered innocent or trustworthy (unless the accusation was completely bogus). Both perpetrator and sufferer will have lost, due to the choices of the perpetrator, not of the victim. Let this consideration serve as a warning to men before they choose to drop those pants.

    • Gary Whittenberger says:

      “Honestly, I don’t know, until his [Al Franken’s] acts have been thoroughly investigated and he has come clean (which I don’t believe he has even begun to). It may be a rush to judgment, but I’d rather err on the side of women yet ungroped than assume that his behavior is of no overriding concern and allow him to continue as before.”

      By why err? Why jump to conclusions? Why rely on rumors?

      For every person accused of a sexual offense, there should be due process, a search for the truth, and proportional punishment, where there is a conclusion of wrong doing.

      So, in the Al Franken case, neither should the Democrats have demanded a resignation nor should Franken have resigned. Instead, there should have been an investigation and hearings by the ethics panel in the Senate.

  13. Avital Pilpel says:

    It seems to me one reason people tend to think this way is that people, to a large degree, no longer sees virtue as a matter of behavior and principle, but only as a matter of adhering to (and proclaiming) the “correct” socio-political views, only disagreeing whether they should be “left” or “right”. The idea that one can disagree with someone’s politics and yet consider him a good man, or vice versa, seems inconceivable to many today. This is one of the problems with the “the personal is political” view.

    If you see the vice of lust in the old-fashioned way, you can see degrees in it. Being a serial rapist is worse than raping once, and raping once is worse than acting like a jerk towards a woman in a party. But if having the wrong opinion of women’s rights is the problem, there is no graduation. All three are *equally* guilty, because all have the *same* wrong opinion, to wit, that women should satisfy men’s desires willy-nilly.

  14. David Ord says:

    This is such an important article. Thank you for publishing it. Sex is perhaps the most complicated issue we have to deal with.

  15. Avital Pilpel says:

    >>>>>What’s important now is that the log continue to be lifted, the incidents exposed, and the victims acknowledged. We must not prematurely dismiss or minimize any accusations, or we risk leaving the act unadressed, unredressed, and perhaps concealed, the victim re-victimized, and the public even more confused and at odds.

    …which is why we need to make sure everybody who is accused of satanic ritual abuse of children is immediately fired. The important thing is that this evil is finally exposed; we wouldn’t want to *confuse* the public and *re-victimize* the accussers with skeptical claims that perhaps some accussations are overblown, or that the accussed have this absurd “right” to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

    >>>>I do believe that, with time, the less rebarbative harassers may recoup at least part of their careers, but they will never again be considered innocent or trustworthy (unless the accusation was completely bogus). Both perpetrator and sufferer will have lost, due to the choices of the perpetrator, not of the victim. Let this consideration serve as a warning to men before they choose to drop those pants.

    Exactly my point about needing to fire all those accused of Satanism immediatelly. After all, what’s the worse that can happen? Those who merely dabbled in Satanism, as opposed to the more serious satanists, will eventually get at least some part-time job back. Besides, surely a few lousy innocent lives ruined is a small price to pay for warning all those millions of potential satanists that there will be a price to pay if they actually practice it.

    • 123elle says:

      Much sarcasm, zero ideas or solutions. All you can do is exaggerate as an answer to the points I raised.

  16. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    This article was well written and just what we all need to hear right now. One of my fears is that the #metoo movement will discredit the bulk of the women (and some men!) who are speaking up against the various forms of sexual misconduct.

    Another side effect of this movement may be making our culture more and more callous and cold toward each other. I have a recent anecdote:

    At the end of the final exam in one of my (evening) classes a young woman was the last to turn in her test and as she did so she burst into tears. Finals cause students stress-meltdowns so I try to be sympathetic (lord knows I’ve benefitted from Profs who were very human). As she approached me crying, I tried to maneuver so there was always a desk between us. I offered her comfort in words and told her that she could stay in the classroom and relax, or vent, or whatever (she protested that she didn’t want to waste my time – so I said I’d sit and grade some exams while I listened to her).

    Eventually she came to realize that she just had to vent some stress and everything was not collapsing all around her and we shared a couple of laughs and she wanted to hug me – to say thanks but I extended a hand for a handshake and mumbled something about my wife not allowing me to hug students.

    Before anyone calls me a coward for avoiding “The Appearance of Evil”, I was also considering her – if we had hugged and it was too tight or too long would this poor vulnerable young woman have thought that I had an agenda? With all of this stuff going around in the zeitgeist it is possible that one hug could have undone the good that that conservation had done.

    BTW: I was also a coward.

  17. Mary Goetsch says:

    A must-read, especially in December classical music casualties of the “sex offenders” removal from business. James Levine and Charles Dutoit now banished from music careers on account of accusations against them. This is getting way out of hand, I thought, when any type of any activity which could possibly be construed as sexual harrassment causes someone to be shamed out of business. What is driving this? Tavris listed, “lawyers looking for cases and money…” There is plenty of other work out there: the coming digital money age (feature subject in Jan. Scientific American) and fraud detection in financial market. Bottom line: the extreme moral principle in policing construed sex-in-business can only backfire. Tavris explains concisely and eloquently here.
    Applause!

  18. Beth Everett says:

    Thanks Carol! You have made sense of my own thoughts about this. The idea that Al Franken is the same kind of monster as Roy Moore is ludicrous.

    As always you have knocked away the rhetoric and come up with clear and cogent thoughts on this difficult subject.

  19. Ray L Walker says:

    It would be helpful if the women who are making these complaints, some serious, many not, would consider the glamour industry, where often the red carpet is the camera’s opportunity to show us the Hollywood beauties in clothing no self-respecting woman would wear. I’m 86 and I think much of it invites more attention than useful in today’s hyper-sexual complaint country. I used to be able to tell the difference between prostitutes & show offs. Harder to do today.

    • Hazel Vargas says:

      I had to laugh at your comment about how much easier it was in the “old days” to distinguish between a prostitute and one who is not. For example, I was shocked to find a group of college kids in my apartment lobby dressed in their finest whore getup waiting for a van presumably to take them to a party. Is good taste passé?

  20. Banake says:

    I’m honestly thinking in not reading this magazine anymore.

  21. Avital Pilpel says:

    >>>>>All you can do is exaggerate as an answer to the points I raised.

    I am not exagerrating. I am giving an analogy. The current moral hysteria is exactly the same as previous ones, from the witch hunt in Europe and the prosecution of “counterrevolutionaries” in Stalin’s USSR, to the hunt of communists or the Satanic Panics in the USA.

    A deluge of accusations is seen as absolute proof that a deep, dark secret of terrible suffering of millions of victims who were silent for decades is suddenly coming to light. Therefore, it is demanded that all accussations be implicitly believed and no skeptical voices heard, lest the public become “confused” or the accusers “re-victimized”. Any sort of defense, skepticism, or appeal to basic fairness is seen as proof of the skeptic being part of the evil cabal of criminals himself; why else would he defend them?

    The result is a shrill demand, like the red queen’s famous one, for “sentence first, verdict later”: all accused must be punished or at least otherwise harmed. If the possibility of some accused being innocent is grudgingly admitted at all, it is stated that it is far more important to fight the newly-unearthed crime epidemic than to worry too much about punishing the innocent.

    This sort of moral panic reasoning, I might add, can save a bundle of money in the criminal justice system if applied consistently. Why limit it to the horrific-uncovered-crime-epidemic du jour? Just convict anybody accused of any crime at all! Why “confuse” the public by first arresting someone and then finding him not guilty, or “re-victimize” witnesses by subjecting them to having to testify and face cross-examination? Besides, the defense lawyer surely was guilty of similar offenses himself, or else he wouldn’t defend such scum.

    • 123elle says:

      Boy, you are giving the experiences of today’s victims short shrift indeed, aligning and comparing them with these notorious, preposterous epidemic psychoses.

      If you really feel that way about the concern with sexual harassment — that it’s akin to a satanist panic, there is not much that can be done to rehabilitate you. You seem to be minimizing, mocking, and questioning women’s statements, while giving unearned credence to those of the alleged perpetrators, even such as Trump and Weinstein, I presume.

      Since you are apparently satisfied with denials, then have at it. You are of no value to women’s efforts to gain acknowledgement and redress for endemic harassment, loss of opportunity, and emotional abuse across many workplaces, both upscale and humble, extending throughout decades. (BTW, you seem extremely confused about the issue.)

  22. Lucy Duroche says:

    Thanks for your insightful article. The recovered memory/Satanic ritual abuse hysteria is exactly what “Me Too” reminds me of–with a side helping of McCarthyism thrown in. I totally agree that we need to remember the disastrous results of “zero tolerance” policies and to keep in mind that there’s a difference between thoughtless, clueless behavior and domineering and coercive behavior. I’ve worked in the metal finishing business, the building trades, have done maintenance and warehouse work and thus have encountered both these types of behavior. Not to mention having to deal with one employer who took sexual harassment complaints seriously and another employer who treated such complaints as a big joke unless the man in question was someone they wanted to get rid of. The latter employer asked me over and over again whether these two men with whom I was friendly were “bothering” me and then put them on different shifts, then subsequently tried to make me work with someone whom I’d filed a complaint against and pleading ignorance when I brought up said complaint and got the union steward to back me up on the issue. The whole business with Al Franken reminds me very much of that employer–and also reminds me of the Jordan, Minnesota sex abuse investigation of the late 1980s and its excesses. I’ll conclude by saying one thing: I’m keeping my Al Franken books.

    • 123elle says:

      I don’t know why you would compare #metoo to a satanist phobia, which I would classify with alien abduction as far as credibility. If you don’t see the difference, then as I stated before, that’s very dismaying to me, a woman with a daughter. Your own experiences should give you some empathy for other women’s vulnerability in these situations. My first sympathy goes to the blasted careers of countless female whistleblowers, while the perpetrators, until now, emerged unscathed. Trump being the prime example. He gleefully denies ever having stuck his stunted hand up a stranger’s skirt in his whole life. Does that give you pause at all?

  23. N.L. Glass says:

    Great Article!

  24. BillG says:

    To use Shermer’s “moral arc”, perhaps this “me too” movement is just progress. We know racism is likely never to be eradicated, though blatant racism is unacceptable in most societies. Is misogyny, sexism and harassment to follow likewise with zero tolerance?

    Concerns would be what was described in the post. Another could be victimization. Those who seek all injustice or hardships to them through a prism of sexism – creating real injustice on all sides. Or just plain lies to gain an advantage. (Choose your card: racism, sexism, homophobic, islamaphobic, etc.)

    Again, a lot of gray on this issue.

  25. E.F. says:

    “Whenever a movement is fueled by rage and revenge, it is more important than ever to tolerate complexity and ask questions that evoke dissonance.”

    I don’t see a movement ruled by rage and revenge …at least not in my social world. Women that I know are always questioning the accusations they hear and the effects from them. I’m also a big fan of ‘gray’ in terms of black and white, and it’s rarely the case that most things in life are so cut and dry; good and evil if you will. There’s always reasons for things to happen, and it’s only the lazy who don’t care to seek them out.

    Having said that, I look forward to #metoo continuing on its course. If it isn’t ruffling a few feathers then it’s not accomplishing anything ….and things DO need to be accomplished. I’ve seen this I’m my world at least. And I wonder if this awakening could have happened any other way.

  26. Avital Pilpel says:

    >>>I don’t know why you would compare #metoo to a satanist phobia, which I would classify with alien abduction as far as credibility.

    Because they both display the same sociological characters of moral panics – as did McCarthyism or the search for “counterrevolutionaries” in the USSR. To be sure, no women were possessed by the devil, while some were raped – but similarly, there also *were* counterrevolutinaries in the USSR and communists in the USA. Many panics start with some real case or some grain of truth; that does not make them less panics.

    >>>>>Your own experiences should give you some empathy for other women’s vulnerability in these situations. My first sympathy goes to the blasted careers of countless female whistleblowers, while the perpetrators, until now, emerged unscathed.

    Really? Accusing someone of rapemor sexual abuse meant they would “emerge unscathed”? Perhaps in the case of some powerful men; not for most people.

    >>>>Trump being the prime example. He gleefully denies ever having stuck his stunted hand up a stranger’s skirt in his whole life. Does that give you pause at all?

    Yes it does, as it shows two things. First, that the very fact of denying the accusation is seen as only making the accused an *even worse* monster. Typical of panics.

    Second, you would think that Clinton – who was actually accused of rape a few times – would be a more prime example, but it seems today inconceivable for people to agree with someone’s politics and still say he is a bad man, or the opposite.

  27. Avital Pilpel says:

    To clarify, I think both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are morally bankrupt narcissists, as the evidence clearly shows.

    But as I said above, it seems republicans only see Clinton and democrats only see Trump, since both wrongly believe that *having the right (from their perspective) political views* is evidence of virtue, and therefore their guy cannot be all bad, after all, even if both of these moral midgets undoubtebly “grabbed her by the p***y” numerous times.

    I must add that it seems, so far as I can tell, that both Obama and the two Bushes, opposites politically, seem men of a different and much better moral character.

  28. docktor snydethink says:

    “Trump being the prime example. He gleefully denies ever having stuck his stunted hand up a stranger’s skirt in his whole life. Does that give you pause at all?”

    just like EVILution, it does indeed give us Paws

    Dr. S., Hp.D.

  29. Avital Pilpel says:

    One clarification: how can I say Trump and Clinton are made worse by their denials, but that it is a sign of moral panics that denials as well as admissions are both “proof” of guilt?

    The reason is simple: all dogs have four legs, but not all four-legged animals are dogs. That the guilty tend to deny their crimes does not mean that those who deny their crimes are therefore guilty. Confusing the two is typical of panics.

    The problem with the argument I replied to is not in the claim that Trump’s denials make *him* more guilty, but in the implied conclusion that *anybody*’s denials make them more guilty.

  30. K says:

    I haven’t seen a mention of the women who are predators. I know of a boy who in his early teens was seduced by his friend’s mother. He was very upset in the aftermath, not happy at the experience. He didn’t feel manly or lucky and he soon distanced himself from his friend.

  31. Robert Sheaffer says:

    Carol, I very much appreciate your carefully considered and nuanced approach to such an inflammatory question. Such matters are not “black and white” as so many people seem to think.

    I know that I wrote some harsh criticisms of you years ago especially concerning your “Mismeasure of Woman,” when you were trying to poo-pooh perfectly valid scientific findings showing innate cognitive differences between women and men. In hindsight, that is a deeply flawed book. But let me join the ranks of your fans in great admiration of your recent lectures and writings.

  32. Michael Grills says:

    I have just recently become a subscriber and I have to say I’m quite disappointed in this article. It hardly feels sceptical at all, it feels like it’s taking sides.

    Using Matt Damon and Minnie Driver as the starting point for this is the first mistake. They are not even people who are intimately involved in the situations. This article, if it needed to exist at all, could discuss actual cases and possible punishments related to those actual incidents.

    The question is not whether one form of abuse is more valid than another, it’s about appropriate reaction to different types of abuse.

    Smacking somebodies ass and raping someone are in fact both forms of abuse. If a smack is unwanted, it’s abuse. The response to each should be measured. A smack might lead to disciplinary action, if it was done at work, while rape is obviously a criminal offence and one should go to prison.

    Stop questioning if it happened. Something happened. Now that we know something has happened it needs to be dealt with.

    What are we sceptical of here? Are we questioning the legitimacy of the complaints, are we sceptical that women are routinely abused, or are we sceptical about the current definition of abuse? Because this article feels like it’s taking a side without being sceptical of itself.

  33. Avital Pilpel says:

    Bad boy scientist wrote:

    >>>>BTW: I was also a coward.

    Perhaps you were, but it is understandable.

    Solzenitzin pointed out that 100 years ago, before the Russian revolution, “educated people were more cowardly when confronted by left-wing loudmouths than in face of machine guns.” The same, of course, was true with educated people facing *right*-wing loudmouths a bit later, in Germany, too.

    No doubt you didn’t relish the possibility of social ostracism and perhaps the loss of your job under the “zero tolerance policy” inquisition that would occur if some zealous beurocrat in your university would hear of it.

    One of the reasons for this hysteria being so common on college campuses is inquisitors of the “enforcers of zero tolerance sexual abuse policy” type, Like all inquisitors, whether Chrisitan, Communist, Nazi, or of their type, they must find some number of sinners to prosecute every so often, lest they be accused of not doing their duty towards Christ, or Spcialism, or women’s rights, so the net of the guilty grows ever larger.

  34. Tamara Schmidt says:

    Yes! witch-hunts are going on in many forms and everywhere, just changing shapes and … getting more up to date! Following mass hysteria has always been the easier way!

  35. Lanny says:

    Whether truly attributed to Buddha I’ll add a lesson on how to treat women.
    “If they are younger than you,treat them as you would your daughter. If they are the same age as you, treat them as you would your sister. If they are older than you, treat them as you would treat your mother.”

    • RobertRays says:

      THANK YOU. This is a variant of what I’ve always said — a better variant, obviously. I have never understood the whining of men wondering how on earth they are to find mates if they can’t leer, catcall, harass, grope, force a hug or kiss…when they would be annoyed or outraged by another man doing it to their womenfolk. Answer? Flirt with class, as you would want it done to your female loved ones.

      It’s not just competition: it’s the general (and worsening?) failure EVER to put ourselves in another’s shoes.

  36. Avital Pilpel says:

    As for Roy Moore, he’s like a 1980s horror film villain: goes after high school kids and every time you think you’ve gotten rid of him, he’s back.

  37. Kerry Sutton says:

    “Opportunists galore with axes to grind.” Can we please extend the underlying premise of Ms. Tavis’ thought-provoking article to some of the people encompassed in that particular paragraph? The universal inclination to think of all lawyers as money-grubbing opportunists is a paradox.

    I am a lawyer who works exclusively on campus sexual assault and Title IX matters. My experience in this type of case extends back to defending a young man on the 2006 Duke Lacrosse team, when I was the only female attorney on the defense team. Our most recent success has been saving a UNC athlete from a false accuser and a media firestorm that, but for our efforts, almost certainly would have led to his educational and career extinction.

    My law partner, Steve Lindsay, and I take only 3-4 cases at a time because they are very labor-intensive and, for me, emotionally draining. We have helped a number of students pro bono. We don’t chase cases. I won’t claim poverty, but our financial success is directly attributable to our reputation for success in defending the falsely accused. We have become known as a resource for other attorneys and members of the media seeking to make sense of the relatively new focus on Title IX, a unique area of the law that wasn’t even a thing when most of us were in school.

    I enthusiastically agree with Ms. Tavis’ analysis, and as for the need for “courage” to share similar thoughts on this topic? Me too.

    I know, it’s easy and even fun to diss lawyers … right up to the second you need one. Can we agree we should appreciate gradations in this area too?

    I hope you don’t ever need us, but if you do, we’re here.

  38. Rhauna says:

    Thank you for this.

  39. PsycProf says:

    Carol,

    Like another commenter here I too am a psychology professor who was very disappointed with your book “The Mismeasure of Woman.”

    But, since then, you have come a long way, baby. I don’t know what happened, but you take the cognitive complexity– and perspective taking — issues seriously, and apparently have applied it to your own thinking. The results have revealed some stunning insights about the the complex interactions between the sexes.

    You really nailed it in your lecture “Who’s Lying, Who’s Self-Justifying? Origins of the He Said/She Said Gap in Sexual Allegations.” I highly recommend anyone who is intrigued by your article here to view it:
    https://youtu.be/9SpVVsOUsLo

    (No, your bullet-proof jacket did *not* make you look fat!)

    Thank you for your guts and honesty! Please keep up the good work!

  40. Kris Rhodes says:

    To my knowledge no one is conflating different types of offenses. No one is saying, for example, that Matt Damon is _incorrect_ to think patting on the butt and rape are different. There is no conflation happening there. Rather, people are saying he’s not making a useful or important point. Why is it not useful or important? Because he’s describing a problem that doesn’t exist. There is no problem of conflation.

    I have a hard time understanding why people think there is such a conflation. My best guess is, it’s because we’re now adding “patting on the butt” to firing offenses, alongside rape. Used to be, if you raped somebody and got caught, you’d probably be fired. Now you’ll get fired if you get caught patting somebody on the butt. I guess it makes sense to mistake this for a “conflation.”

    But no one’s arguing that if you pat someone on the butt you should also go to jail. No one’s arguing if you pat someone on the butt you should be universally reviled for the rest of your life with no hope of being back in most women’s good graces. Those apply to rape, not to a single butt-patting incident.

    Butt-patting has always been more serious than it was made out to be, and now women are being more vocal about that fact. But to mistakenly call this increased vocalization a “conflation with rape” is, frankly, not just illogical but pretty rhetorically egregious. It’s a pretty clear cut case of the slippery slope fallacy if I can be excused for slipping into freshman critical thinking mode. (I’m kind of embarrassed that it should be appropriate to do so when responding to an intellectual like this author, having been referred here btw by a tweet from another great intellectual giant like Dan Dennett for chrissakes!) And as such a clearly fallacious piece of reasoning, it makes me wonder what the aim here really is, in bringing up terrible “points” such as this.

  41. Saurs says:

    “But, since then, you have come a long way, baby”

    Wow, that’s not totally condescending. I guess you’ve achieved official Chill Girl status, Carol. Well done. The men approve.

  42. Avital Pilpel says:

    >>>But no one’s arguing that if you pat someone on the butt you should also go to jail. No one’s arguing if you pat someone on the butt you should be universally reviled for the rest of your life with no hope of being back in most women’s good graces.

    Many of the most vocal proponents of this latest moral panic seem to be arguing just that.

  43. HJ Hornbeck says:

    I’m shocked this article exists. Take the first two paragraphs, where Minnie Driver rebukes the idea of a hierarchy of abuse and Tavris endorses it.

    The scientific literature has weighed in, and there’s substantial evidence there is no hierarchy of abuse within victims. While women who experience rape will label it differently depending on whether or not the perpetrator was a stranger or acquaintance, neither category differs in psychological outcomes from the incident.[1] Multiple researchers have found that psychological and physical abuse do not differ in psychological outcomes.[2] The same is true of abusers. One paper looked at the methods used by abusers, and found them “to be unique categories rather than part of a continuum or hierarchy of abuse.”[3]

    The only time hierarchies of abuse appear is when minimizing or excusing abuse. A study polled nurses, and found some of them used a hierarchy “to distance themselves (and their profession) from these acts.”[4] As a result, modern abuse prevention programs have adopted “zero-tolerance” strategies and reject the notion of an abuse hierarchy.[5]

    Astonishingly, an actress with no scientific background has a greater knowledge of the social psychology literature than an experienced, qualified social psychologist!

    I wish that was an isolated case, but I can (and have) catalogued multiple ways this article demonstrates no understanding of the scientific literature on sexual harassment and abuse, and promotes myths about sexual assault. That it was nonetheless written by a scientist, and published by a magazine which values science, is a grave breach of ethics and integrity.

    ——

    [1] Koss, Mary P., et al. “Stranger and acquaintance rape: Are there differences in the victim’s experience?.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 12.1 (1988): 1-24.

    [2] DeKeseredy, Walter S. “Enhancing the quality of survey data on woman abuse: Examples from a national Canadian study.” Violence Against Women 1.2 (1995): 158-173.

    [3] Gondolf, Edward W., D. Alex Heckert, and Chad M. Kimmel. “Nonphysical abuse among batterer program participants.” Journal of Family Violence 17.4 (2002): 293-314.

    [4] Jenkins, Robert, Rachel Davies, and Ruth Northway. “Zero Tolerance of Abuse of People with Intellectual Disabilities: Implications for Nursing.” Journal of Clinical Nursing 17, no. 22 (November 1, 2008): 3041–49.

    [5] “Was it really abuse?” National Association for People Abused in Childhood.

  44. freethinker says:

    “I’m shocked this article exists.”

    In other words, you are shocked because someone said something you disagreed with. Could it be possible Mary Koss was wrong? You should be more like Carol Tavris, Christina Hoff Somers, and Cathy Young.

    • HJ Hornbeck says:

      “Could it be possible Mary Koss was wrong?”

      You mean Mary Koss, Thomas Dinero, Cynthia Seibel, Susan Cox, Walter DeKeseredy, Edward Gondolf, D. Alex Heckert, Chad Kimmel, Robert Jenkins, Rachel Davies, and Ruth Northway. Honestly, I only picked the one from Koss/Dinero/Seibel/Cox because it was publicly available so that you could review the methodology; Koss is the most knowledgeable person in the US on sexual assault, so MRAs tend to automatically dismiss her as a crank, which means I usually get better results if I avoid citing her.

      If you want another public source, how about:

      “The present study investigated the psychological aftermath of sexual assault in a probability sample of university women, with an emphasis on how various aspects of a victim’s lifetime sexual assault history and their relationship with their assailant(s) mediate posttraumatic recovery. Victims were almost twice as likely as nonvictims to meet given criteria for a psychiatric case. Surprisingly, date rape victims were as distressed as victims of chronic childhood assault, possibly because of the ambiguous nature of the assault circumstance. Also, repeated victimization was related to denial, a symptom of posttraumatic stress. Denial was discussed in regard to the likelihood of its increasing the risk of revictimization.”

      Roth, Susan, Kathy Wayland, and Mary Woolsey. “Victimization History and Victim-Assailant Relationship as Factors in Recovery from Sexual Assault.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 3, no. 1 (1990): 169–180.

  45. Valkyrie Ziege says:

    ; A well thought out article, thank you.
    There is, also, the problem in relationships, on every level, of women approaching an encounter who believe romance novels, and men who believe “porn”.
    Either side isn’t thinking rationally, and it leads to tragedy. There are sexual encounters which are sadly inept, which don’t qualify as “rape”, it qualifies as a learning experience, on what sort of person to avoid in the future. What you see in the movies/television is carefully choreographed, taking several days to get on video/film/photos, and then to edit into a cohesive series of images.

    Forgiveness, as is necessary for intellectual growth, begins with forgiving yourself for not reading the signs that the person you encountered isn’t a decent human-being, and, perhaps, you should inform others around you that that person, as the old song goes, “is a must to avoid”, or as the modern saying goes “If you see something, say something”, although, please temper it with reason, e.g., Are you angry because you like the person, and they don’t like you?

    Don’t abuse power, especially the new found power of “MeToo”, because it makes you the same as the person who abused you, and, again, will lead to tragedy. Seeking revenge is a prison that stops the learning process, and will put your life in an endless cul-de-sac of chasing yourself in non-productive circles.

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