As many will know (and some won’t), this past week several well-known young men in a NYC-based literary movement were accused of rape by women within the same scene. The undercurrents of gender bias within the movement had been a source of contention for some time, and this week’s events have led to ostracization (or self-exile) of the accused, and the closing of two significant online journals as relations between implicated editorial staff fell apart.
I began this as a comment on a friend’s Facebook post, before thinking it was too long and I should just post it on my own feed, and then thinking it was so long I should just post it here. It’s not really the kind of thing I’ve ever used this blog for, but the fact is that I’ve been thinking about this stuff so much this week that it’s actually been difficult at times to think about anything else. And that feels to me like gchatus material.
So, first, this (which you sort of have to read for the next bit to make sense): http://www.hobartpulp.com/web_features/an-open-letter-to-the-internet
The article I’m linking to offers a female perspective that questions everyone involved, both the men who’ve come under fire and the women who have stepped forward. It’s a really interesting piece, and I’m glad I read it. I found myself disagreeing throughout — but not because I didn’t see Ellen’s point on the questionable nature of these accusations.
In fact, the article made me realize that I had been aware of that nuance all along. For me, I hadn’t been as concerned about all this on behalf of the women involved (which is, I realize, weirdly problematic) as I have been just really angry at the men involved. All this stuff concerns levels of intimacy and communication that can be really difficult to navigate (which is one of Ellen’s main points), but I suppose I’m making the assumption that these men are parts of social communities that, if they’ve been paying attention, should be making them at least a little more sensitive to their own power.
Perhaps not sensitive enough to do the right thing 100% of the time (or even some low percentage of the time), but to be self-aware enough not to publish books detailing the abuse they have inflicted on women under the guise of fiction, without any kind of attempt at real-world reconciliation with the women in question. Self-aware enough not to be, in some cases, quite egregious repeat offenders. Self-aware enough not to use their positions of power to encourage discourse through journals, forums and websites that continued to exclude non-white, non-male points of view on issues of gender and representation as these allegations came to light.
This article made me realize that for me, it’s not about whether or not these women were raped, or if these men are rapists. It’s about some kind of baseline standard for men who don’t have to be perfect, but are in positions of such extreme cultural and educational privilege that I feel comfortable assuming they should know better.
And maybe that’s a tough standard for some 23-year old kid in the middle of the NYC social scene to live up to — I was there once, and it’s a fucked-up place, and I was not a very nice person when I was in it. Perhaps I wasn’t a horrible person in quite the same way, or to the same degree — but as Ellen says, the degree of this stuff is what it’s all about.
But I also think that the language being used here about how these men’s lives are ruined is hyperbolic, and symptomatic of alt lit’s tendency to put its more preeminent members under a microscope. Thus far, this has been about public shaming, rather than out-and-out destruction of another person’s ability to live and function. No one has talked about bringing anyone up on charges. This seems to be more of a discussion about how we treat each other, rather than how we get each other arrested — and I’m pretty sure it will stay that way.
I will cede that the lives of everyone involved are likely to be quite changed, at least for a little while, in light of these accusations. But not forever (or even for the 23-year-old’s version of forever, which in my experience means “what if people hate me until I’m 30?”)
But outside of bankruptcy, disease, and natural disasters, it’s pretty hard to permanently ruin the life of any well-educated first-world young man. Things will get ugly for awhile for them — maybe a long while. And then they will probably get less ugly. And maybe that needs to happen for those men to change.