Tag Archives: #MeToo movement

Our Pointless, Vicious, Very American Culture of Shame

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Puritanism’s obsession with guilt and shame, Nathaniel Hawthorne believed, was America’s original sin. We haven’t made much progress since “The Scarlet Letter.”

Do the crime do the time, goes the cliché. In the United States, when the time ends the shaming begins.

It starts when you look for a job. At least 65 million Americans have a felony or misdemeanor criminal record that makes them ineligible to work for the more than 90% of companies who run background checks to weed out applicants with a record. As for the few ex-cons who slip through this electronic dragnet, they are required by shaming laws to tell prospective employers about their checkered past. (Some states have slightly liberalized the requirement with laws like New York’s “Ban the Box” law, which requires disclosure only at the job offer stage.)

The only social benefit to convict-shaming is the shaming itself. “The irony is that employers’ attempts to safeguard the workplace are not only barring many people who pose little to no risk, but they also are compromising public safety. As studies have shown, providing individuals the opportunity for stable employment actually lowers crime recidivism rates and thus increases public safety,” notes a 2011 report by the National Employment Law Project. But capitalism is dog-eat-dog. Each company looks out for itself, society be damned.

I dug into the issue of convict-shaming after an op-ed I wrote for the Wall Street Journal calling for automatic expungement of records of people previously convicted of buying recreational marijuana in amounts that would now be legal prompted a discussion online. Some readers agreed with me that it’s absurd to keep punishing people for acts that are now legal. Others felt that if it was a crime at the time a criminal is still a criminal.

In most countries most employers do not conduct criminal background checks and there is no legal or ethical expectation that ex-cons reveal that they have committed a crime.

A person is convicted, sentenced to prison time and/or to pay a fine, serves the term and coughs up the money. Isn’t there a logical contradiction between release—which assumes an inmate no longer presents a danger to society—and public shaming? I am thinking of one of the most extreme examples of convict-shaming, Megan’s Law. Based on the false assumption that sex offenders have a high rate of recidivism, these statutes require that released inmates register in a database and notify local police and their neighbors of their address.

“What we’ve done,” Radley Balko wrote in The Washington Post in 2017, “is allowed sex offenders to be ‘released’ from prison, but then made it impossible for them to live anything resembling normal lives.” Websites linked to Google Maps allow anyone to check if their neighbor is a convicted sex offender. In some jurisdictions sex offenders are not allowed to reside within a set distance of a school or public park. In 2017 President Obama signed an “international Megan’s Law” that requires sex offenders against children to have the sentence “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor” stamped into their U.S. passports. So much for business travel.

Why such laws are popular is obvious. If a child molester lives down the block, parents want to know.

But vigilantes have used public Megan’s Law registries to locate and murder released sex offenders. In some communities the school and park restrictions are so draconian that there are so few legal places for released sex offenders to live that they’re forced to become homeless in order to comply with the law. All that harassment serves no real purpose except—you guessed it—serving the desire for cheap vengeance. “The [Megan’s Law] registry really didn’t protect kids at all” because “most child sexual abuse takes place in the home” and most of the victims of sex offenders listed in Megan’s Law databases are adults, says criminologist Emily Horowitz, author of Protecting Our Kids?: How Sex Offender Laws Are Failing Us.

To look at it another way: if sex offenders are dangerous, shouldn’t we keep them locked up rather than rely on mere shaming? Megan’s Law can’t stop a child molester from raping a child.

David Brooks of The New York Times has the latest MSM take on what he calls the “Call-Out Culture,” in which self-appointed guardians of identity politics (critics call them “social justice warriors”) swarm those accused of political incorrectness on social media feeds in order to shame, ostracize and demoralize them. “I don’t care if she’s dead, alive, whatever,” a man who went after a young women (ironically in retaliation for cyberbullying) told NPR.

Chinese Internet users have elevated doxxing and social media shaming to a high art called the “human flesh search engine” that costs victims their friends, family associations, jobs and sometimes their lives. But China is an outlier. While the phenomenon exists everywhere anecdotal evidence suggests that online “call-out culture” is neither as sophisticated or widespread in most nations as it is here in the United States.

It’s impossible to discuss shame culture without talking about the #MeToo movement. Criminal prosecution of accused sexual predators like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are exceptions. For the most part #MeToo is a shame-based movement. Sometimes, as in the case of comedian Aziz Ansari’s bad date, shame seems excessive and misplaced. In many cases, the targets seem to have had something coming—since it’s not jail we settle for job loss—and it’s unlikely they would have faced consequences otherwise. Then there are those who-the-hell-knows cases like Louis C.K. where the behavior was weird and pervy and consent is a nebulous issue (he asked, the women involved “laughed it off”).

#MeToo has a mixed record. I can’t help wonder if, for all the shattered careers and former celebrities who now take their meals at home rather than eating out at a fancy restaurant, the victims feel cheated. On the one hand, something finally happened to their tormentors. On the other, shame fades. Trauma is often forever.

Evildoers deserve real punishment. After punishment has been doled out shame is both a poor substitute and counterproductive overkill. But it’s what we’ve got.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How Brett Kavanaugh Framed Himself as a Martyr to the #MeToo Movement

Image result for kavanaugh #metoo protest

Innocent until proven guilty. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell floated a lot of arguments to defend Brett Kavanaugh, but that’s the one that carried the day: “We owe it to the American people to underscore that you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

The Kavanaugh confirmation battle was a grenade wrapped in an onion covered with more poisonous sexual politics than “The World According to Garp.” Yet in the end it was simple. Presumption of innocence was the argument that SWINO (SWing vote In Name Only) Senator Susan Collins used to justify treason to her gender.

“This is not a criminal trial, and I do not believe that claims such as these need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” Collins said, announcing her crucial support for the controversial Supreme Court nominee. “Nevertheless, fairness would dictate that the claims at least should meet a threshold of more likely than not as our standard.”

Once again Democrats asked themselves: what the hell happened? Why did we lose a fight we should have won?

Trump’s defeat of Clinton, Bush v. Gore, the 1940 Fall of France — those were perfect storms with numerous contributing factors. Not this one. Kavanaugh made it to the Supreme Court because his allies framed #MeToo as an out-of-control mob of man-haters.

Remember when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that Kavanaugh tried to rape her in high school first hit the news? Republicans were on their heels at first. Polls showed that a plurality of voters didn’t want him confirmed, the worst showing of any high court nominee since they began asking the question. Then came the one-two punch: Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez said Kavanaugh exposed himself and tried to force her to give him oral sex. Even with a Republican Senate, Kavanaugh was in real trouble.

Anti-Kavanaugh sentiment peaked after the marathon nine-hour hearing in which Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testified about her allegations. A PBS/NPR/Marist poll found that 45% of Americans believed her. Only 33% believed him. If that’s where things had remained nine days later when the Senate voted, Collins and other wobbly GOP senators might have voted nay.

#MeToo came to their rescue.

Nothing unites a party like a common enemy. That goes double when the adversary allows itself to be framed as scary and unreasonable.

As the Kavanaugh vote drew nearer #MeToo activists became increasingly aggressive. They chased senators down hallways, cornered them in elevators, doxxed them and picketed their homes. Ted Cruz was confronted at a restaurant. “We Believe Survivors!” activists shouted as he fled.

Direct tactics hold politicians accountable for their sins. Confronting right-wing senators, none of whom gave a damn about the possibility that they were about to put an attempted rapist on the Supreme Court, going after them one-on-one was empowering for victims of rape and sexual assault and the millions of victims they represented. It was more than fair; it was justified.

But it didn’t turn out to be smart.

The optics and audio of all that yelling were ugly, particularly to Republican-leaning voters. Shouting incoherently — you couldn’t hear what they were saying on TV — during hearings looked rude and hostile. Screaming at elderly senators as they ran down capitol corridors exuded chaos.

They shouted and carried signs bearing the mottos of #MeToo:

Believe survivors.

Believe women.

Such powerful words. Also sloppy. “We are worried as mobs chant, ‘We believe survivors!’ (What if Ford is not truly a ‘survivor’? Don’t we have to establish whether she’s a survivor first?),” Stephanie Gutmann, a Republican, wrote in USA Today.

#MeToo is a kind of revolution. Because revolutions follow years of resentment piled upon eons of abuse, their imperative to destroy what’s broken and evil necessarily leads to intemperance. Nowhere is the revolutionary impulse toward careless imprecision more evident than in rhetoric. So it is with #MeToo — what began with an uprising no reasonable person could oppose, against bonafide monsters like Harvey Weinstein, inevitably cast its net wider into the gray area of Aziz Ansari.

As the targets of #MeToo expanded from the undeniably disgusting to garden-variety piggishness, the slogans of the movement became more militant, more thoughtless, further out on a limb.

Official policy at HR and the local PD had always been “ignore women.” A rational corrective to “ignore women” would be “listen to women.” Accusers deserve respect, to be taken seriously. So do the accused. But revolutions don’t reform the old order. They destroy it.

“Believe women” doesn’t make sense to a society whose core judicial fiction is the presumption of innocence. In America no one, neither men nor women, neither accusers nor the accused, earns the right to be believed by virtue of their gender. Being believed is a zero-sum right, one that inherently comes at the expense of another person and so must be earned by a combination of corroborating evidence, witnesses and the intangible social currency of credibility.

Sensing that #MeToo had overreached, yelling too loudly and deploying slogans that reeked of overcorrection, McConnell and his fellow Republican leaders rallied their party’s base in two steps.

A Supreme Court confirmation hearing usually feels like a job interview. Despite Susan Collins’ denials the Republicans did everything they could to frame Kavanaugh’s as a trial instead, complete with a hired-gun prosecutor from Arizona to provide a veneer of legalishness.

After they’d made the spectacle look and feel like a trial it was easy to convince fence-sitting moderate Republican viewers that to be denied his seat Dr. Ford and her Democratic allies would have to follow the familiar rules of a criminal proceeding: establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, adhering to sharing of evidence (which is why they attacked Dianne Feinstein for withholding Ford’s letter), the burden of proof on her, not him.

Of course, the fix was in. Ford was the one really on trial; she fended off the questions of the rent-a-DA whereas Kavanaugh didn’t have to. It was all so clever. Once Democrats allowed Republicans to set the bar at beyond-a-reasonable-doubt guilt — something the he-said-she-said nature of the 36-year-old allegation made impossible — Kavanaugh was in like Flynn.

Shaunna Thomas of the women’s group UltraViolet Action, said: “This doesn’t end [on Saturday],” she said. “It ends in November.” But not, perhaps, the way she would like. Polls show that Republicans are so energized by their win on Kavanaugh that the Dems’ chance of recapturing the Senate are dropping in part because they’re buying the argument that the #MeToo movement is dangerous. “It’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of,” President Trump said in his memorably illiterate way.

Fair or not, right or wrong, the perception of many men is that #MeToo is willing to sacrifice 100 innocent men in order to end the career of one guilty one. In the same way that the civil rights movement needed white allies in order to succeed, #MeToo needs men not to fear them but to support them.

Whatever happens in the midterm elections, the #MeToo movement has arrived at a tactical crossroads. Should we Believe Women? Or Listen to Everyone?

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)