Back in 2018, novelist and nonfiction writer Daphne Merkin wrote in the New York Times about how #metoo and the fight against harassment are bad. Of course she’s not defending bad people like Matt Lauer or Harvey Weinstein, but in lots of other cases — Garrison Keillor, Al Franken — “the accusations are scattered, anonymous or, as far as the public knows, very vague and unspecific, has been troubling.”
The accusations against Franken and Keillor weren’t anonymous or vague (MPR detailed the Keillor allegations a couple of weeks later). It’s a large jump from Merkin not knowing the details or names to assuming this must have been a smear campaign (as Vox points out, Keillor and other alleged harassers got more due process than most fired employees). Merkin claims lots of women she knows suffer “social intimidation” — they don’t agree with some of the firings but they don’t want to face criticism for saying so publicly. Why, then, does Merkin find it strange that women accusing powerful men don’t want their names given to the public?
As proof this has “gone too far” she cites a couple of twentysomething feminists who wanted the Metropolitan Museum of Art to take down a painting of a tween girl that they deemed offensive. That’s a slight exaggeration: their petition said they’d be satisfied if the exhibit simply put the painting in context (the artist had a rep for an unhealthy interest in teen girls). I have no opinion on the debate but I do think Merkin’s distorting it.
I wrote about her piece in the harassment chapter of Undead Sexual Clichés but glancing over her op-ed this past week I saw a line I’d somehow missed before: “Stripping sex of eros isn’t the solution. Nor is calling out individual offenders, one by one. We need a broader and more thoroughgoing overhaul, one that begins with the way we bring up our sons and daughters.”
Merkin literally said she doesn’t think we should act against individual harassers (excepting, presumably, alpha predators like Weinstein and Lauer). Instead we have to wait until what, we have transformed society? Raised an entire generation that respects the other gender? And in the meantime women (and the occasional male victim) should just suck it up?
Don’t get me wrong, changing the culture is important, but in the short term we do need to punish individual offenders one by one. It reduces their chance to harass (assuming they’re not simply rehired). It sends a message that discourages other predators, which can change the culture. And because in many cases, it’s the just thing to do. Merkin’s approach is the equivalent of shrugging and muttering “thoughts and prayers” over the latest mass shooting. It’s appalling.