I don’t believe Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kayleigh McEnany, or Ivanka Trump. I don’t believe Judge Jeanine, Marsha Blackburn, Laura Ingraham, Susan Sarandon, the woman on Fox & Friends, or Jill Stein. Ann Coulter’s veracity is always suspect, as is Michele Bachman’s, and Ronna McDaniel is just plain ridiculous. Remember Sarah Palin? She saw Russia from her kitchen. And that’s just women in media and politics. I also don’t believe the PTA mom who told me vaccines made her son autistic, the nun who said I’d go to hell for having impure thoughts, or the cultist who insisted I had body thetans that threatened her life.
I didn’t believe the actress who exaggerated and sexualized every foible of every man in our theater production to the detriment of the entire company. I didn’t believe my former co-worker who claimed black men broke into the bar to assault her and steal the till before she admitted making it up. I was stunned to learn that a friend who’d claimed she’d been a victim of long-term paternal incest had created the story out of whole cloth.
I don’t believe all women.
I do, however, believe most women. On most things, certainly issues of sexual impropriety and body autonomy. That includes Lucy Flores, Anita Hill, Gretchen Carlson, Monica Lewinsky, E. Jean Carroll, all Weinstein’s victims, and every woman who’s alleged sexual assault by Donald Trump. I certainly believe women I know personally who’ve experienced rape, assault, harassment, inappropriate touching, or sexual abuse. My own ordeals in the arena inform me that most women don’t lie, don’t use the most painful, hideous experiences that can be inflicted on a woman for personal or political currency.
My believing or not believing women (or men, for that matter) is determined by my ability to discern. To listen, assess facts, and make judgments based on behaviors, demeanor, expressed agendas, and prior actions. Much like juries in a trial, particularly in “he say/she say” cases, I note how the persons involved present themselves, their stories, their truthfulness and consistency. I pay attention and come to conclusions based on perceptions, gut reactions, and common sense. If we’re smart, we put aside our biases, politics and prejudices, to judge as objectively and fairly as possible in each individual case. I well remember the agony of having to accept that Bill Clinton, a man I’d voted for twice, behaved very badly in office.
But to base belief solely on gender without application of discernment would be to deny intelligence and rightness, which would insult the gravity and importance of an important movement. Despite lazy thinking from select journalists, political partisans, and those who want to weaponize #MeToo to suit their agendas, anyone with a working set of brain cells, an awareness of human nature, and an appetite for fairness knows this is true.
And #MeToo is an important movement. An essential movement. It’s also a new enough movement that it’s subject to evolution, to some clarification of terms, intent, and rationality. We’re watching that unfold right now, as some with very active agendas and opinions assert that anyone questioning Tara Reade’s claims against Joe Biden is not only politically motivated, but betraying the #MeToo movement. Some even insist that the very act of seeking discernment in this case “could potentially signal the end of MeToo,” (hyperbole from Stanford University law professor, Michele Dauber), or “damage #MeToo,” as journalist Arwa Mahdawi of The Guardian posits.
Yet questioning and investigating allegations is not only not a dismissal of #MeToo, it should be its standard operating procedure. Truth matters. As does the earned credibility of determining truth with clarity and an absence of knee-jerk acquiescence.The only way to damage #MeToo is to either blindly sanction allegations without proper vetting, or allow it to become a weapon for those with political, personal, or professional agendas. Given the fierce push of Reade’s allegations by many in the Trump and Sanders’ camps, as well as some in the media who exhibit clear bias, one suspects “agenda” is firmly in play. Recently, Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist, Lyz Lenz, took to The Washington Post to suggest that Biden, who she criticizes in her piece, step down, basically nullifying the outcome of the Democratic primary based on one unproven allegation that he’s adamantly denied. Is that really what #MeToo should be about?
As for its mandate — “Believe women” — let’s pull that apart a bit:
The intent of “Believe Women” was always clear to me: In a patriarchal society where women have historically been considered and treated like second class citizens, diminished and demeaned over centuries of limitation, bias, and discrimination, the notion of granting them belief as a default spoke volumes. It didn’t mean, “Believe everything every woman says without discernment or facts.” It meant “don’t blindly dismiss.” It meant listen without prejudice, investigate with respectful objectivity, determine based on evidence and truthfulness, not presuppositions or discriminatory opinions.
Alyssa Milano, who’s been pilloried for daring to question Reade while continuing to support Biden, echoed my own opinion in her response to those castigating her for “#MeToo hypocrisy”:
“Believing women was never about ‘Believe all women no matter what they say,’ it was about changing the culture of NOT believing women by default. It was about ending the patriarchy’s dangerous drive for self-preservation at all costs, victims be damned.”
Consider it, too, in this light: When #BlackLivesMatter first hit the zeitgeist with its assertive message, many people got confused and responded with, “But don’t all lives matter?” To which my dear friend and #BLM activist, Regina, responded, “Of course they do, but in our case we actually have to make the point!”
Believing women enough to take their words seriously should also be a given, but we, too, have to actually make the point. Perhaps a more accurate phrase would have been, “Listen and respond to women without preconception and bias,” but that wouldn’t have fit as well on a banner.
And the demand to “believe women” was needed to shake off the noxious defaults of those who might ask, “What were you wearing?” or “Were you drinking?” or “Did you flirt with him?” Or offer blithe dismissals like, “Boys will be boys” or “It’s just locker room talk.” Or tip the scales so football captains stayed on the field while raped cheerleaders left school in shame, or CEOs got wrist slaps while harassed secretaries were demoted to lower floors, or serial predators became president while over twenty-five assaulted women languished in legal purgatory.
But while “believe women” sets a standard, it does not mean that ALL women, ALL allegations, ALL circumstances are equal and interchangeable, requiring no unique, specific investigative judgment based on the particulars of that unique case, that unique woman, that unique circumstance. To believe that would be unintelligent. To presume so would be discriminatory. To proceed as if that’s true would be a generification of each and every woman’s unique experience.
Christine Blasey Ford is not interchangeable with Tara Reade. Nor is Anita Hill. Nor is any other woman. Each case comes with its own set of facts, each woman with her own experiences, states of being, background, agenda, and veracity. As does each situation and each involved man. Neither Joe Biden, Clarence Thomas, or Brett Kavanaugh came to the table with equal or even comparable degrees of public exposure, prior vetting, or personal baggage. Each scenario was (and is) unique in all aspects, and to conflate them, as many are at this freighted moment, is not only folly, but deflective and inappropriate.
I’m not going to parse Tara Reade’s allegations here, her believability, or her potential political or personal motives. All have been, and continue to be, investigated, analyzed, and prodigiously covered by countless people on all sides. I have done much reading on it, from many different angles, and have come to my own gut sense of what resonates as true. I‘m sure you’ll do the same without any push from me.
But what I will conclude with is this statement with which I agree, offered by former prosecutor, Michael J. Stern in USA Today:
“We can support the #MeToo movement and not support allegations of sexual assault that do not ring true. If these two positions cannot coexist, the movement is no more than a hit squad. That’s not how I see the #MeToo movement. It’s too important, for too many victims of sexual assault and their allies, to be no more than that.”
I will always be on the side of what “rings true,” the side of both courageous truth-tellers and courageous truth-seekers… no matter what gender.
That’s not “betraying” #MeToo. That’s not hypocrisy. That’s not “destroying the movement” or “shaming victims.” That’s being a discerning, responsible adult. If you believe otherwise, please check your own agenda.
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