As the Harvey Weinstein story continues to ripple outwards, the articles about the souring of our culture, particularly the souring of male-female relations, have flooded my newsfeed. (If you haven’t been following the story, don’t bother: All you need to know is that a man in Hollywood took advantage of a number of aspiring actresses in the most abhorrent way.)
One effect of this scandal has been the appearance of #metoo across social media. A number of my friends and acquaintances (mostly women, but some men as well) have put up the hashtag, many admitting publicly for the first time that they have dealt with some form of harassment or worse.
As I scrolled Facebook the day the hashtag peaked, I wondered whether it applied to me. Two cases quickly came to mind, later a third … a fourth … a fifth … But all of them were so minor: guys, or even boys saying rude things that I didn’t for a moment take seriously. And it seemed to me that it would be presumptuous, unhelpful, and ultimately untrue to type #metoo for a merely sassy remark when so many people have suffered truly serious injuries.
Of course, some would insist that these days even snark and sass need to be called out. And it is true that language can be abusive, a sort of gateway drug to violence in a culture desperate for healing. But then again, “pretty and smart” hardly rises to the level of abuse, any more than (in Shakespeare’s in Much Ado About Nothing) Benedick’s sneering at “My Lady Disdain” is cause for Beatrice to demand a duel. There is a difference between harmless dumb jokes or rapier-like wit—and harassment.