Michael Douglas, #metoo, and Frontier Justice

A non-tango post.

These are all just my thoughts and observations. I believe discourse - thoughtful, measured discourse, is very important in this movement. I'm not trying to force anyone to think any particular way - only to consider thinking about things from more than one way.

I can't say Hateful Eight is a movie I enjoyed, but its discourse on crime and punishment is certainly interesting.


Oswaldo Mobray: [lecturing Daisy] "John Ruth wants to take you back to Red Rock to stand trial for murder. And, if... you're found guilty, the people of Red Rock will hang you in the town square. And as the hangman, I will perform the execution. And if all those things end up taking place, that's what civilized society calls "justice". However, if the relatives and the loved ones of the person you murdered were outside that door right now. And after busting down that door, they drug you out in the snow and hung you up by the neck, that, we would be frontier justice. Now the good part about frontier justice, is it's very thirst quenching. The bad part is it's apt to wrong as right!"  --Hateful Eight, 2015

Michael Douglas has been accused of sexual misconduct. You can read his thought-provoking interview here as he tries to get ahead of the narrative. He admits to the lesser accusations of "colorful" or "raunchy" language used in front of her in conversations with other people (not directed at her.) What he denies vehemently, is masturbating in front of her.


Did he do it? I don't know. Do I automatically believe his narrative? No. But the problem is, I don't automatically believe her narrative either. There is simply not enough information to decide that. Nor do I believe that it is my personal place to decide that. I believe it should be okay to say, I really don't know. But our current environment often discourages skepticism. I am instead encouraged to believe all women. In fact, there are those who think a few innocent casualties of false accusations are an acceptable price to pay.


Should I still believe all women, when it is the woman who is accused?


If it's true, should the person be tried simply in the court of public opinion with no expectation of some kind of process?

That idea, that the accusation is enough to warrant punishment, is frontier justice. And that troubles me deeply. I absolutely agree that systems have been in place for decades, even generations, to silence women. They silenced me for years. But is this where we are now? Is this who we are? The accusation alone is enough?


The rush to judge and punish can be so thoroughly satisfying, I won't deny it. There is still a part of me - a tiny grain of rage that I can't quite let go of. That little piece that wants abusers to hurt a little. Maybe more than a little. Sometimes, I'm a little self-satisfied that men are uncomfortable right now. We've been uncomfortable for generations. Maybe it's their turn. Maybe they should all just #smilemore.


There is definitely that voice in me. But that is not who I am. That anger, that righteous indignation does not define me. Because ultimately, it's poison. It creates too many layers of bias for me to think clearly.


Our quickness to judge, to "call for blood", is not the only problem. Every movement, especially as it starts to really gain momentum, has the potential to attract opportunists. It's not like a false accusation is no big deal. We should all remember that false accusations have cost men their lives.
Are false accusations rare? Of course. Who would want to go through that? But it is still real. If we cast an attitude of indifference to the problem that creates, we are undermining the movement itself. It's not like telling our stories just lets us get closure and move on. There are real, livelihood-ending consequences.


Which brings me to another troubling thought. Maybe I'm cynical, but I don't believe companies and organizations are cutting ties with these men because they've suddenly seen the light and want to do the right thing. They are gauging popular opinion and calculating the cost vs. reward of defending the reputation of one person versus a potential reputation boost if they cut him loose. In far too many cases, it looks like popular opinion is deciding the course of action - not any kind of due process.
I'm a realist. I know there's no way to prove something that happened decades ago, likely without any witnesses around. The problem is that there is no way to disprove it, either. Yet the public clamors for action. I agree there should be action. I just think the action should focus a little more on the systems that create, tolerate and hide abuse. Silencing dissenting opinions is especially galling, when the very thing we're talking about is having been forced into silence.


Maybe just slow down. Allow people to disagree. Allow this to be what it is - messy, uncomfortable, complicated, with far too few black-and-white scenarios, and far too many shades of gray.

3 comments:

Juan said...

I tend to agree, however I don't see this issue as simple women against mens, I see as a power issue. Many people use their power to take advantage of others independent of their sex. This have been an issue for many centuries now. It is time to stop. Aan probably this is a good first step.

Mari Johnson said...

Thank you for your comment Juan - I agree it is about power, and that it is not a men against women proposition. I did not mean to imply otherwise. My concern is that we are not very accepting of dissenting opinions on social media especially.

Just see what happened with the actresses who didn't wear black to the Golden Globes to show support for the #timesup movement: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/golden-globes-2018-latest-black-dress-actresses-trolled-not-wear-twitter-blanca-blanco-sexual-a8147656.html Should they be trolled for their dress color? For not being supportive enough? How does trolling them help anyone? It is shaming into compliance - and isn't that exactly what we're fighting?

My concern is not about gender - it is about discourse. It is about slowing down our rush to judge people and situations we are not privy to. If someone accused me of something I would hope those who knew me would give me some benefit of doubt before demanding I be removed from my job. I would hope for some kind of process to defend myself. Wouldn't you?

As it stands, it feels like there is no way forward for someone who gets accused - there is only out. Out of their community. Out of their job. In some cases, out of their families. Maybe that's completely merited - maybe that's exactly what should happen. But me - as random person in the public - should not get to decide that. I'm not on a jury. I just have an opinion. But my opinion translates to dollars in business.

When companies look at their bottom line and damage control - they are basically letting the public decide the fate of the accused.

Steve Morgan said...

Mari, thanks for this. A well reasoned and compassionate look at #metoo. I'm watching this all unfold with a sense of horror, both at the behavior of the men and at the social media excoriation of people I thought were good men, like Al Franken and Garrison Keillor. I believe that the rules of social interaction will change as a result: hopefully the abusive behavior will be no longer tolerated. Hard to watch.