Yes, I’m going to talk about Lawrence Krauss again. But in a way that I think references a larger problem and to respond to some push-back I’ve been seeing against myself and others that not only defend him online but retain our respect for him – not only as a person, but as the scientist, educator and promoter of rational public policy that he has always been. Twitter is not the best of tools for detailed discussion or for personal revelations. I’ve thought long and hard about whether I even wanted to write this blog, so I’m just going to write it and aside from checking the spelling…I’m not even going to edit it. If I think about it too much, I’m likely to change my mind about what comes next.
Let me get something out of the way. I think the #MeToo movement to end sexual violence and harassment is important. I think that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and equality and is allowed to follow their dreams. But when I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE. #MeToo is not about always believing one side over another. #MeToo is not a blanket hashtag that allows all of us to just abandon reason and critical thinking. We cannot allow ourselves to fall back into a period where simply pointing at someone and declaring them a witch was acceptable. It’s not, it absolutely shameful and does real harm to legitimate victims of serious sexual violence.
Here’s my full disclosure and I guess this is my #MeToo which so few people have ever known, I can count them on one hand. I was sexually assaulted when I was 8 by the grandfather of my best friend, I’ll just call her J. I was over for the afternoon and everyone was outside and he cornered me in her bedroom when I was getting something. At the time, I was really confused by the incident. It was 1978 and frankly, I was pretty naive about it. We didn’t have any kind of sex ed when I was in school and I come from a family that just doesn’t talk about things. Certainly nothing like this. There was never much communication in my family growing up and even less physical displays of affection. I never got any sage advice from my parents, we never had family trips and I don’t recall ever being encouraged in any interests or academically through my life. So, coming to them with what had happened would never have been an option. I could never have talked about it to J and there have never had loads of people in my life that I’ve felt I could confide in, so outside of one other friend and a penpal that I used to have (yes, you once used to actually have to write letters to moderately anonymous people), I pretty much just kept this to myself over the years.
It’s been years since I really allowed myself to think back on it and I wish I’d been confident enough as a child to act. Granted, had I acted, I would not only have lost my friendship with J but it would have torn her family apart. However, I also don’t know if it was an isolated incident or if he actually was a pedophile and that part of it haunts me now. I live in a small city where everyone knows everyone’s business and people absolutely love to gossip and it’s also fairly religious…at least, people love to pay lip service to being religious and more sanctimonious than their neighbours. I’m not entirely sure what would have happened had I acted upon this at the time but I’m not sure it would have been great for anyone involved. I wish I had known where to turn or had those around that perhaps cared just a little more and communicated more effectively to have helped me make a decision. It makes me sad because I think it led to me trust men less during my life. I’ve never dated much, I tend not to socialize a whole lot and I generally don’t let people get too close. People can’t disappoint you that way.
Having said all that, let’s go back to talking about the potential issues of this ‘all or nothing’ #MeToo attitude. Listen, not every form of a man touching a woman is sexual violence and its not even always sexual harassment. You cannot treat every single accusation as cause to run a man out of town on a rail. How does that help real victims of serious assault? Flooding the news cycles and social media day after day with every little claim only makes people tune out. People get exhausted when they are constantly slammed with constant reports when some of them are nothing more than gossip and innuendo.
Let me now address my defense of Professor Krauss and why I will continue to stand by him and any others that I feel are being falsely accused. Even if I were to take most of the accusations against him at total face value…I honestly don’t think they are a big deal. Most of them are ‘this consensual thing went on in his hotel room but it didn’t go anywhere and I left’ or ‘he or he and his wife propositioned me and it was creepy’. There are those who say ‘he touched my leg/back/other innocuous part’ or ‘he made a comment/joke that I thought was offensive’ and I’m waiting for the part where I’m supposed to be outraged by his behaviour, even if all of that was true.
I don’t really do intimacy very well…or at all really. But I do enjoy flirting, especially with those who also enjoy flirting. It’s something that I learned to appreciate as I got older and it can be a whole lot of fun, especially with people you feel comfortable around. But it entails something that I also had to learn as I got older, personal responsibility. Over my years of reading and being involved in politics, it’s a topic that I feel very strongly about. There are a lot of things that we as humans, and citizens of wherever we are have obligations to take personal responsibility for – and one of those is setting our own boundaries.
I have no issues with a man who is flirting with me, getting forward enough to lay a hand on me within what I have determined to be my personal boundaries. So when someone talked about Professor Krauss touching her dress and then her outer thigh I was sitting there just thinking….and? And she stated she had no issues with it at the time and didn’t say anything about it to him at the time. But NOW she’s all “dude, don’t touch me” during the video. Six years after the fact is interesting timing to exclaim your personal boundaries. You know what I do when I’m getting unwanted attention from someone? I tell them. On the spot. It’s something that you do when you are an adult with adult responsibilities. You owe that not only to yourself, but the person who crossed your boundary and the next woman that he encounters. If that person is not aware that he’s done something that he feels is flirtatious and you feel that it’s an issue…just who are you helping by not saying something?
I was too young to know this lesson when my personal boundary was crossed the first time. And when I was old enough to know better, there was nothing to be done about it. J and her family had moved on and so had the grandfather had passed away before I was in high school. But as adults in social settings we should all know this. And I am tired of every woman who feels she’s been wronged or offended by a man, claiming that she’s a victim. You know who the real victims are? The ones that #MeToo should be focusing on? Tarana Burke who founded this said this in a statement after the Time magazine cover announcement:
For too long, survivors of sexual assault and harassment have been in the shadows. We have been afraid to speak up, to say ‘Me Too’ and seek accountability, for many, the consequences of doing so have been devastating.
Men who have been lionized in Hollywood are having to answer for their actions, but what of our most vulnerable communities? In our case, this isn’t a reality show. These are our lives and the Weinsteins have little to do with our wellness. Today’s announcement should be an opportunity to ask ourselves: are we really committed to the hard work of ending sexual violence?
What about young people having to break bread with their abuser at a family gathering year after year, in silence and solitude? What about women of color and transgender people, who struggle to be believed by friends, families and those in power? What about those regularly assaulted by officers of the law, on our streets and in our jails — to they get to say #MeToo as well? Will we listen when they do?
Sexual harassment is nothing to make light of. But a man who touched your thigh once while you were at the bar at a conference? You really think that this is the the sort of thing we should be focused on?
People are MORE than willing to just roll all the men up who have been accused of anything at all and just put them at the margins of society, regardless of what they have contributed to that society or how small the infraction might be. And I find the motives of those driving this narrative to be highly suspect. I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with the massive popularity that someone like Lawrence Krauss holds within the many communities that he is part of. Certainly the fact that having him removed from events and his (probably) lucrative speaking engagements would not at all factor into the fact that some are so willing to believe it and to get others to believe it as well. Certainly, blackballing him as a leading expert that gets called upon to comment on many newsworthy items by news organizations around the world would not perhaps open up spots for others to promote their own work.
Oh no, it’s much easier to just think of him as a predator that likes to act inappropriately around women or that he has some sort of deviant behaviour issue and he’s just not safe to be around. That he’s a “creep”. You know what makes a guy a “creep”? When he does something that is not ok by you, you tell him to stop and he doesn’t. I see none of that in Lawrence’s behaviour. And I see no one claiming that either.
I was recently asked if I still trusted him, since I have been among the women calling for those who have read the article to actually critically assess the claims. And yes, I do. I have heard absolutely nothing that would change my opinion of him. I still respect his work, would travel to see him speak and would socialize with him afterwards. And it wouldn’t matter if that socializing was in a conference hall, a bar or a hotel room. Because nothing that he has even been accused of would lead me to believe that if either of us in whatever setting we were in, were to cross anyone’s boundaries…that would be it. There is nothing outside of the unsubstantiated claims made by that article that would lead me to believe otherwise. He and his wife are even both free to proposition me if they want. I might be into that, and I might not. But if I said no, pretty sure life would just move on.
Flirting is not illegal or immoral. Whisper networks and gossip are like a game of telephone…things get distorted as you pass them around. None of that is evidence that anyone has done something wrong and neither is an article filled with nothing but rumour. You can keep tweeting stupid accusations and push back at me all you want.
None of us should stand alone. We, as humans, are stronger together. We all deserve respect and while we should support those who speak out, we need to bear in mind that with the escalating accusations there will be those who are accused falsely. We need to be able to really look at what is being said all allow ourselves to exercise reason and compassion on all sides. We cannot destroy lives and careers in the rush to judgement.