I was chatting with some friends this morning about parenting and kids and how do you get a teenager to go to school if she refuses to go. One friend said “don’t you think it’s part of young people being lazy and entitled these days? Like all these people are still living at home forever and how do parents get them out of the house?” And, as a Sociologist, my response was something like “As a sociologist (I say that a lot, apparently), I’m less interested in blaming individuals but rather at looking at the bigger context. The reality is that housing prices have been skyrocketing year over year while wages have been stagnating. My students are struggling to get permanent jobs and often get repeated contracts. If they want to work at McDonald’s, they’ll be earning what $15,000? $20,000 per year? How are they supposed to survive on that? But at the same time that life is harder, we have more screens to numb us out to help us avoid doing what we gotta do. I mean last night, I had my nose to my phone debating this Louis CK business while the baby was splashing in the bath. We’re living in an environment that is being engineered to profit off the worst of human nature.” The worst of human nature being our desire to pursue the path of least resistance and to do what feels the safest or most comfortable, I guess.
As I was driving home, I started to think about this idea of millennials being entitled and I’ve been obsessively thinking about the Louis CK letter and the cascading flow of revelations of powerful men abusing women and men, girls and boys, for their own jollies. It’s been exhilarating in the sense of being like holy shit, someone has just pulled this veil off of what we all knew was true, thank you for revealing the truth… but also like, oh my God it’s what we all knew was true, I’m not sure I can handle all of this truth. I feel so raw lately. I’m also just trying to figure out why this is happening now. I mean, obviously, there’s the pussy grabbing faux-President-unelected, and I credit a lot of this to the #metoo where survivors are being emboldened to share their stories. The pen truly has become mightier than the sword. However, I started to think that maybe it’s not coincidental that this is happening in what a lot of people consider an age of entitlement.
When I first saw the Louis CK letter I thought, wow, that’s excellent! He’s admitting it. He’s saying he did it. Now the women don’t have to get dragged through the mud and go through court having to prove that it wasn’t their fault. Gee golly, if every man did this, wouldn’t it be great. I never thought the letter excused the behavior or gave him a pass to have his image restored. Personally, I actually never really liked his comedy but felt supremely uncool that I wasn’t into him. He made me uncomfortable, I felt this kind of aggressiveness in his humor. He reminded me of a former cool guy colleague who bragged about making Dora the Explorer rape jokes in his classes. I felt uncool for having feelings, for cringing, for being “triggered.” But I thought, at least, he’s not gaslighting us, what a gift that is at least.
And then I shared this idea on the Facebook page of a man who thought the letter was total bullshit and on the Facebook page of a woman who felt more like me, in the “at least he’s not _______.” And then I got schooled. I got schooled on the facts that:
1.) he never apologized to the women he hurt
2.) he did way worse than what he cops to
3.) he worked for at least five years to gaslight these and many more women, and is still doing that,
4.) the letter itself is self-congratulatory,
5.) he uncritically justifies his behaviour by saying that he didn’t know it was problematic for someone in power to ask someone with less power in a work relationship if he could show them his bits, but now he does, so #sorrynotsorry, and (I would add)
6.) he used the word “dick” in his letter more than the word “sorry” (statistically, the ratio was 2:0)
The friends and people who liked the letter, like me, were like, hey, he took responsibility that’s SOOO much better than the pussy-grabber in chief or Gian Ghomeshi’s letter calling his accusers liars, or Kevin Spacy throwing the GLBT community under the bus as an excuse, or Bill Cosby or the 150 million other fucking predators being currently called out.
And, then, I got schooled by people saying, WTF?!? Is this the bar now? The bar is that men should get praised when they sort of half-way admit to the stuff they got caught for? And I was like… maybe? I dunno… I started to backtrack on my posts.
Then, I went out to eat with my 13 year old son for some special Mom and middle son time and over french fries and diet cokes, I said “You know what enthusiastic consent is right?” and he rolled his eyes and said “Yes, you’ve only been talking about this since I was a baby.” and I said, “I know but just imagine if I hadn’t taught you this and you ruined your own life by ruining other people’s lives.” And he said “Who doesn’t know that?” And I was like, OH YEAH! Who doesn’t know that if you’re someone’s boss, it’s NEVER appropriate to be like “Hey, so, this work is all great, I’m really glad you joined the team, and, oh, by the way, mind if I just unzip my pants?” Like, WHO DOESN’T GET THAT? Sexual predators, that’s who.
And yet, my first instinct and the instincts of many I saw on Facebook was to say “oh, yay! He admitted it!” as if that was enough. It is NOT enough. It’s not even close to enough. We are ALL entitled to work in places where we don’t have to worry about our bosses or our colleagues ruining our careers if we don’t give them our bodies. We are entitled to jobs that don’t degrade us and make us small. We are entitled to be paid for our work without the expectation that we owe someone something more than our hard work in return. His letter changes none of that.
Creepy sexual predators have been allowed to thrive in Hollywood and in politics and everywhere for a really long fucking time. It was over 25 years ago that Anita Hill told us about another sexual predator who went on to become a useless Supreme Court justice. Powerful white men have long believed they were entitled to live in a world of ease and comfort in which they got to do what they wanted without having to be bothered with how it might affect others. If we didn’t like their jokes, we were “triggered” and not smart enough to get it and definitely not cool for having feelings. We’ve excused predatory behavior by assuming the best in the predator, not wanting to ruin their lives, and believing them when they said they didn’t know any any better and they promise never to do it again. I have seen posts suggesting that we need to immediately forgive and forget because none of us are perfect. As though humility at recognizing our own sins means that we can’t hold each other to any basic standards of human decency. Forgive the rapist his rape so we can be forgiven when we let slip an untoward joke.
In my chat with my friends we were talking about how we get our kids to behave so that they can be successful, I somehow blurted out that I believe my role as a mother is (1) to love my children unconditionally, (2) to learn from my children, and (3) to teach my children; in that order. I read #2 somewhere a while ago and often forget it, but these days the truth of that is becoming increasingly clear. What seems to me to have changed in 2017 is not the rise to power of sexual predators, but the rise to power of rightfully entitled young women and people of color. These people are saying outloud on Twitter and on Facebook and in Town Halls and in the streets and at the ballot box that we are all entitled to be treated with respect every damn day and no one gets a pass to be an asshole. As shown in this week’s election results, these people are definitely not lazy and they are not expecting anything to be handed to them. They are working their asses off and are unwilling to settle for less than what we all are actually entitled to expect.