A few months ago, I rather flippantly wrote in a column, “never trust a male feminist,” and hurt some nice men’s feelings. It looks like I was on to something. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who had a great public record as a feminist supporter, resigned last night after The New Yorker published on its website an exposé by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow in which four women, two willing to use their names, accused him of shocking physical and emotional abuse. Slapping, choking, insults—including racist ones—controlling behavior of all sorts. This is the man who, among many other good deeds, as a state senator introduced the Strangulation Prevention Act, raising the penalties for choking, a common form of male abuse of women, and as attorney general filed a lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein and—irony of ironies—tweeted congratulations to New York Times and New Yorker reporters who won a Pulitzer for their coverage of #MeToo. Hypocrisy? Some sort of Jekyll-Hyde level of dissociation?
Here’s a handy timeline that matches up Schneiderman’s public and private lives.
Now comes the part where Republicans crow—“Gotcha,” Kellyanne Conway tweeted—while Democrats point out that Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo got rid of Schneiderman within hours but that Eric Greitens, the Republican governor of Missouri credibly accused of sexual assault and blackmail, is still in office—to say nothing of Trump, the self-confessed pussygrabber accused of harassment by over a dozen women. On the whole, since the advent of #MeToo (although not so much before), the Democratic Party has had an edge when it comes to swiftly punishing transgressors. Establishing no-tolerance as the norm was what pushing out Al Franken was all about.
The history of #MeToo, though, makes clear that neither party has a monopoly on men who behave atrociously to women. How simple life would be if only conservatives, or liberals—or whites or persons of color, or rich or poor or machos or milquetoasts—were abusers. In fact, though, the only thing one can say with assurance is that they’re men. Yes, I know women can be abusers, and I know some men are great, but at the moment #NotAllMen is looking more like a wish than a declarative statement.
The truth is we have no idea how common harassment and abuse are, even the very serious abuse of the Weinstein and Schneiderman order, which we’d like to think is rare but maybe is not so much. And we don’t have much of an idea about what to do about it either, beyond revamping our entire society to raise men so differently that they don’t even think of abusing women, and raise women so differently that they refuse to endure it. Meanwhile, in this world, it’s hard to tell the lions from the lambs.
I have no answers. But here’s what I’m going to do: Vote for women. Support women. Protect women. Believe women.