No, Claire Berlinski: #MeToo Isn’t Going Too Far

Not when there are restaurant rape rooms and Louis C.K. is just fine.

Give your little girl a mango, Louis.

I can’t keep up, so I won’t. By the time this is published, we may be in the post-post-post-Weinstein era, so if this feels like ancient history to you, I apologize. Some folks are in quite the hurry to make this #MeToo era ancient history. No doubt Harvey Weinstein is.

Before the countless sexual assault allegations, Weinstein wanted to be remembered for the films he produced. Well, he certainly will be remembered. His name may be sanded off every project he ever worked on, but it seems likely that his name will stick around. As of this writing, he’s still the definitive monster. He’s also a unit of measure: I recently found myself describing something that I experienced as “not being at the Weinstein level.”

But even as we are still — still — finding out just how extensive were Weinstein’s efforts to keep doing exactly what he felt like doing, the question “What about the backlash?” keeps popping up. On Dec. 6, Claire Berlinski’s essay “Warlock Hunt” began to bounce around my Facebook feed. It was posted there by a couple of men (including one I admired — a lot) who wanted people to really consider it, to read every paragraph. Because in some people’s minds, we’re already Going Too Far with our response to revelations of sexual assault.

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I noticed that “Warlock Hunt” was liked mostly by men, though there were some women, too. One person even called the man who posted the article “my hero.” Berlinski, a freelance journalist, worries that we’re entering another era of hysteria and amped-up moral panic. (Someone dryly asked if the US is ever not in an era of hysteria. Answer: probably not.) This time, it will be against men. Therefore: a “warlock hunt.”

To be fair, Berlinski acknowledges the pain of sexual assault and lays claim to the #MeToo hashtag, too. She writes about how she wasn’t bothered by a professor groping her, how she will mourn the day when she can no longer to take advantage of her sexuality to get information from male sources.

But what she’s really worried about is the men.

“It now takes only one accusation to destroy a man’s life,” she writes. “Just one for him to be tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion, overnight costing him his livelihood and social respectability. We are on a frenzied extrajudicial warlock hunt that does not pause to parse the difference between rape and stupidity.”

Or not. On her list of “one accusation” victims, Berlinski doesn’t cite Adam Venit. A high-powered agent who runs the motion-picture division at William Morris Endeavor (WME), it is alleged that Venit sexually assaulted Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor Terry Crews at a party in Hollywood. More than a year after it happened, after Crews publicly named him, Venit received a month-long suspension and a demotion. By late November, he was back at work.

Crews is a six-foot-three, 240-pound former NFL player, and African American. Venit is a white man and five-foot-seven. In an interview with NPR, Crews explained why he didn’t retaliate when Vernit squeezed him by the genitals at Adam Sandler’s party:

…you’re talking about a country where a little kid is walking with a pack of Skittles and gets harassed by a man and the kid ends up dead, and the harasser is still walking around free.

Berlinski has presumably heard of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. But Crews’ point of view is presumably something that Berlinski hasn’t, or won’t, consider: that sexual assault and harassment can be, and is often, intersectional; that harassers are supported and nurtured by a hierarchy of racism, misogyny, homophobia and economic privilege. Yes, Crews could have slammed Venit to the floor. But in a moment in which he was in pain and shock, he managed to imagine the consequences. He managed to imagine the headline:

240 lbs. Black Man Stomps Out Hollywood Honcho

So he quickly left the party. He was assured that something substantive would be done about Venit’s behavior. Something substantive was not done about Venit’s behavior.

Like many assault victims, Crews avoided places and events where he might run into his attacker. It undoubtedly affected his career. Unhappy with WME’s response — which seems to regard predatory behavior as a minor glitch in Venit’s career, not indications that WME needed to fix its broken system — Crews decided to sue both Venit and WME.

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Now let’s talk about someone who Berlinski does mention: Louis C.K. She gives him a pretty wide berth: “I grew up around performing artists, so perhaps my view is jaundiced.” She blames women comedians who, she says, should have known better than to, y’know, enter C.K.’s hotel room and expect anything other than C.K. offering to masturbate and then doing so. Didn’t they listen to his stand-up when he talked about jerking off?

This reminds me of how people used to talk about “bad neighborhoods”: how dare women walk through them! Only now, instead of getting mugged, you get … masturbated at? Just what were those women comedians doing there, anyway? Shouldn’t they be home, letting their careers wither? It’s the epitome of victim-blaming.

Berlinski’s apologia suggests that C.K. could only have one persona — Creepy Guy — both onstage and off. She forgets that C.K. just as clearly marketed himself as a Sensitive 21st Century Dad, one who might give his 6-year-old daughter, Mary Louise, on-screen credit for the idea for “Duckling,” one of the most wrenching TV episodes I’ve ever seen. Didn’t C.K. weep on a Marc Maron podcast while discussing the birth of one of his daughters? Oh, I’ll admit it: pre-Weinstein, I cried while listening to it. So, based on my experience with C.K.’s art and offstage persona, if I’d gone to his hotel room, I’d have expected to see him masterfully cut a mango into a popsicle and offer it to his child.

Another point about Berlinski’s fear-mongering for men’s careers: C.K. can’t be suffering that much if he has $5 million lying around to buy back the global rights to his film I Love You, Daddy. And he hasn’t begun his apology tour yet; you know it’s coming. No, his life doesn’t seem so “destroyed” to me. Which will be good news for the women who sue him for sexual assault.

And one man.

For C.K. did something else onstage, besides talk about jerking off: he allegedly called the musician Kenny Mellman (“Herb” of Kiki and Herb) a “faggot piano player” as he introduced Mellman at the Aspen Comedy Festival. This was not some dramatic collaboration between artists: Mellman didn’t know it was coming. It wasn’t even in C.K.’s act. It was something C.K. felt like doing because he could.

Because he could.

Because, in C.K.’s mind, the stage wasn’t Mellman’s. Because it was his. Because it was his hotel room. Because it was his world.

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And while it might not be C.K.’s time anymore, it’s still a world for his spiritual kin to hold and to defend. It’s still a world in which a popular NYC restaurant empire has enough real estate, cash flow and toxicity to have a Rape Room. The creators, users and enablers of the Rape Room have already served up one of those standard, second-person, passive-voice apologies, with a side of “leave of absence.”

Their victims weren’t famous. They didn’t work at a media company. They were service employees. They likely haven’t the money to sue the crap out of those who raped them, who hurt them. Maybe C.K. could skip buying back his movie and pay for that.

Or is that Going Too Far? You’d better ask someone like Berlinski. She might even give C.K. a discount on his restitution if his sexual-assault jokes are funny enough.

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support. — Audre Lorde