“Then tell Wind and Fire where to stop,” returned madame; “but don’t tell me.” - Madame Defarge, A Tale of Two Cities
I fear simple-mindedness may cause us to fumble the opportunity for a true reckoning with sexual harassment, exploitation and violence in America. Powerful men who thought themselves invincible have begun to fall and you can feel the earth tremble as others, not yet unmasked, shift uneasily on their thrones.
But already the right has begun to exploit the left’s self-conscious earnestness and its tendency to allow self-righteousness to outrun discernment. We are inundated with hyperventilating “think pieces” that embrace a reflexive moral flattening so that a bawdy joke and molesting an 8th grader fall into the same category of misconduct. We shuffle us closer to Trump and Moore’s only defense: If everyone is a criminal, then no one is.
As a woman, I have seen victims of sexual harassment and violence be mocked, shamed, dismissed, and dehumanized my whole life. It is clear judging from posts I see on social media even in this breakthrough moment that those techniques aren’t going away.
As a Black woman, I know the long history of the status quo weaponizing accusations of sexual misconduct to derail leaders and incite racial violence. Emmitt Till is simply the most famous case, not nearly the only or most recent.
As a lesbian, I know the speed with which attackers of gay men and trans women in particular have justified their violence by the implication of an unwanted sexual overture. My point is this: Let us be unflinching and wise.
All accusers deserve their charges to be taken seriously and not dismissed or minimized. All accused deserve the opportunity to respond to the charges.
“Trust women” isn’t a cry for pitchforks and torches.
In the unleashed and righteous fury of this moment, discernment is beginning to gasp for air. It is possible, in fact necessary, to say “trust women” and also support a rational process for the accused. Take all charges seriously. Investigate honestly. Hold accountable regardless of station. Let this be a massive movement for justice that uproots the scourge of sexual abuse.
But let us take care not to be manipulated into turning a movement into a mob unable to discern what justice is.