Person of the Year

The Man Behind Me Too

Over the course of the last two months, in mostly halfhearted ways that were neither well thought out nor very efficient, I’ve tried to get the information I’m going to share here now in this blog post out and in front of the public. I say halfhearted because of the dizzying panoply of emotions and concerns I’ve experienced since being awakened to the news that a hashtag and the phrase ‘me too’ had become a singular viral moment of empowerment for women in their fight to free themselves from the sexual predations of evil men as well as the mechanisms of power, intimidation, and control that have too long silenced their ranks and allowed all of us to ignore the vast size and scope of their problem.

Both Tarana Burke and Alyssa Milano are able and worthy warrior/activists and have been amazing front-persons for the #metoo movement. Nothing can take away or should diminish in any way their work or their ongoing impact, as measured by the historic milestone they and all women achieved today when the #metoo movement was named Time Magazine’s collective Person of the Year: The Silence Breakers

One thing I’ve learned about myself in the last 6 weeks is that I don’t know how to do some things very well that I’d always thought I was probably pretty good at. That would be getting my message out there and into the hands of anyone who might need to hear that message or spread it for me. Maybe if I had truly possessed the courage of my convictions I would have been at least consistent in my efforts. But I was not consistent and whatever courage I might have was tempered by deep concerns and reservations about attaching my name and any role I might have played in sparking the idea of the #metoo moment to this now massive world-wide phenomenon.

I will relate only one concern here, out of scores of more personal concerns.

I have not wanted at all to do anything that would slow the momentum of the #metoo movement, anything that might stop one solitary girl somewhere from using the hashtag as a means of speaking out about her dilemma, or anything that might change the global conversation from the message of #metoo and the impact it has had in allowing women to fight back against the scourge of sexual predation as it exists in far too many of their lives.

I have a beautiful wife who I’ve been with for 42 years. She is a working woman. A good portion of my entire adult life has been spent calculating on a daily and granular level what I might need to do today or tomorrow or twenty years from now to keep her protected. The sexual revolution that #metoo represents is something that, for me, indicates a hoped for future where women and girls might be safer to move through this world, either walking down a street at night or through the corridors of their careers, without requiring a man to act as their personal guard dog.

I’m going to post now a series of screenshots. Please pay particular attention to the dates. Also feel free to click on the images for full sized versions.

The first screenshot is of Alyssa Milano’s first tweet on Oct. 15th calling for women who have been the victims of sexual assault or harassment to come forward by using the words ‘me too.’  Ms. Milano posts her tweet with what seems to be a smart phone screen capture that attributes the idea of using ‘me too’ for this purpose to ‘a friend.’

A little over 27 hours later, on Oct 16th, Ms. Milano tweets that she was “just made aware of an earlier #metoo movement” and links to a website that tells the story of Ms. Burke’s prior utilization of the phrase ‘me too’ in relation to the sexual assault of women or girls.

The next screen shot is of an article and a comment to that article on the New York Times website. You will definitely need to click on this image as the text as posted in the body of this piece is too small to discern. The article is from Oct 9th, was written by the actress Lena Dunham, and is entitled Harvey Weinstein and the Silence of the Men. The comment on the right was posted on Oct 10th. It was written by me, posting under the username ‘jammer,’ five days prior to Ms. Milano’s first ‘me too’ tweet.

 

In the days following the online explosion that #metoo became, articles identifying Tarana Burke, based on her earlier use of the phrase in this context, as the person behind the hashtag phenomenon were published by The New York Times, The Washington Post,  CNN, Buzzfeed, Al Jazeera, The Boston Globe, Elle, and The Huffington Post among many others.

I don’t want to, nor can I, take anything away from Tarana Burke. She came up with this phrase and used it in this context nearly a decade before either me or Alyssa Milano. And she is the perfect voice to lead the worldwide army of women who have taken up the fight to free themselves from this most wretched behavior that has long been forced upon them by men and the power structures men have created. But Ms. Milano’s tweets clearly indicate that she didn’t get the idea for #metoo from Ms. Burke and that she knew nothing of Ms. Burke’s prior use of the term ‘me too’ in this context when she set off a worldwide movement with her first #metoo tweet on Oct. 15th.

And let me say this very clearly. I too had never heard of Ms. Burke or the use of the phrase ‘me too’ in this or any context remotely like this prior to making my own post advocating women coming forward behind the phrase in my comment to the Dunham piece on Oct. 10th.

Alyssa Milano’s initial tweets on the subject of ‘me too’ say two things.

Tweet 1. This is not my idea.
Tweet 2. This was not Tarana Burke’s idea.

Tarana Burke did not launch the #metoo movement. She may have first thought of the idea of using the phrase in the context of a means to respond to the sexual abuse of women and girls and she may be now one of the movement’s most perfect representatives. But she is not the woman, or person, behind the global phenomenon that is #metoo.

The person who launched #metoo is the actress Alyssa Milano. And she plainly states in her first tweet on Oct 15th that she did not conceive of the idea herself, that it came to her from a friend. And in the second tweet the following day, on Oct 16th, when the #metoo hashtag was already a global movement, Ms. Milano clearly says that she had only then just heard of Tarana Burke’s prior use of the phrase in this context.

When I’m on the New York Times, of which I am a subscriber, there is a popup ad that says something about the paper always seeking the truth. I’m sure the Times and all the publications who missed or downplayed the significance of Ms. Milano’s own tweets regarding the origins of #metoo do always seek out the truth and to inform the public by passing along that truth to their readers. It’s an incredibly important function. In the world and country we live in now it may be the single most important function of any of our failing institutions. But in this case, the truth is that the Times and a host of other first-rate publications failed to get to the exact truth behind the #metoo phenomenon and to get this movement’s origin story right.

The Lena Dunham piece was only the fourth or fifth article on the Harvey Weinstein scandal published in the Times. This was at a moment when everyone remotely interested in this slowly breaking news, and that included, if reports are to be believed, most everyone in the entertainment industry, would have been, as I was, devouring every word published in the New York Times or anywhere else where this story and its many sidebars were being published. And as just about anyone who is regularly consuming news or political information on the Times would readily tell you, the comments sections are usually a must-read extension to the news or commentary in the main articles.

I have more than a bit of ADD and the levels of irony here have been hard for me to keep track of. To an article that calls out men for their silence on the subject of the sexual harassment of women in Hollywood, I speak up and write a comment that suggests that men in Hollywood would not solve this problem for women, that women would need to do this themselves, and that women who had been victimized by the sexual predations of men in the entertainment industry should come forward by simply saying ‘me too.’ And then five days later, whoosh! That very idea is now a worldwide movement.

And yet I’ve never felt more silent.

My sister asked me, in a tone that I still haven’t quite gotten over, “What do you want from this, credit?” It’s beyond a good question. It’s one of the toughest questions I’ve ever had to consider. I have a voice. Online. I’ve been posting my dreadful political opinions on the internet since the epic Lewinsky Scandal thread on the now long gone New York Times forums.  As a lifelong Democrat, I was passionately engaged in defending the Democratic president from what I thought a witchhunt by Republicans and the special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr. That’s a hard position to explain now, in the present climate of sexual politics. But back then, it was a no-brainer for any left-leaning person, including many famous feminist voices.

But I’ve never stopped. Here’s an entire WordPress blog that was devoted to my rants on the 2008 Democratic primary alone. I write about politics almost every day of my life and post my stuff to a select group of online friends to a degree they would all so readily admit is eye-rolling.

So in answering my sister’s question I would offer these thoughts. In the almost two months since #metoo became what it is, I have sat and watched it all through many often changing thoughts and emotions. But it seems now to have settled on, if I must be totally honest with myself and anyone reading this, a general feeling of both being heard, but not acknowledged. That might sound somewhat self-serving, but remember, I am a politically motivated person, as is Ms. Burke and Ms. Milano. I don’t produce empty utterances. What I write is generally unique and as full of impact as I can make it. I work and write hard and put 60 years of life’s experience into what I post online. It might not be read but by a few people on a message board somewhere, but when I write things, I often write as if I’m exposing new information to the world. As I am now. It’s simply who I am and what I’ve been doing online for over 20 years. It’s representative of a very firm belief in one’s own unique perspective. And for better or worse, curse or blessing, I have that in spades.

So I would ask anyone reading this. Look at the dates on the screen captures I’ve posted here. Imagine that you had posted two months ago on the New York Times, the newspaper of record, in the comments section of what you knew was a widely read article, the comment that I posted on October 10th. And imagine how you would feel today when Time Magazine announced, essentially, that the #metoo movement had been named Person of the Year. How would you feel? If there’s a handbook on how someone should feel at a moment like this please get that handbook to me, because I’m flailing away at the notion of trying to settle on how I’m supposed to feel.

#metoo is now completely unstoppable and both Tarana Burke and Alyssa Milano are deserving icons of a worldwide movement. I do feel that now that gives me a measure of freedom, whether anyone can understand that or not. I can’t hurt this movement or take anything away from it by now pointing out that a 60-year-old man might have been a catalyst in the creation of this landmark moment for women. It’s a good thing. I wasn’t one of Lena Dunham’s silent men. And don’t look now but I’ve got a lot more to say.

The idea that women who had been prayed upon by men in the entertainment industry should come forward and say so simply by articulating the words ‘me too’ was, in the passing moment of one more political story of a busy week, what I’m sure I would have thought at the time just one more clever idea thrown out to the world never to hear back from it again. Alyssa Milano says, in today’s POTY article that she posted the idea of #metoo “almost on a whim.” Not exactly the same thing for me but being perfectly honest with myself, it really was just one more thing I had to say on the internet that day. What has happened since has left me, in turns, reeling, elated, at times deeply moved and proud, but, again, to be honest, often unsatisfied and unsettled at the same time. My wife and I sometimes groan when someone describes a personal experience as surreal. I don’t think we’ll be groaning about that any time soon.

The #metoo movement is now historically important. That women have this tool now to unite their voices to fight what has been their burden throughout history is deserving of every possible moment of recognition. But the origin story is also important. We can’t pick and choose which origin story best supports the most helpful narrative going forward. It doesn’t work like that. Or at least it shouldn’t.

Okay, if you’ve read this far I’ll give you a bonus thought. It’s representative of the extreme reservations that have had me sitting back mostly in silence for the last six weeks.

Remember Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion? It’s the story of two ditzy underachievers who have to face both the mean girls and tough questions at their high school reunion.

So, Mi-chelle! What are you up to?

Oh, okay. Um, I invented Post-Its.

I don’t want to be that. It’s a grave concern of mine. And I’m afraid that when I hit ‘publish’ on this piece, it’s going to be much worse than that. But there’s a world of women out there, especially in the field of entertainment, who have shown a bravery in the face of the power to destroy them that inspires me.

To man up.

Wish me luck.

Donald Barnat

12/06/17

 

* (note) This blog post will be edited in an ongoing effort to make the writing clearer or to add pertinent facts or information or clarifications as I deem necessary. The title has also been tweaked or changed entirely a number of times and might be again.