On Thursday, actress Amber Tamblyn wrote an op-ed in the pages of The New York Times. The op-ed was a call for people to stop talking about proper consequences for various forms of sexual harassment and abuse, and instead to simply state that such abusers should “go away.” The piece, titled, “I’m Not Ready for the Redemption of Men,” argues that we should lump all men together, regardless of the level of crime. She acknowledges that some men should be granted the power to redeem themselves and restart their careers, but complains that asking who and how steals some of the satisfaction of the moment from victims.
Why do we need to talk about the redemption of men when we are right in the middle of the salvation of women? Not even the middle, but the very beginning? Why are we obligated to care about salvaging male careers when we have just begun to tell the stories that have plagued us for lifetimes? It seems some men like a revolution only when it’s their kind of war.
We don’t have to have a discussion about salvaging male careers. But we do have to have a discussion about gradations of crime. Imagine if we applied this standard to victims of all crime, more broadly. Imagine if we lumped together the pickpocket and the rapist: if we were to ask which crime is worse, would we be demeaning the victim of pickpocketing? Tamblyn might distinguish this hypothetical from the current trend of outing sexual harassers and assaulters by stating that all (or nearly all) victims are women, and therefore have solidarity with one another in their victimhood — but is that true? Should Al Franken’s butt-grab victims be treated with the same level of societal concern as Harvey Weinstein’s rape victims? Yes, Weinstein and Franken are both criminals. And both should meet consequences. But it’s not unfair to say that not all criminal acts ought to be punished equally severely, even while we condemn all criminal acts (Weinstein should end up in prison, Franken should lose his job in Congress).
But to even draw lines of any sort seems to offend Tamblyn’s sensibilities. She acknowledges that men want to discuss the proper consequences for actions because they are properly afraid of a witch hunt mentality in which standards of evidence are discarded and less severe crimes are treated like rape:
Not everyone in my industry is in support of how quickly things are moving. There’s a lot of collateral-damage dread, a cloud of unease that has covered the industry lately with talk of potentially harmful side effects of such decisive actions. What if an innocent man is falsely accused? What if the repercussion doesn’t fit the crime? What ever happened to innocent until proved guilty?
But then Tamblyn dismisses such concerns:
They want us to leave poor Al Franken and his harmless grabbing alone. I’ve heard several male friends talk about text chains they are on with other men only; they describe it as a safe space to talk about how they feel in this moment. They feel afraid, disoriented and discounted. And I understand their need for such comfort and security. I am a woman. I know nothing other than needing such comfort and security, for my entire life. We’re in the midst of a reckoning. It’s what toxic masculinity’s own medicine tastes like. And people should allow the consequences to unfold, regardless of how it affects those they consider to be friends. The only way to enforce seismic, cultural change in the way men relate to women is to draw a line deep in the sand and say: This is what we will no longer tolerate. You’re either with our bodies or against our bodies. The punishment for harassment is you disappear. The punishment for rape is you disappear. The punishment for masturbation in front of us is you disappear. The punishment for coercion is you disappear.
This new rule isn’t a good rule. It isn’t even a rule. It’s merely revenge (“what toxic masculinity’s own medicine tastes like”). It’s not justice — the consequences don’t fit the act. It’s not remotely connected to any standard of decency — how do we weed out those who are innocent? This logic leaves us with only one solution: an accusation is made, we believe it, the men are banished. This isn’t about protecting friends — I’m happy to watch sexual harassers and assaulters pay the price for their evil. But it is about some rudimentary use of principle.
Tamblyn says she doesn’t want men to disappear forever — she just wants them to disappear temporarily, so we don’t have to discuss things like gradations of crime and proper punishment:
This new rule upsets many people, men and women. But what they don’t seem to understand is, no one is saying a disappearance from the public eye has to be forever. (Well, Harvey Weinstein is forever.) I’m not talking about banishment. I’m talking about ceding the floor. The power of celebrity and cultural approval must disappear for the time being so that all women see and believe that consequences do exist. ... Redemption must be preceded by atonement. It is earned, not offered. If you want amends, you have to make them. You have to acknowledge the line in the sand. Once you do this, the next step is simple: Pick a side. Choose us.
I do side with women who are abused and mistreated and harassed. I side against the men who perpetrate these vicious acts. And I even agree with Tamblyn that without repentance, there can be no redemption. But I’m not going to pretend that every sinner is equivalent, nor that all acts deserve the same punishment. To conflate those two notions — just deserts, and deserts — is the essence of injustice.