When it hits too close to home: #metoo, Ansari, and the difficult question of justice

Check out the original piece at Feministing.

The more we realize that sexual violence is not a series of isolated, one-off occurrences, separate blips on the radar screen, the more we have to contend with the violence of the everyday.

Isolated, spectacular violence warrants isolated, spectacular justice. But how do we imagine justice, and healing, and survival, and love, when much of the violence we deal with is committed by people close to us, in situations that are too common to be spectacular and too familiar to bear?

As many writers have already argued in the wake of the recent reporting about Aziz Ansari, the “Grace’s” story in Babe freaked people out so much precisely because Ansari is not a monster. He’s a normal person, a normal man, choosing to do normally violent shit, in a system of violent norms. That’s why the story resonates so muchwith so many women: because we’ve experienced shit like this, maybe at the hands of people we care about, again, and again. Because this steady drip of dehumanization which we have been told is normal sex, and normal love, is often precisely what breaks us down.

Confronting this is so hard because it means confronting our lovers, our friends, ourselves. The cracks and discomforts that we may rather ignore. The inequalities. The fact that yes, that feeling that lingered in the pit of our stomaches once after sex where he wasn’t listening to us — that was rape, and we may even still love him. Confronting the fact that he wasn’t just having a bad day — he was being abusive. It means confronting the fact that we care about people who cause harm. It means confronting the fact that we, too, may have caused harm. 

We survive in a world where our simple desire for pleasure, or intimacy, or love, is stacked against us, structured by violence which is both subtle and pervasive.

We have the courage to love when the social script for love includes our own subordination.

One of the many straw-man arguments against the #MeToo movement, and especially the Ansari report, is that feminists — and particularly young feminists, like yours truly at Feministing — are all chomping on the bit to throw every last man in jail for every last act of sexual violation. This kind of thinking, as Meg reminds us, refuses to acknowledge intimate harm because it sees justice in the most binary of terms: there are good people and there are bad people, the good people have good sex all the time and the bad people rape, and the bad people should go to jail.

The truth, of course, is more discomfiting: good people do harm and are harmed; perpetrators have often been victims. The law and the justice system is a tool in our hands, but it is one of many. Not every unethical thing is illegal, and our thinking on justice is much more profound than these fearmongering diatribes give us credit for. Feminists have been committed to a profound critique of the criminal justice system, carcerality, and models of retributive justice way before Caitlin Flanagan every decided to pick up her keyboard in faux concernfor intersectionality.

Which brings us to the fundamental fear animating the Caitlin Flanagans of the conversation: when violence is spectacular and committed by a monster, we can cast the monster out. But when violence is daily, banal, and committed by people we know, recognize, and may even love, we cannot merely exorcise it. We are, instead, forced to grapple with the terrifying proximity of pleasure and violation in a world structured by patriarchal power.

Feminists are used to the allegation that we are the sworn mortal enemies of all love and sex. From Andrea Dworkin to Sara Ahmed to the women of #MeToo, we are called “killjoys,” uptight, loveless and sexless bitches who want to ruin everyone’s fun. Of course, we are ecstatic to ruin your fun, when your fun is based on dehumanizing other people.

But at the end of the day what we’re engaged in right now is a great act of hope. We have gathered the courage to examine the things and people and experiences closest to us. We have committed the courageous act of understanding that our relationships, our daily encounters, our very selves, have been formed and are complicit in a violent world. We dig deep and refuse to bear what is unbearable in the ordinary. We point out the problem because we have the humanity to believe in change. As  writes in Slate, the one thing the Weiss’s and Flanagans of the conversation conveniently forget to mention about the #MeToo movement are the moments of real reckoning where the naming of violence enabled transformation.

We want desperately to love, and fuck, with humanity and fullness. We get there by addressing the painful complexities of the world as it is, even and especially when they cut too close to home. It’s wildly uncomfortable and fundamentally human. But if violence is seeded through everything so too are actual seeds: We believe in the human capacity to grow.