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Me, too? A composer examines his conscience

October 23, 2017 by norman lebrecht

15 comments.


From our diarist Anthea Kreston:

This week, social media exploded with #MeToo. After the allegations and subsequent (finally, we all said) taking down of the powerful film producer Harvey Weinstein, women began to speak out. Millions put their stories on Facebook – and frankly, it would floor me if any woman, anywhere, would have managed to remain unscathed by sexual harassment/assault – I just can’t imagine it would be possible. It is such a regular part of my life, that the petty and daily occurrences normally don’t even faze me – they are expected.

I don’t need to go into details here – I am sure everyone’s stories are similar – but in a nutshell, my first experience was on a sleep-away trip in middle school. For some reason my best friend was not on the trip, and so I was alone most of the time. A group of three boys had (on retrospect) clearly chosen me for an experiment. They would corner me whenever they could, working up their courage and escalating their attacks, until I finally took a deep breath and told my teacher. Luckily she put an end to it before it got too out of hand, but suffice it to say those memories are sharp and clear.

From that moment on, the endless list of public transportation incidents, teachers hands lingering and moving south, the invitations to hotel rooms, overly-insistent boyfriends, being followed to my apartment at night, one stalking episode, a couple of more lavicious hands-on situations.

So, we avoid, we endure, we run, we slap, we kick, and we teach our daughters from a very early age to say “no” loudly, practice screaming it, talk regularly about what people can and cannot do to us, who to talk to, what to say. We warn our female students about the perils of private lessons with men. The power plays, the unequal standing which can easily go sour.

But – today I would like to include something from the other side. A voice of a man, Kenji Bunch, a friend, composer, father of two, and I couldn’t imagine it being said better. Here is Kenji (with his permission):

 

“You, too?

Well, as someone who loudly professes commitment to social justice here (on Facebook), you have my support and I have your back.

And as a man who has been complicit in helping to perpetuate our culture’s cruel dynamic of misogyny, you have my profound apologies.

Yeah, you read that right, I said it.

It’s interesting how many men here are quick to condemn the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. It’s low-hanging fruit to scold the unknown throngs of “other” men who must behave this way. That’s the convenience of social media outrage, like bemoaning a fart in the elevator, it deflects any implication of one’s self. It’s a little less comfortable to look honestly in the mirror and ask some tough questions.

I was raised at the nexus of two worlds which are arguably even creepier than Hollywood – classical music and academia. The infamous Access Hollywood clip was painful for many women to hear, and I won’t begin to compare my experience to theirs. But it was harder for me to hear for a different reason. I didn’t identify with the victims or with the aggressor, but I did, unfortunately, identify with Billy Bush, the sniveling, spineless enabler who giggled along with that horrid man as he spewed filth from his mouth.

At earlier points in my life, I have been that guy. I’ve done that – with older, revered teachers, with powerful impresarios, with successful musicians, presenters, conductors, professors, colleagues, older relatives, etc. Intoxicated with the perceived promise of acceptance into some fabled society of powerful brethren, I’ve laughed along, enabled, possibly even encouraged that behavior, never once challenging their words or the ugliness behind them, or examining my own tolerance of it. I was able to do this free of any consequence other than the accumulative weight of my own conscious.

And, like many self-centered men who coast along unchallenged, it took me the personal experience of looking at the trust, love, and vulnerability in my own daughter’s eyes to truly open mine to how profoundly unfair and unnecessary all of it is, and how I need to actively work to stop perpetuating this dynamic.

Toxic masculinity isn’t toxic in the way an uncontained nuclear meltdown instantly poisons its environment. It’s toxic in the insidious, circuitous way second-hand smoke seeps into a child’s lungs twenty feet away from the source. It’s sneaky and hard to pin down – which is why we overreact when a sweaty lothario like Weinstein gets caught. Remember how giddy we all were in condemning butter speciality Paula Dean when she was caught using the “N” word? It was like “Yay! We caught the racist! Now we can all breath a little easier.” Such outrage temporarily lets the rest of us off the hook since we can so clearly distinguish ourselves from the offending party.

But Weinstein didn’t harass the millions of #Me Too’s- somebody had to help him, and for every one of him, there are scores of other men like me who let it happen because we lacked the self confidence to stand up to it.

Maybe if we all really took to heart what we’re hearing now and relate it to how we, personally can help change this shameful cultural norm, we’ll make this right. Maybe it’s time to man up. For real.”

Thanks, Kenji. It’s about friggin’ time.

 


Comments (15)

  1. John Borstlap says:

    Strong text by Kenji Bunch. It is for this reason that women in the middle east wear burkas…. The same male primitivism circulates in the West, maybe less openly so, but not less unpleasant. Part of the cause certainly is the so-called ‘sexual liberation’ since the sixties which want to expose intimate experiences in public space, thereby trivialising them and turning them into commodities to be commercially exploited. This includes life size adverts for underwear at bus stops, demonstrations of flesh in magazines and in TV programmes, pop stagings, etc. etc. etc. It is an entirely misunderstood notion of ‘freedom’, such gross distortions of human experience mobilize primitive males’ endeavors to treat women as objects. The idea, in former time periods, that protecting intimacy was a normal part of civilization, was not Freudian suppression of healthy instincts, but the wisdom of experience that animal instincts be better tamed.

    1. Eustache Rossignol says:

      So you think there is no sexual exploitation in Saudi Arabia because women walk around in garbage bags with a slit for the eyes?

      1. John Borstlap says:

        The logic of this comment is beyond what I wrote.

        In eastern countries where the veil is cultivated, public space is unsafe because of the ‘male gaze’. Women feel more free when they are made invisible. It is a signal of uncivilized and dangerous spaces. Where emancipation of women is mostly restricted to the females, as in the West, their ‘freedom’ is misinterpreted by many males, and the sexualization of public space does the rest.

    2. Margaret says:

      Yes good point – when women decided to wear burkas, to solidify the universal truth of equally pay for equal work and fair treatment for all people, people all of a sudden noticed that there were no more incidents of sexual harassment or domestic violence. In fact, I think the author should wear a burka when she performs.

  2. Sven Faust says:

    Harvey Weinstein – why suddenly now? Highly suspicious. Everyone knows this has been going on for decades. Presume ongoing power plays to take over his imperium:

    http://mileswmathis.com/wein.pdf

  3. Pianofortissimo says:

    I believe that sex is an important part of a person’s life and it should never be approached lightly or casually. Sex is too good and too important to be spoiled outside of a serious relation. Popular “culture” (movies, pop music , the scandal press), certain avant-garde art, and marketing can stimulate predatory, indiscriminate sexual drive and promiscuity. There are many real victims, mostly women, of sexual harassment, and every boy and girl should get guidance about rights and wrongs in this issue, and ideally they should get it in their homes. It is right to expose the predatory brutes of Academy and at all working places. However, I can’t take seriously those “celebrity” people, usually behaving very “bitchy”, claiming harassment by Weinstein & Co. (really, what did they expect from those guys?), and it seems that “activists” are making #METOO to a witch hunt against men.

  4. Luigi Vercotti says:

    If you are a woman: attend a self defence course, practice the methods until they work instinctively and effectively, and don’t look like a helpless victim.

    You can defend yourself effectively and simply with everyday objects like a torch, keys, pen or umbrella:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVRkAEq5Brs

    1. fed up woman says:

      Or men could just not attack us. I think that’s the simpler solution.

      1. John Borstlap says:

        It is the only solution: where there is violence, aggression, improper behavior etc. etc. it is by men most of the time. The problem is not the women but the men – many of them getting stuck at adolescent stage.

    2. Margaret says:

      What should the writer have done as a 12 year old girl? Attacked those three boys with keys? Or what should an 18 year old undergraduate student do when a teacher slowly starts to hint that her grade or standing in the school could be improved or is in jeopardy, and a visit to his hotel room could help? Punch him in the groin? What about the whole Bernard Greenhouse history? How about men should wear burkas, or glasses which make them blind to gender? Or maybe anyone who is not a white male wear a full shroud just to avoid any racism, and to ensure equal treatment? That should do it.

      1. Pianofortissimo says:

        Kick him in the groin would be very painful, I assure you, but she would also make a formal complain to her college’s Master. Transparency on both sides can only be good for the right side.

        1. Margaret says:

          And for that college student – how do you think the administration would react? Immediately believe her and respect her complaint, not even hinting that she could possibly be to blame? Thanking her and removing the teacher? I am sure this process would not at all affect her progress in school, her grades, or her reputation. If she did kick him in the groin, would they congratulate her? How many schools paid off Greenhouse, and more hired him even after they knew about settlements? How many female students were damaged by him over the years? How can an 18 year old take down the cellist of the Beaux Arts Trio? The power inequality is real, known, and purposefully exploited.

    3. Margaret says:

      Does the author seem to act like a helpless victim to you? She seems strong, smart, and successful, and yet she has to regularly navigate harassment.

    4. Bruce says:

      Here’s an idea.

      If you are a man: treat everyone with respect, even if they are less powerful than you are.

  5. Marg says:

    It is a relief to know that there is at least one man out there who is willing to say “I have been complicit” in allowing this sort of thing to happen – and not since the 60’s but from time immemorial. I have not noticed that confession in the comments from males anywhere else including those opining above. Even the whole ‘#MeToo” movement keeps the focus on the woman instead of signalling a change in men’s attitude.


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