Rebecca Traister and Avi Klein
#MeToo Through a Solutions Lens
What we are naming with the impetus of #MeToo is, at best, an opening to a long-term cultural reckoning to grow up humanity; to make our society more whole. We explore this with psychotherapist Avi Klein, who works with men and couples, and feminist journalist Rebecca Traister. In a room full of journalists, at the invitation of the Solutions Journalism Network, we explored how to build the spaces, the imaginative muscle, and the pragmatic forms to support healing for women and men, now and in time.
Rebecca Traister is a writer for New York Magazine and a contributing editor at Elle. She is the author of Big Girls Don’t Cry, All the Single Ladies, and Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.
Avi Klein is a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker. He practices in Manhattan. His 2018 New York Times Op-Ed piece is titled “What Men Say About #MeToo in Therapy.”
Krista Tippett, host: The work of healing has not had much of a place in the complex of reckonings in the past year that we condense into the hashtag “#MeToo.” But surely what we are naming and wrapping our arms around with the impetus of #MeToo is, at best, an opening to a long-term cultural reckoning to grow up humanity, to make our society more whole. I walked with some trepidation onto this territory at the invitation of the Solutions Journalism Network, together with feminist journalist Rebecca Traister and psychotherapist Avi Klein, who works primarily with men and couples. In a room full of journalists, we explored how they and all the rest of us might build the spaces, the imaginative muscle, and the pragmatic forms to support healing for women and men where it is possible, now and in time.
[music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoë Keating]
Rebecca Traister: One of the reasons that it’s very rare for women to coalesce in a women’s movement in which that anger is about gendered inequality is that if you’re going to look straight at and acknowledge the inequalities on the table, what that means is disturbing some of the most intimate relationships in our lives. It’s partners and lovers and spouses, fathers and brothers and sons. And it’s profoundly, emotionally difficult to do that kind of assessment of unequal power within our most daily, intimate, emotionally tight relationships.
Avi Klein: When we’ve hurt someone, we just don’t really want to take it in all of the way. In part, it’s because it makes us feel so bad about ourselves, and there’s a steadying that people need in those moments. I think about how I would try to help someone open themselves up — “This isn’t about you right now; this is about her” — what it takes to feel solid enough to hear that. That’s where I go.
Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being.
The phrase “MeToo” was coined over a decade ago by civil rights activist Tarana Burke. Rebecca Traister has chronicled this lineage and has been a force in our current grapplings as a writer for New York Magazine and with her book Good and Mad. I first became aware of Avi Klein through an illuminating piece he wrote in The New York Times in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, about how that was changing what men were bringing into therapy. We gathered at The City College of New York.
Ms. Tippett: We are all here as human beings, all of us — up here and out there — as human beings as well as professional people, and I think it’s important, especially around this, to be transparent about that. I wanted to start, and I’ll start with you, Rebecca, to just say something about the background of your life and experience that you’re conscious has shaped your response to and your engagement with this moment.
Ms. Traister: At some point in my mid- to late-20s, I became a feminist journalist. I’ve often wondered — I grew up in an era — white, middle-class woman who was born in a family with generally left politics, but in a Reagan-era, super anti-feminist backlash period. I could no more have conceived of the idea that I would someday be a feminist journalist than I could’ve flown when I was in high school or college or, frankly, several years beyond college — even when I was first a journalist.
But there was something, always, in my background and my life that drew me to questions around inequality. I remember watching the Anita Hill hearings, as many people my age, younger and, certainly, older do. I actually watched them, her testimony, with my extremely conservative Republican grandparents in rural Maine who thought she was lying. And I remember sitting there in this little kitchen on the farm where my mom grew up, watching the little black-and-white TV and thinking very quietly in my own head, “I don’t think she’s lying.”
I don’t know what knit together, but it did. So then, for the past 15 years, it’s been a process of both being a feminist journalist and also trying to learn the history that, in many ways, I was never taught as a young person.
Ms. Tippett: What year were you born?
Ms. Traister: ’75.
Ms. Tippett: ’75. So a theme, if not the theme that’s emerged through your grappling with this has been women’s anger and the unhealthy relationship women have had to anger and the importance of reclaiming that healthy relationship. Would you say it that way?
Ms. Traister: Yeah, I would say that — I’m trying to think about how health plays into it.
No, that’s a real question for me.
Ms. Tippett: Well, I think the way I’m saying that is kind of clinical. That’s what it boils down to, but it’s a lot more colorful than that, the actual experience. I guess this is what I mean when I say, what you’re talking about is getting a healthy relationship to anger. This is something you wrote: “What is good for us is opening our mouths and letting it out, permitting ourselves to feel it and say it and think it and act on it and integrate it into our lives, just as we integrate joy and sadness and worry and optimism.” I think that would be a healthy relationship. You’re the psychotherapist. [laughs]
Mr. Klein: Sounds healthy to me.
Ms. Tippett: Let me ask you this: you’ve been out on book tour. You’ve been out there talking about this all over the place. What questions do you find are emerging now? What’s surfacing that we still need to work with that you’re holding, that other people are holding?
Ms. Traister: One of the most both gratifying and saddening things that I’m finding is the absolute starvation for, the yearning for acknowledgement that women who are feeling this way aren’t alone — that’s one of the things that I write about — to feel like their angers, their frustrations, their fears are not them alone, that they’re not all the things that we get the message that we are if we’re angry and scared and frustrated, which is, they’re not crazy; they’re not the only one that’s feeling this way; and that, in fact, there are people they might connect to that can better put in context what they’re feeling in both a historical and a political way. So there’s been that. And I don’t think I was emotionally or intellectually prepared for the intensity of that desire, but I can feel it every time I speak to a group, that kind of “Oh, my God” — the electricity and weight of connection and feeling like you’re part of a bigger story, both nationally, now, or historically, in the broader context.
And then the questions tend to be both about how, if there is a movement that this anger is bringing many people into — a lot of the questions are about how can we make this movement better than it has been in earlier iterations. It’s not a prescriptive book to begin with, but to the degree that it does recommend a course of action, it’s not about individual expression. For one thing, I think women are filled with 14 billion different messages about what they’re supposed to do or not do with their anger or how they’re supposed to voice it or not voice it, and me telling people “Go out and rage” isn’t going to do anybody any good.
To the degree that I have any prescriptive recommendation, it’s not about expression of anger; it’s about listening to the anger of the people around you, including anger that may be directed, in part, at you. It’s about finding connection through listening, not necessarily through a different mode of expression. So I wind up saying that a lot. When people ask, “What do we do? What do we do? How do we make it better; how do we do it differently?” Very often, my answer comes down to, “Listen to the people around you. Be curious about what they’re angry about. And then when you ask, when you seek out their answers, listen to them. Take them on. Consider them. Give them political weight. Give them intellectual weight. Imagine that the anger around you is a valid anger, as your anger is.” I think we’re not told that very often.
Ms. Tippett: I think that is a nice segue, Avi, into the angle you’ve had on all of this. It feels to me, also, like this question I asked Rebecca about what in your life and experience you are aware you bring to engaging with this moment, that that has come together for you in your work. You wrote, “The #MeToo era has changed my work.”
Mr. Klein: Yeah, I think in a very particular way, because — to make an unfair generalization, one of the differences in working with men than with women is, women have spent a lot more time looking at themselves internally and talking about what’s happening with their friends. They have the vocabulary for it. And men, sometimes, don’t. So this moment has done them a favor in that way, in forcing them, in bringing up uncomfortable feelings that they’re better equipped to ignore and avoid. I think that’s been the most palpable change. It’s just forced its way in.
Ms. Tippett: You mentioned many reactions you’ve had to this. You said, among them, you’ve had “the curious experience of tracking my own occasional defensiveness at female rage and wrestling with uncomfortable self-reflection.”
Mr. Klein: I think about that a lot and was thinking about it when I was listening to Rebecca speak: that I don’t think I’m alone in, when someone is angry, and maybe you personalize it. Maybe it’s not even directed at you, but it feels personal. There is this instinctive impulse to pull away and — “I don’t want to hear it. Let me reject that.” And it is just the question: what if you didn’t do that? What if you just stayed and opened yourself up to it? What would happen?
Ms. Tippett: You describe men coming in and — you have said, at least in this piece, and I’d be curious if you think this has changed, but you’ve been discouraged by what you feel is a muted public reflection among men. Yet you’ve really been privy to private self-searching and men coming into therapy and raking over — and I have also had this conversation with male friends really just going back over their lives and asking — some of it is, “Is there something that’s going to come back to bite me?” There’s that, but there’s also just a lot of “Did I hurt people without meaning to hurt people?” You’ve said, men have said to you, “Am I a monster? Am I like Harvey Weinstein?”
Mr. Klein: Yeah, and anecdotally, it seems like it is starting to change. There was a man who wrote an op-ed recently in The Washington Post about witnessing a rape 40 years ago, and there was another thing in The New York Times recently where men are being more vocal. I’m so heartened by that and admire the courage. But I think there is something about these private spaces. I think it needs to happen that way at first because you’re opening yourself up to potentially a lot of anger and a lot of regret.
Ms. Tippett: When Tarana Burke was interviewed this week, she actually mentioned that, just the way we do things now, it’s all in public. It’s tweeted, and that’s how it feels like you have impact. But there’s a lot of this work that probably has to happen in private to be fruitful and to be healing, honestly. I feel like that’s something we need to wrestle with.
Mr. Klein: I appreciate you saying that, and that feels right to me.
Ms. Tippett: For men and women — for victims and perpetrators.
Mr. Klein: It’s messy. It’s really messy to find your way. Where do you want to land on something? How do you really feel about it? It’s complicated. And if you just say the first thing that’s on your mind, that may not be what you ultimately think about it or how you feel about it. That’s been my experience with the men I work with.
Ms. Tippett: Did you want to say something?
Ms. Traister: Well, one of the things that I have learned writing my book about women’s anger — it’s women’s anger in all kinds of contexts: women angry about workplace inequality helped launch a labor movement; women angry about racial inequality and injustice, the Civil Rights Movement; women in the gay rights movement — something that’s very particular about gendered inequality in this country is a structural reality, which is that every woman has men in her life, and every man has women —
Ms. Tippett: And some of us are raising sons.
Ms. Traister: Yes, but what that means — one of the reasons that it’s very rare for women to coalesce in a women’s movement in which that anger is about gendered inequality — and that happens only maybe every 60 years or so — is because one of the incredibly difficult structural realities of that is that if you’re going to look straight at and acknowledge the inequalities on the table, what that means is disturbing some of the most intimate relationships in our lives. It’s partners and lovers and spouses, for hetero people. It’s fathers and brothers and sons and friends and neighbors and coworkers.
And that means permitting — because a lot of this stuff is about permitting yourself to feel the anger, to note where there is inequality or where you have been treated badly, often by someone you love, or where you have treated someone badly, often someone you love. And it’s profoundly emotionally difficult to do that kind of assessment of unequal power within our most daily, intimate, emotionally tight relationships. It is a real structural obstacle to getting mass women’s movements. And when you do, it’s one of the reasons that you have rupture in some of these. You see divorces go up; you see relationships fall apart; you see the stuff of furious Thanksgiving dinners and broken hearts.
[music: “Dorian Blue” by Songs of Water]
Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, exploring #MeToo through a solutions lens, with journalist Rebecca Traister and psychotherapist Avi Klein.
Ms. Tippett: One thing that I’ve been thinking about so much in these last weeks, also, is that the spaces — I really don’t want this to be about the Kavanaugh hearings, because that was a moment, potentially a very historically significant moment. But it was a moment, and it awakened, inflamed all of this that was already with us. I felt like, as a canvas for that, as a place for people to project this real trauma, it wasn’t worthy of that. It was so flawed as a lens on all of that. So if our private places, it’s hard, and our public place — and again, this may just be a question we put into the room: how do we honor the private nature of this and find and create those spaces that can be worthy of how intimate this is and how important?
Mr. Klein: I guess I think about my own experience and my own work, and I’m thinking about men that I’ve worked with who have taken something out of our work together and then brought it into progressively more public spaces, into their relationships, but then how much work went into being prepared for that, working through their relationships with themselves first. It starts so small before you can get to a place where you can — because even to open up about these things is so potentially destructive. It’s opening yourself up to shame and humiliation and anger. It takes a lot to say, “That’s what I need to do right now. The integrity of our relationship needs that.”
Ms. Tippett: I want to ask you about something you wrote. I want to ask you to explain this: “Shame is the emotional weapon that allows patriarchal behaviors to flourish.”
Mr. Klein: [laughs] I guess what I was trying to say there is that — and I would imagine there are other people who could say this more eloquently than I can — but there’s a sense that I have with men, working through some of the behaviors that they’ve engaged in and some of the attitudes that they’ve had, where the shame that they’re really feeling, sadly, is not about how they’re treating women. It’s about how they appear in the eyes of other men. So much of it is motivated by that: about saving face in front of your peers, your friends, your father. One of the quotes of someone I worked with who, in that piece, talks about having a notch in his belt when he thinks about serial cheating on his partner. That’s really about what his friends think of him. It’s not about impressing women. In that way, I think that there’s the shame of not being a man. It’s about where you stand in patriarchy.
Ms. Traister: That just made me think in a way that I hadn’t so palpably — and not to return to the Kavanaugh hearings, but about the places where Kavanaugh, in his public rage, which he was able to wield as a weapon on his behalf, where he broke down and wept. In part, it was his dad and the calendars. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but what you just said made me realize that some of it, some of the apparent grief he felt, or perhaps, shame, if there was shame, was about how his public — not necessarily about whether or not he may have done harm to Christine Blasey Ford or Debra Ramirez, but rather that this was about his standing.
And again, of course, we’ve seen that amplified by those around him, this notion that he was attacked, that the person who’d been injured here was, in fact, the powerful, accused man. But listening to you talk, I just remembered his voice breaking specifically about his dad and the calendars, and he always kept a calendar. It was like, oh, God, right — that’s a part of what that’s about. Oof.
Ms. Tippett: You also said that men who you’re working with have this deep fear that, in fact, they are boys, that they’re not men, and that somehow, that’s something, always, that they feel that they have to be proving.
Mr. Klein: That’s something that men volunteer really early on, actually, when they sit down with me. “I don’t feel like I’m a man. I feel like I’m still a boy” — that there’s this sense that they don’t — I think it would be so surprising for other people to hear that. I work mostly with affluent white men, and they feel like they don’t have agency in their personal lives. They feel like there’s a sense in which whatever they’re engaged in, that they’re not really in charge of that in some way. It’s confusing to them.
Ms. Tippett: The New York Times Sunday Review had this piece on the front page, on one year on, which is not that long ago, from the Harvey Weinstein story. The last line of the article was, “Progress requires a correct accounting of what women have faced.” I read that, and I think, yes, and progress requires so much more than an accounting. I think that that is a conversation to be had in a room full of journalists, because I do think that journalism — and I started out as a print reporter — has best trained people to do that kind of accounting, especially of damage and of corruption. And I guess one thing that’s on my mind is, again, we’ve been talking about men’s shame — this question of creating worthy spaces and forms for women’s trauma and anger to be out in public. And I don’t even like the word “safe” — I feel like the word “safe” has been kind of ruined — but trustworthy spaces for that. I think that’s also a bit perilous in journalism because of the impulse to shine a light on the damage.
Ms. Traister: I think that what you’re saying ties into some of the conflicting feelings that I’ve had about the role that journalists played in the #MeToo movement, the version of Me Too, 11 years after Tarana Burke’s Me Too movement, that began with the reporting on Harvey Weinstein on October 5. This is a real case of conflicting emotions within my own head, because on the one hand, the story of Harvey, this individual man, somehow captured an imagination and captured the attention in a way that then became tactically useful moving forward, created the space — even in the fast-moving media world of a Trump administration, created the space in which so many other stories could pour forth. For me, it’s the women’s stories and men’s stories, that were the part that I was the most invested in: a full picture of lived experience in the world, including experiences that had remained silent and untold for so long, but that had, perhaps, had profound impact on people’s lives, careers, trajectories, and yet, the full story of their lives, careers, trajectories could never be told, because this was an unspeakable thing. That happened because there was reporting on individual men.
Simultaneously, I remain so frustrated by the fact that the reporting was on these individual men because I think that supported this belief that it was individual monsters and not the whole system that is rigged. That, in itself, permitted a whole bunch of misperceptions about what the value of what we were learning was because, A) training the attention on these individual men supported this idea of, “Oh, if we just get rid of these few bad apples, we’ll solve the problem,” which of course, we know is not true. The problem is an unequal distribution of power and the behavior of those who wield an excess of it.
But also, it rediverted all the attention to the men so that — without suggesting that we shouldn’t be thinking — obviously, we should be thinking about men’s participation in this — because the stories became about these individual powerful men, A) it blotted out the value of other stories where there wasn’t a movie star or a politician, so that the Ford factory employees who told their stories to The New York Times, the airline workers, flight attendants, hotel workers being reported on by the Huffington Post, the McDonalds workers who, two weeks ago, went out on strike in response to pervasive sexual harassment at their institution — they are just not getting the same attention because there’s not a Harvey Weinstein or an Eric Schneiderman who is a character or a person who, in part because of their outsized power, is familiar to us and thus who we can sympathize with as a human story that draws our eye.
And then of course the often nameless or unknown to us few women, dozens of women, hundreds of women, and some men who have made allegations against this powerful figure — their stories and the harm, even though it’s their stories that propelled the revelation about this powerful man — they’re not given the same imaginative weight in the media as what happens to the man who’s accused.
Ms. Tippett: Right, and not only that — we get that story in thousands and thousands and thousands of words, with all the salacious details, and it has that awful way that true crime is riveting. In a terrible way, it becomes perversely entertaining.
Ms. Traister: Right, but I’m really torn on this because I also understand that to the degree that we were able to have this conversation — all these things that are simultaneously bad about the way this unfolded, the fact that it was only something that a mass number of people could focus on when it was white, wealthy movie stars —
Ms. Tippett: Instead of the fabric of our culture.
Ms. Traister: Instead of the fabric of our culture. But that is also the very thing that enabled it to become a force that freed so many tongues. It’s the way I also feel about repercussions, frankly. I am not a big repercussion person. I don’t want to be anybody’s police. I don’t want to be anybody’s judge. I feel very ambivalent and unsure about even stating ideas about what repercussions should entail for any particular offense. At the same time, I have to recognize that if there weren’t repercussions, the behavior would never change. All these things can be true simultaneously and push directly back and forth against each other as we’re trying to wrestle with them and figure out how to make this work better.
Ms. Tippett: What are you thinking, Avi?
Mr. Klein: Well, right now I was just appreciating Rebecca’s ability to articulate things that oppose each other like that. So that’s what I was really thinking right now.
I’m hesitant to weigh in, in some ways, because the work I do is so the opposite, on a smaller scale and private. Where I was going in my mind was about what happens — when I work with a couple, for example, and a partner, let’s say the male partner, has really hurt his wife in an emotional way, the resistance to really taking in that hurt — it’s an interesting thing to watch people — we do it all the time. We all do it, and I think that’s what this is sort of speaking to.
Ms. Tippett: When we’ve hurt someone?
Mr. Klein: When we’ve hurt someone, we just don’t really want to take it in all of the way. In part, it’s because it makes us feel so bad about ourselves, and there’s a steadying that people need in those moments. I think about how I would try to help someone open themselves up — “This isn’t about you right now; this is about her” — what it takes to feel solid enough to hear that. That’s where I go.
[music: “Snowflake Butterfly” by Ovum]
Ms. Tippett: After a short break, more with Avi Klein and Rebecca Traister. We’ve been putting all kinds of great extras into our podcast feed: lots of poetry, music, and a new feature, “Living the Questions.” You can get it all as soon as it’s released when you subscribe to On Being wherever podcasts are found.
I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, exploring #MeToo through a solutions lens, the generative work we might begin to map out inside ourselves and in our life together, alongside the mapping of devastation and the honoring of the depths of trauma in our midst. We’re at The City College of New York at the invitation of the Solutions Journalism Network. I’m speaking with Avi Klein, a psychotherapist who works primarily with men and couples, and feminist journalist Rebecca Traister.
Ms. Tippett: I was born in 1960, so a previous generation from you, right in the wake of that monumental women’s movement — of course, we’re generalizing like crazy here — so I was the first generation of women who got the message that you can do anything. Being a woman isn’t a problem — a woman like me, with the particular education I had, and all of that. You can do it all. You can have it all.
I proceeded in that spirit, and it turns out not to be true. There was no template for how you do all these things: how you work and be in a relationship and parent and just be healthy. Everybody felt like everybody was getting it better than they were. But one of the things I was really clear on, and I think women of my generation were clear on, is, one of the things those founders did is, they didn’t bring men along with them. So we were enlightened; we had changed; we were different from our mothers. But the men in our lives weren’t different from our fathers. It’s very complicated, because on the one hand, we want to say it’s trauma of — and it’s not only women, but — sexual assault, and it is mostly women, that must be at forefront of our attention and our care. And sometimes, when you want to raise it, “What do we do with men? How do we move forward with men?” That can feel like almost an affront. And I do think the move Rebecca was making a minute ago is, we have to be doing a bunch of different things at once. Culturally, we’re not so comfortable with that. We’re all purists these days.
Mr. Klein: Sometimes, it’s just a natural instinct, for so many of us, to take ourselves out of conflict. I’m thinking about some of the men that I’ve worked with, where they would just use language in tricky ways, unintentionally, but they’d obscure what they’re talking about. So they’d be like, “That thing that she’s upset at me about.” Oh, when you cheated on her, right?
But I can’t say that. If I said that, they’d leave. That’s just how I’m feeling in the moment. So what do you do? How do you let someone just sit in their own denial, and they’re reinforcing it themselves? Another therapist, who I admire a lot, taught me a way of doing that, which is — the reason I can’t say that is because then I would be sacrificing our relationship to tell this person the truth. He would just leave. So I put that on the table. I say, “I really care about our relationship, so tell me, can I push back on something right now? Or is that too much for you?” I let them decide, can they hear it or not? And then, once they hear it, I tell them, “When I hear you say something like that, I think you’re obscuring what really happened, and I think that — can we look at that together?” And then, afterwards, I say, “I’m appreciating that we have a relationship that’s based in honesty,” just to start to shift what’s happening here.
Ms. Traister: I’m, bizarrely, for a big old man-hating, angry woman, I’m very man-o-philic.
Ms. Tippett: You’re the one who told the world that you have a better sex life when you’re angry. [laughs] It’s in the book.
Ms. Traister: No, it’s healthy. [laughs] If you let your anger out, you’re a healthier person.
You asked about being on tour, and one of the things that’s been brought to my attention over the past three weeks is the degree to which I am so man-friendly. I have been a very unapologetic and hypercritical voice for a long time when it comes to the patriarchal abuses of power. But I have been thinking, and people have brought up to me recently — I go and I talk to rooms full of people, and I find myself happy to see every man in that room. On a couple of occasions afterwards, I’ve been talking to people after, and some of the other people there have been like, “Ugh, the guys asked all the questions.” And I’m like, “Oh, I was so happy they were participating.” I say that to say that perhaps I err on the side of, ironically, generosity toward men and their interest in participating more than some of my contemporaries and peers would.
That said, I do believe that that big wave did change generations of men — not completely, because I think that this is a process that takes centuries. I think that the hopes of that generation that things were going to be fixed — I think that we’re all guilty of thinking that in a moment of eruptive fury and propellant change, we’re going to fix all the problems. And our history in this country tells us that even the individual movements that we think of in retrospect as being kind of neat — like, “Remember the Civil Rights Movement?” — it was decades. I think that one of the difficult things about this moment that was also difficult during that second wave period is, we’re asking the world — we’re suggesting that we’re changing the rules of a game that most people are well into, halfway through. This is a really tricky ask.
The way we can think of it in the second wave is that we had a generation of people who had entered marriages, and especially white, middle-class marriages built around post-war investments by our government in creating a sort of idyllic white middle class. Those marriages had been entered into, willingly and enthusiastically, by men and women who expected marriage to entail a certain breakdown of responsibility. Both the men and women had gone into them eagerly. And then, along came a social movement that exploded expectations.
Ms. Tippett: Well, the women were taking Valium, though.
Ms. Traister: Many of them were. Deep into those relationships, many of the women were taking Valium, in part because, of course, they were premised on the fundamental inequality and unjust organization of power. So then came a social and political movement that exploded those expectations that opened new doors, not just economically and professionally and educationally, but sexually. And suddenly, in the midst of some of those marriages, the rules and possibilities changed, and you found people, including men, who were like, wait — we did this together, and now you’re telling me that I’m an abuser of a kind of power, or that I’m a patriarch, or that my behavior has been unacceptable, but in fact, it was perfectly — right?
We’re doing a version of that now, where we’re changing the rules. We’re trying to change the rules with the understanding that those rules have been set up, and our norms have been set up, in ways that are fundamentally unjust to vast swaths of people. So we want to change them. But changing them mid-game means that some people who have been playing by them are going to be caught out at having violated rules they were born thinking they could play by.
Ms. Tippett: Well, and not only — we’re changing the rules by which the people who are right now at the peak of their power and leading our institutions were masters. What we’re talking about is the pace of human change, which is not only slower than we want it to be, but it’s always uneven. There are people who get there first, and there are people who take a long time, even for things that, later, just look so obvious.
I think one thing I want to get to, which really flows out of this, is the question of — I don’t even want to say just a space for apology and redemption; I want to say a space for change. I was listening back to a conversation I had with Desmond Tutu years ago, and he was talking about what happened in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and how they did a trustworthy, honored space for stories to be told. He talked about how, when in a setting like that where the stories were held, the people were held, because the people who had harmed them, sometimes grievously — murdered their families — had to listen. But creating the right setting for that, spontaneously, they asked for forgiveness. A moment of reconciliation is something that then takes generations, but there can be this moment of forgiveness that is the beginning of a lot of new possibility. So how do we talk about redemption or — I don’t even want to say forgiveness, just change, growth? Because it’s not actually safe now, because we don’t really reward people, in general, but in this, for saying, “Boy, I was really wrong.”
Mr. Klein: I’m thinking about what it typically takes to create a space where you can be open and vulnerable in that way, and the amount — typically, people need to feel pretty safe, and you have to have a lot of trust. And it’s important to remember how hard that is to just create that. Even one-on-one with people, the amount of safety and trust before we ever — the people that I wrote about, by the way, it took them — oftentimes, it was months. They’d say they were coming in for one thing, and we’d do that for a little while, and then they would share what was really on their minds, because they didn’t know me, and they didn’t know what it would be like. That’s just with one other person who is supposed to be nonjudgmental. So what it takes to open yourself up and not know what you’re going to get back — it does take bravery, and it does take courage. It’s important to remember that. In my mind, I think more about — maybe it’s because of who I work with, but I think more about the apology than the forgiveness, that if you really —
Ms. Tippett: The asking for forgiveness.
Mr. Klein: OK, yes. But that it’s without any incentive to be forgiven, because that’s about — that’s what you need, the person who’s wronged. But what is the person who you’ve wronged — what do they need to hear? I think, one, they need to know that you hold them in your heart, that you hold their experience in your heart. What you did to them, you’re allowing yourself to imagine it, what it was like for them. I think it’s so important. And then, once you’ve let yourself imagine that, what did that do to you?
Ms. Tippett: I feel, Rebecca, that that’s — in journalism, we need to develop, almost, a new muscle.
Ms. Traister: Well, also, it would have to better control for its own self-made audiences, because in part, I think about — again, my interest is in the stories of the women, or the mostly women, who are explaining and telling the stories of their lives, fully, often for the first time. But that can’t bridge that divide that Avi is describing because if those stories aren’t actually being heard by the people who’ve inflicted some of that pain, then it does give comfort to others. It provides some of that connection and network-building amongst people who shared those experiences and derive something of value from hearing those stories. But it doesn’t accomplish that thing that I agree with Avi is the key to moving forward, whatever form that takes.
And again, I am very wary about making any pronouncements about who needs to do what in order to gain this forgiveness. But I do think that I completely agree that the crucial part of the process is it being in part about the stories of those who’ve been hurt and them being able to communicate, one way or another, to the people who hurt them, “This is what it was like.” So much of what we hear from the men reflects a lack of curiosity about what the experience of having been harmed in some way actually entailed because it might not be the things that they’re imaginatively guessing at and performing.
Trying to figure out how to do that within journalism is very difficult because you can’t force people to read or listen to things they don’t want to read or listen to. But I have been heartened — and what Avi is saying about his practice heartens me — that even if it’s not the big Louis CKs of the world who are doing the listening, I do believe that there are a lot of men out there who are reading these stories, who are having their eyes and ears opened. They’re men in my life; they’re my friends. I hear from them in many ways that bizarrely resemble the way that you’re hearing from them, even though I wouldn’t think that they’d come to me for that, but doing an accounting: What have I done? This is what I’ve done. And maybe they’re looking to me for forgiveness, but I know that they’re doing some work on this.
Ms. Tippett: Just in the last few minutes, are there other questions or observations that you’d want to just surface, either one of you?
Mr. Klein: I was just thinking about, as I was listening to you, why don’t we want to listen? Why do we push against it? Particularly men. I think, for one, if you really take in the reality of the hurt, the pain that women are going through, one, that just feels really bad. It’s really hard to open yourself up to that. Then there’s this way in which men are so often used to trying to fix things, and there’s a real helplessness that they feel in hearing this, without having to do anything else but listen. And it just needs to be said: All you need to do is listen. You just have to listen.
Ms. Traister: Well, listen and act and perhaps change your behavior. The analogous thing, for me, that I think about constantly right now is writing about racism within a feminist movement and how hard it is for white women to do the same process of listening to why women of color within their progressive movement are angry at them, us, me, white feminists, for having benefited from and participated in a system of inequality. I think about that from a white feminist perspective and how difficult it is for progressive white women to take onboard the knowledge that they have participated in and benefited from a kind of inequality that they imagine themselves dead set against. We want to be the heroes of our lives, and I think that being told — I think this might be true, specifically, within progressive political circles, where we imagine ourselves fighting injustice and being good people — having that vision of ourselves disturbed by the actual fury of those who don’t view us as the heroes but, in fact, to whom we have done harm in one way or another — I think it’s incredibly — it’s a hard thing to acknowledge, the imperfection of your own, what you view as, your purpose.
Ms. Tippett: This is not for two minutes, but women — some of us, those rules of the game, we all played by. I’m not talking about where rape was at hand. But we’re all relearning the rules. And some of us very successfully maneuvered our way through that to our advantage. This is a discussion women are going to have to have among themselves.
Ms. Traister: That’s one of the things I think was initially read as a generational split over Me Too, and I don’t think the generational explanation fully covers it. But I do think that there is a reality, for many women who were groundbreakers in many regards and were angry and did furious work of participating in social and political disruption, but also, did that disrupting within a system in which they also existed and, in many cases, flourished. And then, to have another wave of disruptive fury come and interrogate that system in which they themselves have flourished feels like an attack on them and, again, the failure to acknowledge the way that they themselves had been disruptors and had been fighting on the side of good.
That’s one of the hardest dynamics. I know so many women who, for years as I’ve been writing about feminism, said to me, “Why aren’t young women angry?” And then young women got angry and, often, part of who they were angry about were some of the older women.
Ms. Tippett: I feel that we did put a lot out in the room that’s really valuable. We were never going to solve it today, but I think there’s a lot of good fodder and raw material here for even the “H” word — for healing, for solutions. I actually thought it would be good to let Tarana Burke have the last word in the room. Her point is, a lot of things are getting conflated. And she said: There is, in #MeToo, a particular problem to be solved among all the even broader ones. “Millions of people around the world, who are survivors of sexual violence — very specifically, sexual violence — raised their hands to say, ‘Me, too.’ And their hands are still raised.”
Thank you for having us.
[music: “No Exit” by A Picture of Her]
Ms. Tippett: Rebecca Traister is a writer for New York Magazine and a contributing editor at Elle. Her books include Big Girls Don’t Cry, All the Single Ladies, and Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.
Avi Klein is a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker. He practices in Manhattan. His 2018 New York Times Op-Ed piece was titled “What Men Say About #MeToo in Therapy.”
Staff: On Being is Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Mariah Helgeson, Maia Tarrell, Marie Sambilay, Erinn Farrell, Laurén Dørdal, Tony Liu, Bethany Iverson, Erin Colasacco, Kristin Lin, Profit Idowu, Casper ter Kuile, Angie Thurston, Sue Phillips, Eddie Gonzalez, Lilian Vo, Lucas Johnson, Damon Lee, Suzette Burley, Katie Gordon, and Zack Rose.
[music: “Collide Us” by Signal Hill]
Ms. Tippett: Special thanks this week to Courtney Martin, Sarah Morrison, Carlos Fonseca, David Bornstein, and the important work at the Solutions Journalism Network.
Our lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoë Keating. And the last voice that you hear singing our final credits in each show is hip-hop artist Lizzo.
On Being was created at American Public Media. Our funding partners include:
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