Has #metoo gone #toofar? Not so much.

I’m not a fan of Steve Paikin. Frankly, I think his milquetoast liberalism is uninspiring. Unenlightening. Boring. However, I do find myself less than convinced by Toronto woman Sarah Thomson’s allegation that he uses his position as the anchor of a current events talk show on public television to coerce women to have sex with him. But how should we talk about sexual harassment allegations we don’t believe? Is this potentially-false accusation a sign that women have gone too far by naming and shaming harassers, abusers and rapists?

Boys will be <<good humans>>

Let’s start with why I don’t currently believe this allegation. In general, I think women tell the truth about sexual harassment and sexual assault. I have no opinion on Thomson’s or Paikin’s credibility–I know that women who have been victimized often seem “crazy” because victimization is crazy-making. And men who victimize women often seem like really nice guys. Or like Wonderbread personified. Whatever. The reason I’m not convinced is that the allegation itself is not (or not yet, anyway) convincing.

For one thing, appearing on The Agenda is not worth fucking the kind of creep who would openly coerce women into sex. If I was going to screw some pig for publicity, I’d expect better company than that noxious blowhard J-Pete and Sid Ryan (who is great, but not that great).

More seriously, I thought Thomson’s comment about wondering whether the women who appear regularly on The Agenda have fucked Paikin was nasty to those women—calling their integrity and expertise into question while simultaneously suggesting they’re victims of sexual assault. The Toronto Star reported that Thomson’s assistant and campaign manager not only had not heard about the allegation before the story broke Monday, but also were not aware that Thomson had met with Paikin at all. Thomson responded by saying the assistant who spoke to the Star hadn’t been a part of her 2010 Toronto mayoral campaign at all, which is demonstrably false.

And then there is the lack of other accusers, of other investigations, of rumours, even. If Paikin did spend the last 25 years boldly attempting to coerce sex from potential Agenda guests and succeeding 50% of the time, that would amount to thousands of rapes. That no one has come forward to say “me too” is surprising. Either the facts are different from what Thomson reported, or Steve “Human Oatmeal” Paikin is one stealthy motherfucker.

But what matters to me right now isn’t really whether or not the allegation is true (although that is, understandably, what matters most to Paikin and Thomson). What matters is how the allegation, which appears to be widely disbelieved by the public and the media, is being framed, in the context of discourse on gender equality, sexual harassment and #metoo.

Many people believe that Thomson’s allegation is an example of #metoo run amok. Others believe that allegations like Thomson’s trivialize the legitimate complaints that began the #metoo movement. Lots of folks seem to agree that while sexual assault and sexual harassment are, like, super not cool, complaints like Thomson’s (or like that of the woman who went on a traumatic date with Aziz Ansari) shouldn’t count. If it’s not criminal, ladies, shut your cake holes.

Paikin wrote a Facebook post denying Thomson’s accusation. Here are a few excerpts from the nearly 900 “supportive” comments on that post, chosen to highlight a few important themes:

Crush these accusations in a Court of Law, if necessary, not this way where weak kneed, non visionary, run a business into the ground whackoes like Sara Thomson exist. Sara, crawl back into your hole of failures. Supreme Court- hello, hello? Show some stones and halt this movement. #metoo is out of control.

Every alleged criminal is assumed innocent until proven guilty – except, it would seem, those who are accused of offending a woman. How can it be that 8 years after this alleged comment, the woman in question is now coming forward? Seriously? This “me2now” movement is becoming a tool for every slighted, theatrical or mildly offended woman to use against anyone whom they choose and it is up to the accused to defend themselves and clear their names. This is outrageous.

Image result for witch trial

To mean no harm to Sarah Thomson is a mistake. False claimants , slandering and fabricating women must be punished as harshly as possible – they cast doubts on the real claims of real victims. Don’t be soft Steve.

Get the bitch!!!!
These dumb bints will learn innocent until proven guilty is still the gold standard, and making these assertions without evidence will lead to bankruptcy for them!

She did it because she didn’t get what she wanted from him and the metoo movement was her chance to finally get back at him.

Yes, such petty, stupid, evil women do exist.
She should be thrown in jail.

Sarah Thomson has no credibility and has always come across as a wing-nut to me. Her desperate, flashy and weak attempts to enter politics say a lot about her character. Sadly, I suspect this is all a desperate attempt at attention at your expense. I’m glad TVO is standing by you and I look forward to the day you are cleared of this. Then sue her for defamation of character.

I would love to see this woman incarcerated to send a message to everyone else who thinks it’s a good idea to destroy someone’s life based on lies.

And now, can someone explain to me how this would have been sexual harassment, even if it occurred exactly as Ms Thomson said? Since when is “asking for sex” between two adults a crime?

Steve! Fight this false accusation with everything in your arsenal! Sue the pants off that crazy lady for defamation.

When she accused Rob Ford of grabbing her ass, I thought she was a bit off, but now I’m sure she’s bat- shit crazy. She’s just a publicity hound!!

Related imageWho would believe someone like Paikin would be interested in a 3 at best Thompson? And the hair… my GOD. There’s no sexual attraction in that woman what so ever… If I want to treat sex addiction I ask my patients to look at Thompson for 3 hrs… get real guys..

The whole thing will be different if the victims are before a judge.!

This is what is bad about the me too movement. Any nut bar can make a false accusation and an innocent mans life is destroyed.

It’s actually going to be fun destroying her. I just hope you sue her for slander/defamation.

Comments about Sarah Thomson sexualize, criminalize and pathologize her. They trivialize her complaint, as if the behaviour she describes doesn’t constitute egregious douchebaggery. She is treated not only as an inherently unreliable narrator, but also as unfit for politics, weak, desperate, craven, hysterical, scheming and insane. These diagnoses are made based on three facts: she once joked about how, with so many women seeking Conrad Black’s attention at a party, she’d have to sleep with him to get an interview; she once accused Rob Ford of grabbing her ass; and she is now accusing Steve Paikin of sexual harassment.

The call to action is clear: put the alleged victims on trial, and punish them if they can’t substantiate their claims. Do this in the name of due process, even though it’s completely at odds with, you know, actual due process.

Jonathan “Gawd, is He STILL Alive?” Kay also notices a remarkable lack of empathy for Thomson in the public and media responses to her allegation:

We talk about speaking openly and sympathetically about mental health. But when we actually are confronted with an episode in which a possibly unbalanced individual hurts someone we like, we throw all that hashtag empathy out the window. Why is it not OK to mock a cousin who has schizoid-induced psychosis, but somehow acceptable — at least in small groups and private chat — to describe Thomson as a cuckoo bird?

Image result for #metooSo where is this bogeyman, these girls of #metoo gone wild, acting as judge, jury and executioner, destroying the life of any man accused of sexual harassment?

Turns out that’s just not a thing.

What Thomson alleges Paikin did is not a crime. But given the benefits local male political candidates could see from being on his show, it would be a very serious breach of journalistic ethics and equitable workplace practices for him to require female candidates in the same election to fuck him to get on air. It’s that quid pro quo, coupled with the fact that women would like to just go to business lunches unmolested, as men do every motherfucking day, that makes the alleged behaviour harassment.

And is Thomson crazy? How the fuck would I know? How the fuck would anybody commenting on this event know? And why do we act like this makes her story less likely to be true, when we know that disabled women experience sexual assault at three times the rate of non-disabled women? When we know that people with mental illnesses are particularly vulnerable to violence? What the comments about Thomson’s mental health show us is that even in the age of #metoo, when sexual assault and sexual harassment are taken more seriously than ever before, women with mental health disabilities are still frighteningly vulnerable to violence and unlikely to be believed about our experiences.

Likewise, the fact that Thompson has been harassed before tells us nothing except what we already know: sexual harassment is widespread in our culture. And Rob Ford was a crass, loathsome, misogynist sack of boiled dicks. Those are well-known facts. The point of #metoo is that all women can say it because we have all experienced this fuckery, and we all know that women are generally punished for fighting back. Facing further sexual harassment and being called insane, manipulative and unfit for public office are just the tip of the iceberg of fuckness here. Women dismissing stories of assault with

TVO is, as it is ethically and legally required to do, investigating a very serious allegation against one of its staff. The broadcaster has taken steps to ensure that the investigation is done at arm’s length and that appropriate time and resources are dedicated to the investigation before TVO issues any response supporting or disciplining Paikin. Paikin is embarrassed, but he hasn’t been disciplined at work, and he is certainly not facing any legal problems at this time.

While the public response has been vicious, TVO’s response has been measured, methodical and fair. What this event shows us is not that #metoo has gone #toofar. Rather, it shows us that employers are actually capable of responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations in a way that takes them seriously, understands the nature of the problem and deals with it in a transparent manner. Women still face a shitload of stigma, disbelief and abuse when we speak up about sexual violence, but it is possible to create a world in which women can speak up and our complaints can be investigated without putting us on trial and without ruining the lives of innocent men (which isn’t happening anyway, but whatever).

I think women are generally telling the truth about the harassment we face. It’s not that I think we’re incapable of lying or that unsubstantiated reports of sexual harassment will never happen. I just think sexual harassment and sexual assault are much more pervasive and damaging problems than false allegations. Rather than failing to deal with these problems, in order to give every man the benefit of the doubt, we should deal with them knowing that when the facts of an allegation really do make us doubt its veracity, we are equipped to handle it accordingly.

As long as our culture sees the embarrassment of a few men as a bigger problem than the soul-crushing, dehumanizing, and fucking infuriating assaults and harrasment of millions of women, #metoo hasn’t gone nearly far enough.

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14 comments

  1. Robert White

    Yo, did you somehow lose your thesaurus, or are you a part time writer that works the docks as a longshorewoman during the day?

    Heck, not even my mother was that foulmouthed, and she taught me every swear word in the book before I made it to public school.

    RW

      • Robert White

        Yeah, but I ain’t nobody, dork, got it!

        RKO 281
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RKO_281
        Brenda Blethyn as Louella Parsons

        That’s who you initially remind me of, and I have to admit that you do seem like a colourful character to be sure. My foulmouthed mother was a writer too. Actually, she was a poet/producer/author & BIG time cigarette smoker, was raised by a well-to-do publisher in Toronto in the 20s & 30s, and most assuredly a bohemian type persona like you.

        I have two paintings of dead Canadian poets on my wall by Arthur II. One is of Milton Acorn Governor General Award winner for I’ve Tasted My Blood, and the other is Bill Hawkins at Le Hibou Café Ottawa 1974.

        When one lives with dead poets on the wall one is entitled to lecture writers on language, and word choice, frankly.

        RW

  2. Richard Davey

    I have thought long and hard about situations like this (as every man should). Quite frankly, if you told me that the likes of Weinstein and Nassar had been torn apart by wild dogs, I’d ask if it was on Youtube. Many women (and some men, myself included) have been the victims of sexual assault and long forced to stay silent, not believed, not taken seriously, or simply too afraid to speak out.

    But, I admit the Patrick Brown situation, and the Steve Paikin situation that followed swiftly on it’s heals makes me uncomfortable. Stories such as this: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/teen-cleared-rape-family-find-11949234#ICID make me angry. I don’t view this woman’s actions any less of an assault on that young man than what many men do to women. People can say it’s rare, which is true. Some will say ‘turnabout is fair play’, which is disgusting.

    Thanks to TVOs ethical handling, Paikin is not really damaged yet that I can see, beyond extreme discomfort. Patrick Brown, however, was more than just embarrassed, he basically lost his career. I may think the man is creepy, but creepy does not necessarily make him guilty. (Just as while I think Sarah Thomson might have mental issues, it does not necessarily make her a liar.) Connor Fitzgerald was innocent, lost his job and spent three months in jail; a nineteen year old terrified that his future was over for a crime he did not commit on the word of one vindictive woman. That is not an indictment of #Metoo, but let’s not pretend she did not use it (or misuse it).

    So, I guess the question is, what do we do in situations where the allegations are proven to be motivated by malice or instability? Obviously we do not want to sacrifice the gains that have been made, but I don’t think we can pass off these situations as just ‘unfortunate occurrences’. Are we fine with sacrificing a few people in the name of progress? (I think the statistic I saw was 2-8% are false allegations.) I don’t have the answer, but I think we need to find an answer if what we truly seek is justice for all victims of assault.

    • sarah m

      Making mischief police complaints is already illegal. In the case you linked to, both of the guys charged DID get due process. The police charged them based on the evidence they had and dropped the charges when new evidence became available. I do feel for the guy who spent time in pretrial detention, but I think that’s a conversation we need to have about the prison system.

      Patrick Brown’s and Paikin’s experiences are a different story. They were not accused of crimes. They were accused of workplace misconduct. Paikin’s workplace is showing us that we as a society are perfectly capable of handling workplace misconduct allegations that we don’t believe. And, again, there are rememdies in the legal system for false allegations–the language of “defamation” in Paikin’s response points to one such remedy.

      • Richard Davey

        I think characterizing her actions as ‘mischief’ and claiming ‘he got due process’ trivializes the damage that was done. Fitzgerald was held up as a vile rapist for weeks and months in the media, conversely his accuser now faces no such public scrutiny or censure because her identity is is shielded ‘due to legal reasons’. I think the woman should be vilified for what she did, not just because of what she did (which was egregious), but because she did it on the backs of real victims of assault.

        Obviously the way Paikin’s situation is being handled by TVO is the proper course of action, but is that not in part due to his sterling reputation? From the comments I have read, people almost universally went ‘Huh’? If Paikin did not have a reputation quite so shiny, would there not have been strong public demand that he be removed from his position at the very least?

        One of the main reasons #Metoo came about is because the legal system and company policy has been so universally bad at handling such situations. However, they at least have rules. The court of public opinion does not. If we value #Metoo and are to use it as a tool for good and bring justice to those who have been wronged, we must also ruthlessly guard it against those few who would dare to use it to victimize others. To ignore that is to undermine the very principles on which is was founded.

  3. sarah m

    The problem is that villifying the very few women who make malicious complaints would leave the majority of women whose complaints are valid open to the same villification if their complaints didn’t result in convictions. Since most sexual assault charges don’t end in convictions, women would be terrified to make any complaints at all. That’s pretty much the system we already have. And that’s why we need systemic reform, not an ad hoc system based on extremes and outliers.

    I do believe that the prison system harms the people caught in it, whether they’re guilty or not. But the way to deal with that is to abolish prisons, not to hold the threat of punishment over the heads of women who make sexual assault complaints. Maybe men’s energies would be better directed at ruthlessly dismantling the systems that cause violence against women than at trying to police women’s resistance to that system based on the very, very rare occurrence of false allegations.

    You are still treating the embarrassment of a few men as a more serious problem–one warranting a reversal of the little progress women have made in making it safer to make a sexual assault complaint–than the actual assaults, harassment and other forms of victimization inflicted on milions and millions of women.

    • sarah m

      Robyn Urback describes the process journalists go through before releasing an allegation of abuse:

      “Readers often accuse those in the media of rushing to judgment on these sorts of things. On that note, I’ll let you in on a little Media Party secret: most bombshell allegations of sexual impropriety are rarely bombshells in newsrooms. There were rumours about Jian Ghomeshi. Rumours about Patrick Brown. Rumours about other high-profile men whose stories may or may not ever become public. It’s possible I’m out of the loop on this one, but as far as I know, Paikin’s name was never in that mill.

      “A former colleague recently pointed out to me that readers might perceive an absence of due process in #MeToo cases because they are never privy to those rumours, nor do they hear about the extensive research that is necessary to turn a rumour into a publishable report. Hours are spent interviewing friends, family members, colleagues, poring over saved social media posts, reviewing cellphone records, vetting drafts with lawyers and so forth.

      “Ultimately, we’re all terrified of getting it wrong, knowing that our news outlet’s reputation is on the line, along with the reputation of the man in question. The decision to publish is never taken lightly.

      “All of which is to say, unless you believe the theory that Fake News is everywhere, there is good reason to trust in the veracity of allegations reported in the mainstream media.”

      http://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/me-too-paikin-1.4527003

    • Richard Davey

      I think it often goes far beyond embarrassment, but I agree that women (or any victim) should be encouraged to come forward, be comfortable in doing so, and be treated seriously. I also agree we need systematic reform. I don’t know if any reform made can protect both the many and the few. Perhaps that is impossible. Miscarriages of justice happen all the time. Since 95% of all cases have substance to them, perhaps I must accept the 5% as the cost.

      I do know that if Fitzgerald was my son, I’d be out for blood, which while understandable, I will admit is probably not a proper foundation to base a society on. I also know that I would never want what happened to me to ever happen to anyone else, which is why I am always uncomfortable that we couch these discussions as men vs. women rather than predator vs. victim, but I do realize that the overwhelming majority of sexual assault and violence is perpetrated by men on women.

      As I said, I don’t have an answer. I honestly wish I did. Perhaps as we continue to discuss these things openly we will at least get a better answer than the one we have now. Perhaps that will be the true legacy of #Metoo, even moreso than justice for any one victim.

      Thanks for the Robyn Urback post, btw. I had missed that one.

      • sarah m

        I think it’s worth attributing that 5% “cost” to its source: the justice system, not women. Can we reform the justice system to make it more humane? Absolutely. Is it on women to account for men’s suffering while resisting rape culture? No.

        Check out this story from Michigan, which serves as an instructive counterpart to the story about the falsely accused young man above. It’s not that I don’t believe that experience was difficult–I do. But that is what due process and the presumption of innocence look like. And for all that men might fear humiliation “ruining” their lives, women fear men literally ending our lives.

        Innocent men getting due process isn’t the cost here. This is the cost:

        “KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A teen girl who was found slain in a wooded area of southwestern Michigan last month had been scheduled to testify against her accused rapist, reports CBS affiliate WWMT.

        “Multiple sources tell the station that Quinn Anthony James is a person of interest in the death of 16-year-old Mujey Dumbuya. James, a felon with a long criminal history, was arrested last week on allegations he raped another girl in 2014, the station reports.

        “Dumbuya, a student at East Kentwood High School near Grand Rapids, was reported missing by her family Jan. 24 after she left for the bus but never showed up to school. She was found dead four days later by a couple out for a walk in Kalamazoo, about 50 miles south of the school, WWMT reports.

        “Dumbuya said James, who at one time worked for her school district and is her boyfriend’s uncle, forced her to have sex with him multiple times and in various locations starting when she was 15, according to court documents obtained by the station. James was arrested in November and was terminated from his maintenance position with the school district on Nov. 30, according to a Kentwood Public Schools statement released to television station WXMI.

        “The district said James was fired after a student reported an assault that happened off-campus in the summer of 2017, and officials learned that James could be involved.

        “According to the court documents obtained by WWMT, Dumbuya told police James raped her in a car in a school parking lot. Just before the attack, Dumbuya said James told her, ‘There is something about you. I could stop, but I just can’t.’

        “James allegedly admitted having sex with Dumbuya in a car outside the Ridge Park Charter Academy in Grand Rapids where his nephew, Dumbuya’s boyfriend, is a student. He allegedly said the sex was consensual.

        “He was charged with multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct, reports the station. He pleaded not guilty and was released on $100,000 bond days after his November arrest.”

        https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mujey-dumbuya-teen-found-slain-was-scheduled-to-testify-against-her-accused-rapist/

      • Richard Davey

        This is heinous, of course, and a clear example where the system failed to protect the victim. However there are numerous examples of the system failing men and boys as well. I remember reading one story where a mother took a carving knife to her son after he came out as gay. Despite repeated threats the system did not protect him. Another story where a woman kills her two children, this after years of warnings and visits to the house by social workers.

        There are absolutely monsters in the world. There are absolutely monstrous men in the world. I draw the line at monstrous being a male exclusive. I have met women who have never killed anyone in their lives, but carve up those around them mentally and emotionally with the skill of a surgeon. Killing them might have been kinder. I have met and read about both men and women that have all the empathy of a serial killer, never mind that the bodies they leave behind them are still breathing and have no physical marks.

        I believe the only way we get genuine and lasting reform is to realize that men and women are on the same team. It’s us vs. the monsters, and despite recent events I think the monsters are winning. I think they’ve been winning for a very long time.

  4. sarah m

    No one is claiming that all men are violent, or that violence is all done by men. But men are responsible for the overwhelming majority of violent crime, including violence against other men. Monsters are not responsible for this violence–normal humans are. What feminists are saying isn’t that men are inherently violent. We are saying that the gendered hierarchy created by patriarchy socializes men to be violent, and that it is a bad thing. Pretending it’s a gender-neutral issue helps it to continue.

    • Richard Davey

      Men are responsible for the overwhelming percentage of physical violence, but there are other forms of violence, mental, emotional. We can argue that such other forms have gone unnoticed and flourished under a male dominated society. I think that’s a completely fair assessment for a large number of reasons, but I don’t think society is served by making half the population the enemy, any more that it was served for thousands of years by making half the population the victim.

      Now I am sure the argument is that the enemy is the patriarchal system and not men themselves (a nuance that many, if not most men will not understand and a situation where feminism, for all their gains, have failed the most). I think the current system does large disservice to men as well, if obviously not to the same degree. However I think any gender-equal system we achieve will require gender-neutrality by necessity, and certainly require gender-cooperation.

    • Richard Davey

      https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2017/12/18/women-rarely-accused-sexual-harassment-and-theres-reason-why/905288001/

      Saw this today and thought you might enjoy it. I like the fact that it advocates for more women in power to reduce workplace harassment and I like the fact it advocates for changes in culture. I also like the fact that the policies and procedures in place for the organizations cited are gender-neutral. The only thing I disagree with is the idea that woman-on-woman harassment does not involve power imbalance.

      As more women stand up to point out harassment in the workplace, I think we need to train men to do the same. Pride and embarrassment should not be getting in the way, whether they see it done to others, or whether it is done to them. It’s not just that victims remain silent, it’s that those around them remain silent as well. If the culture continues to change to a point where such behavior is called out and made unacceptable in the workplace, it would be a massive step forward.

      Pride and embarrassment can be a tool, of course. Just last year I announced loudly to a supervisor. “Hey! I have a bad shoulder. Why don’t you give ME one of those backrubs.” Everybody laughed uncomfortably. He stopped.

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