By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
It’s a frequent story during these times of awareness of sexual harassment. After the Weinstein scandal many women and some men have come forward to discuss their experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Many powerful men, particularly in journalism and entertainment, have been exposed and either fired or suspended. One of the recent ones is a NYT writer.
According to Vox: “He kept saying he’s an advocate for women and women journalists…That’s how he presented himself to me. He tried to make himself seem like an ally and a mentor.” Many of the men caught up in these scandals pose as “champions” of women and “supporting empowerment.” We’ve also seen men who described themselves as “feminists” accused of abuse.
This is unsurprising. One should be suspicious of people who pretend that they are there to “empower” women while maintaining their male grip on power. These are classic paternalist and colonialist concepts. How does a colonial officer view the natives that he “empowers” and “champions”? He achieves the “championing” through rape of the local culture. In the same way many men who put the mantle of “helping women” on their shoulders also feel entitled to the women the “helped.” This is unsurprising. When you help someone and treat them as kind of child-like, you feel entitled to them as well.
The writer at the heart of the Vox story wrote in a message to a woman “I am acutely aware of the hurdles that young women face in this business and have spent the better part of 20 years advocating for women journalists.”
The pattern we hear is similar. “Just by his stature, put women in a position of feeling they had to suck up and move on from an uncomfortable encounter.”
And this is one of the central problems. There are too many male “allies” and male “champions” of women and somehow the women are always being “empowered” and “championed” with all these “allies” but not supplanting the allies. If women were really being empowered and the “allies” and “mentors” were actually helping, then the paternalism would stop at some point. The problem with paternalism, like colonialism, is that there is always a relationship of colonizer and colonizers, a relationship of dominant and subordinate. We see this in majority-minority relations, or the way the entitled elites will “help” people of color…and yet people of color end up staying at the bottom.
So one lesson here is that there should be suspicion of these male “allies.” Maybe they are not allies. Men put themselves in this arrogant position of “mentoring” young women. Maybe young women don’t need “mentoring” from men all the time. Do male journalists like the man above, “mentor” young men? The Atlantic also described how Wieseltier was a “mentor.” The article notes: “The women who worked with Wieseltier, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, felt he could make or break their careers. His role as a mentor to female colleagues, however, was somewhat complicated by his louche reputation.”
So many mentors, so few successful women after decades? If these men were really “mentoring” then would the women eventually replace them in jobs. But it is like the men telling us they are “empowering” minorities in journalism. Are they? Are they “allies.” Or in fact is their “alliance” and “mentoring” just a way to preserve and perpetuate the status quo. When all the male journalists claim to be “mentoring” women…and women don’t seem to rise up and above these men, then we need to recognize what is happening. They are not “champions” and “allies.” Beware all these men who come bearing gifts.
Maybe what would be better is less of these kinds of power relationships, and instead more equality, and then less of these problematic harassing situations, and more healthy relationships.