While everyone was losing their collective head about Brett Kavenaugh’s potential Supreme Court appointment last week, Jezebel came out with a story about progressive journalist Jack Smith having been fired from Mic over allegations that he had been something of a negger, and had emotionally manipulated women who were interested in him romantically into having sex with him. In short, coercive sex. If that doesn’t sound like a criminal act, that’s because it isn’t.
The writer, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, accused Smith of being “a man who used manipulation and emotional abuse to exert power over accomplished, intelligent women.” That’s right, these intelligent, accomplished women, agents of their own destiny, had sex of their own free will with a man who made them feel pretty bad about themselves. And in some cases, they did it again. If you’re having trouble following what the problem is here, you’re not alone.
Decades of feminist discourse would tell us that women have the exact same sexual rights and privileges as their male counterparts do. From the first wave that got us the women’s vote, to the second wave that demanded women on college campuses have the same freedom of movement as their male counterparts, to the third wave that states unequivocally that women have the same right to engage in sex with as many partners as they choose, whenever they choose, and without any shame, women have staked their liberation on freedom to take any risk of their choosing in order to get the same freedoms that men have. Feminists from the mid to late 20th century knew that it would not be possible to be free and to be safe, and so they rightfully chose the former.
But in the Me Too era and under the burgeoning expectation of enthusiastic consent, the first questions asked are something like, “What kind of horrible man would do this?” and, “How can we make him pay for this crime yucky way he behaved toward women?” Any attempt to ask why a woman would invite a man into her bedroom late into the evening if she didn’t want to have sex with him, accept the offer of a third date after she really didn’t enjoy the first two, or continue a years-long sexual relationship even though sometimes the sex made her feel bad, are considered victim blaming. It is as though we are to believe that the woman involved has no agency, no free will, and no control over her own choices.
Coercive sex sounds an awful lot like what used to known as the crime of seduction, which was the criminally punishable act of a man talking a woman into having sex with him under false pretenses. The assumption was that the little ladies needed protection from these smooth talkers who would do anything to get them into bed, even lie, promise marriage, or emotionally pressure a woman into sex.
Befuddled and humiliated by the broken promises, a woman (provided she could prove her former chastity– the onus was still on the woman to prove the charge) could take legal action against the man who had coerced her into giving up her maidenhood. Is the progressive left really proposing we bring back as a crime that treats women like little tiny children who can’t think for themselves and are so emotionally weak as to be able to be coerced into sexual encounters they might decide later they didn’t want? Seriously?
Perhaps the idea here is that there ought to be, if not a criminal standard, a new societal standard for what is acceptable in heterosexual relationships. Maybe the plan is that if society can morally legislate, through fear of reprisals and reputation intimidation, the inner workings of straight sex and straight relationships, no woman would ever feel victimized by sex with a partner who she’s only sort of into. Is that a good enough reason to deny women the respect to assume that they are capable of making their own choices? And do we imagine for even a second that women would abide the same standards being applied to them?
Shepard addresses the accusation that “women are muddying the waters, that we are unable to distinguish between violent rape and encounters in which the boundaries of consent are blurred. But it is precisely the opposite: Women do distinguish between these experiences, and do not conflate them; we just would like the tentpoles to be moved permanently toward the expectation of equitable sexual encounters.”
It is imaginable that when a person enters into a sexual encounter they do so because they are under the impression that they will enjoy it. But the call for equity, even from one-night stands, short-term hookups, and guys you only sort of know, speaks to a desire for new standards that are very specifically not equality. It is completely impossible to live in a free society and legislate or moralize for outcomes, especially those that take place behind closed doors and are intimate and private in nature.
If there are to be new standards of conduct and ethical behavior to which men are accountable under penalty of reputation and career destruction, men need to be told what they are, and what the penalties are. And if these standards include a clause in which men must protect women from their own consent, women really ought to think very carefully about exactly how much control they want men to have over their independent sexual decisions.
We have dispensed with moral codes all over the place, and replaced them with nothing but haphazard conjecture about what the right thing to do might be in some cases, even if it can’t be applied across the board. Jezebel is right to call that a “gray area,” in which men and women aren’t always sure if they’re doing the right thing, or if their partner will like it, or if they’re super sure they want to wake up next to this person in the morning. But that’s what relationship shopping, or rather, dating, is.
Unless we take choosing a partner out of an individual’s hands entirely, there will always be questioning. No matter how sophisticated everyone wants to be these days, we’re not all going to be in sex-positive giggly fun non-committed relationships every time. There will definitely be some dingers. According to his accusers, Smith is not a good person to be in a sexual relationship with. But is that a matter for his employer? Is being a craptastic, manipulative, non-reciprocally kinky hookup a firing offense?
Smith considered himself a champion of the MeToo movement and an aggressive opponent of misogyny. That the Jezebel piece focuses so heavily on this hypocrisy shows exactly why he lost his job at Mic. Clearly it’s not cool to say you’re down with the movement then engage in behavior that the women in the movement find abhorrent.
Still, there should be no “gray area” into which any sort of authority figure, government, organization, or corporation has subjective supervision to punish or disrupt livelihoods. If he didn’t do anything indictable, and the women were able to leave the relationship without legal intervention, it should remain a private matter.
This guy is not accused of sexual assault, he’s accused of being a jerk. But this is America, you have the freedom to be a jerk, and women have the freedom to not date you, and tell other women why. But unless your workplace has a codified guideline for how you are to behave in your sexual life or else get fired, it’s not your boss’ business.
Do women really want an organized list of workplace demands over lifestyle that include sexual behavior? The fight for gay rights was in part about not being discriminated against in the workplace for private sexual practices, but now there’s a clamoring for private sexual behavior to be a terminable offense. What madness.
The bad sexual and relationship experiences these women had with Smith sound highly unpleasant, and hopefully they are able to heal and move on to more sustaining, healthy relationships. However, it is a mistake to think that society, government, organizations, or corporations should have any oversight over non-criminal behavior within sexual or romantic relationships.
For the long arm of anything authoritarian to reach out and intervene in crappy relationships in order to protect women from bad acting men is to disrupt the feminist experiment and say, flat out, that women need protection from society, an intermediary between themselves and those men who would be jerk boyfriends, because they simply cannot handle those big, loud, hormonally charged men and their demands for sex. If women want the freedom to screw, they have to accept the freedom to screw up. Freedom is always worth it.