The week the #metoo story became a cultural tsunami my husband posted a photo of us kissing, sweetly, and with passionate love. This image was the single most potent message he could have delivered.
In my life I have been harassed, abused, raped at gunpoint, ripped off and underestimated. I have also been loved.
There are too many landmines in this subject for me to ever address them all, but I would like to contribute a few ideas to the ongoing conversation.
Colonial Ghosts: We live in a world that celebrates “takers.” We call it ambition, leadership, victory. The gentle and the careful get trampled, while the aggressive rise to the top. Takers take. Now, exploitation in all its forms is on trial. The entire ecology, including all but a few wealthy humans, is disenfranchised. Our bodies have been taken without our permission. I would argue that the survival of our species and 1000’s of others is hinged to a violence that stems from the same blind spot as rape and abuse.
Getting out of this destructive pattern is not about untangling the mess we are in, it is about arching above it. I am not sure we can undo it, or solve it, or fix it. We don’t have time. Rapid transformation is at hand.
The cells in my body that know the pain of abuse reach back to my mother, her mother, her mother before her, and countless generations. I have waited at least a thousand years for this moment to come. I don’t want to see it get lost in a polarized display of us v. them.
To all those who have found the sensitivity to see each other and love each other beyond the limits of stereotypes, I say, “thank you.” Show us the way.
#Metoo is complex. On behalf of all the generations that came before and those yet to arrive, I would like to give this moment its due complexity. The lens through which we view this opportunity requires a zoom-in-zoom-out toggle between concentrating on individuals’ behavior and societal, cultural, systemic patterns that we are all trapped in. If the discussion gets lost in the crimes of individuals we will lose the opportunity to address the systemic changes needed. But, if we get lost in the systemic we will lose the vital sense of personal responsibility that is also needed. Both are imperative.
Let me state at the outset of this message that the opposite of complexity is not simplicity, it is reductionism.
As an aside, I want to say that short circuiting complexity is never a good idea. It makes life complicated. Complicated and complex are not the same thing. Complex looks like an ocean; whole and alive with a vitality that is generated through interrelational, interdependent processes. Complicated is what happens when you break those relationships into parts and try to control them, like: pesticides on our food and the medical and ecological consequences of consequences that pesticides have created.
It takes complexity to meet complexity. If we go looking for quick-fix answers and binary memes, we will find them, and they will not suffice to build new ways of life upon. But, if we can begin to recognize the complexity in our own identities we may be able to recognize that of others, and thereby humbly enter another level of mutual respect.
As an illustration, consider the complexity of systemic abuse in society in its similarity to the ecological characteristics of an ocean or forest. Ask: “Where is the forest?” Is it in the soil, insects, plants, animals, bacteria, or creeks? The forest exists in the relationships between all of these living things. Likewise, the patterns of abuse in our society are vitalized by a combination of interwoven aspects of culture that hold it in place– and hold us in its grasp.
In order to deal with the mess that has become our gender battleground, an understanding of its complexity is needed. It is not possible to extract these patterns of behavior from the mixed brew of history, of culture, of media, economics, politics or even medicine and psychology. These institutional contexts ferment and fuse into what we call society. As individuals we have learned to make sense of our world within the limits they define. Now, it is difficult to know where our understanding of our own identities begin and how they are informed by our societal contexts.
#Metoo has the potential to bring a formative shift in the conditions of life for us all, and to open the possibility for learning to respect ourselves and others with a wider, deeper comprehension. To begin this is to recognize how important identity is to this moment. And, that identity forms through multiple contexts including language, education, finance, culture, politics, religion, law, race, generation, gender…
Consequently, neither gender nor consent are binary. Both of these are factors in the #metoo discussion. In order to bring another arc of discussion to this important opening in the world today, this complexity needs to be considered.
Gender: First of all, gender is complex. To reduce gender to a simple male/female binary is nonsense. I am being redundant because I cannot say that often or loud enough. Each of the 7 billion human beings on this orb have different ratios of chromosomes. Each of us experiences different aspects of ourselves when we are in interaction with different people. This is obvious. We all know that with some people we may feel more confident, or beautiful, or feminine, or curious… and with others we are shy, or intelligent, or … When someone asks, “Who are you?”—The answer really should be based upon who you are with, where you are, at what point in your life, in what context. For me, gender too depends on a mysterious combination of visible and invisible contextual processes. I can be assertive, and vulnerable. Sometimes I am a perfect flower in the strong arms of my beloved, other times he is small vessel on the waves of my ocean. In my experience, nothing about this business of gender is static or predictable.
Let it be thus. Let us be complex in our gender. Let us find our way into each interaction of our day and learn to be more attuned to the shifting forms of our own landscapes. The sensitivity we explore will serve us toward a better perception of those around us. To learn even a little more about how to read our own changing selves is an asset to apply to our understanding of the world.
I do not want to be relegated to anyone’s binary. And, even if I am defined by that binary, I cannot stay in it. The context of the relationship matters more than the label. I do not want to hear about how “males are” or how “females are”, there is no such thing. Gender is what happens between people in each interaction and encounter.
Consent is also complex. What makes us want each other? Is it chemistry? Is it cultural? Is it economic? Is it political? Is it… natural? What does natural mean?
Consent has been sold as a simple distinction between “yes” and “no.” This is a mistake. Any “yes” has context. Any “no” has context. The context matters.
By saying that consent is complex I am in no way implying that it is unnecessary. Nor am I implicating victims as culpable. Not at all. I am saying that consent is more than “yes” and “no,” and that without some deeper understanding of the contexts of consent justifications will be made that hurt everyone. Additionally reducing consent to a binary leaves a vast horizon of loopholes that can and have been used against each other. The rigidity of the consent binary forces the vastness of our interactions into narrowed stories and statistics that cannot hold the water of larger truth.
How many women have had sex with their husbands when they did not really want to (and vice versa) because they felt that they needed to keep him satisfied in order to keep the family together? Is that consent? Well, legally yes. But, in the reality of that bedroom, no. The question of consent seeps into economic survival which is a murky brew of culture and history lingering in explicit and non-verbal, non-conscious ways. I am not sure how to know when yes is yes, and no is no. Without consideration of context the differences between mutual desire and transaction are blurred.
How many people have been seduced by the sparkling hormones of a student or employee whose rise in the system was contingent upon this affection? Was that seduction consensual?
The pulls of cultural and economic context are many, and they are messy. Finding a clear definition or rule book for consent is not something that can be standardized. Rather, consent is something that needs to be determined carefully, between potential partners who are aware of the multitudes of influences that contribute to the situation.
How to know when consent is there? What are the guidelines for respectful interaction between people?
In this moment, when our hearts are broken by the endless stories of sexual abuse we have witnessed with #metoo, it is imperative that we admit that we do not have a clear rule book. There is no standard. Some people cannot be told “no” strongly enough, and others seem to be at ease reading the signals of mutual desire, or the lack thereof. For all the invasions to my privacy I have experienced, there have also been people who honored the communication, verbal and non-verbal.
The history we all carry is contaminated with old poisonous habits. Our appetites are unintelligent. We are in free-fall across a canyon of unwritten scripts.
Sensitivity: Sensitivity to the complexity of one another is respect. Recognition that we are all in this together, that the old lines are bogus, and the new ones are still almost invisible is what is needed. We simply do not know how to know. But we do know that the abuse is intolerable.
Our future generations do not need to carry any more trauma than we are already saddling them with. The “taking” must stop. The disrespect must end. Consent is more than yes and no. It takes communication, and sincerity toward mutually learning to express respect in new ways.
There will be no formula.
No guidelines will suffice.
Each person is called now to pay attention to each relationship and interaction.
Create new language.
Satiating ravenous sexual pleasure is wonderful… but in this moment the ‘right’ to do so carries the transformative moment of a new era of sexuality. The ground is shifting, hopefully toward a better world in which sexuality will bring more joy and less damage.
The responsibility to change our systemic cultural pathology around sexual abuse resides in each of us, in every moment of every day. We are all carrying the scars of our mothers and fathers. Likewise we are all contributing to the conditions in which the next generation will make sense of these things. We are damaged. Somehow through our damage and our blind spots we have to find new ways to respect each other, to enjoy each other, to find and to give sweetness, love, and passion to one another.
To deny the socio-cultural and economic contexts in which there is need for this mutual learning and discovery is dangerous. To defy these contextual traps is (r)evolution.
**Addendum to my own healing.
(This is a post from my facebook page: Systers Thinking)
What is sexy? “I am thinking of a photo shoot I did 21 years ago while I was 8 months pregnant, and the photographer I was working with was playing with notions of sexuality… He asked me to make a sexy pose, big belly, over-stretched lingerie and all. Without noticing, I brought the existing images of “sexy women” in our culture into my pose. He asked, “Is that sexy for you? Or is that what you think people want you to think of as sexy?” I love him for that question. Is it possible for me to know what is sexy for me, uninfluenced by my culture? The eye of the world is on women today. And what does that mean? Having women on panels, boards, and equal representation is nowhere close to what I hope for my daughter. I think there is a long way to go before the tokenism is eclipsed. I think it has to be a larger paradigm shift that includes reaching for authority in another way. I am tired of celebrating the women and other disenfranchised groups who have mastered the game set within the patterns of white male colonialism. Yes it takes strength to succeed, but… What does it mean to be “equal” when the measuring stick is the reach of the oppression? The experience of perceiving and describing complexity requires a congruent complexity of voices and transcontextual inquiry. It takes the richness of ways of knowing that do not shy from rigor, but do not apply to the limits of authorized knowledge. The expression of sexy juiciness of pregnancy, my own pregnancy, was an exploration of my own complexity, in my body, in motherhood, in my culture, in my own language. To find that juiciness is to abandon the reductionism of anybody else’s idea of my woman-ness, of sexy, of motherhood… and to play with the blurry intermixed expression of being my own syster. With love, Nora.”
17 thoughts on “#Metoo is Complex”
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Thank’s for bringing in a more human and comprehensive dimension to those issues .
I also think the polarization is some time doing more harm than good .
The use of social media by feminist often carry an alienating dimension for man , despite there willingness to address the issue. just like ethnocentrism which is an attribute of our species was enabling racism, On the topic of genders , a similar biais sometime take place(both ways) , and while we access our grief toward the other , we often forget genders role in society , regardless how damaging they may be, co -evolved, and that this bi-party evolution is deeply intertwine with each other and the political , religious, economic and even climatic or geographic state of there time .
The industrial revolution change a lot of things, we don’t remember what it mean to be barely surviving . In country who do not have social security system , often the tradition push for a strict family structure because it provide security . Woman and man where both equally but differently oppress . I can’t help myself but to think that those tradition that we found so unjust and inadequate now where back then the result of a (imperfect) compromise in between different gender basic needs. we think of the woman in the kitchen but never to what hardship man had to go through so she didn’t had to . In a time where energy pour from the plug and where food is no longer a mater of strength or compliance , humanity wake up to the opportunity of seeking for it’s existential essence . this is ,along with respect what woman are truly entitled to get , man don’t have this problem because even do they die in wars , exhausted there body to labor and alienated there mind in mines and factory , they where defining the game for woman (in a nutshell, this is the stereotype we have internalized). Both gender now have to reinvent there relation to each other , and this is, I agree , not a simple process .The internet help individual reach out for larger group , but the effect of the partisan dimension is not well understood . man are bombarded by both testimony and critic , all corroborating this idea that there gender is pathological , that we are responsible for woman oppression . We are not , not more than blacks peoples in generals are responsible for this or this particular robbery, or today German responsible for the holocaust. This may exhaust man empathy toward woman struggle .
The flip side of gender related centrism and consent can be due to the subjective appreciation of the other perception .not being attracted to the other sex would mean the end of our species, If both sex where the same , it wouldn’t be sexual reproduction . Woman benefit from sexual selection just like man ,but it’s also mean , by definition that we do have different attribute.different attribute mean different needs , mean different perception. I am sure that since the beginning of our kind both love and miss understanding coexisted . The fact that society as a all is expending the definition of sexual miss conduct to things as innocuous as trying to flirt with someone (when it is not done testfully enough ) is a testimony to man and woman willingness to empower woman and give them back control . The corollary is that something wich felt so natural for so long is now becoming morally and sometime legally condemnable. From a personal point of view , this is a nonsense.
Moral we put on each other is a non sens in general , it is just a submission tool we use to serve the need of the many .
Woman also are constructing themselves to this newly acknowledged reality , while integrating there empowerment is important, there is no telling what consequence internalizing this victimized idea will do to them and there relation to man . May be in the future man may become extinct (as my mother use to tell me when I was a kid ,thank’s to science male will no longer really be needed) , but in the mean time , the happiness and well being of both gender is deeply connected to the one of the other . it would be nice to stop alienating each other and start talking , loving , caring and experiencing each other in a more open way.It is out of those interaction that hopefully will grow the (always imperfect ) culture and tradition best meeting the needs of both genders.
Sadly, until it happen , as much as we want to be free and spontaneous , having good relation with out common ground is difficult.
I may add that metoo have the quality to be focus on the individual experience , it wasn’t directed against man . In those complicated time, helping to acknowledge the problem with out antagonizing each other is a good thing .
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Well done! Really. I want to share this with Everyone.
I find myself thinking of, partly re-hearing your father’s discussions about the Voice In The Whirlwind and the moment of release of the albatross from the Mariner’s neck. Is it odd that this whole #MeToo business coincided with my deciding it was time to re-read “Angels Fear”? So many wrong, blind alley, questions are being asked and met with conflicting answers from leaders who are Bread And Butter Flies. What we hold sacred matters. Thank you, Nora, for this contribution to finding a way out of our traps.
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Thank you for noticing all of that. I see the same patterns…. and I am hoping that if ask another sort of question, reposition ourselves in the tone, and engage with a more relational view there may be room for mutual learning, and deeper comprehension of the interdepencies we live within. Here’s hoping… 🙂
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Hi Nora, despite of the repeated everywhere cliché “we don’t have time”, could you tell me why you think that?
What we don’t have time for is untangling the mistakes of existing epistemological, cultural behavoirs and blaming….These mistakes are the mistakes of exploitation at all levels. The justification for this exploitation is always the right to profit, ownership and prestige.
The crux of this article is that the crisis of the genders is an extension of the flaws in how interdepenency and complexity is perceived in all forms. The harping on binaries is a lack of ability to perceive and respond to greater, more relational context.
Without an increase in our ability to perceive and respond to this contextual information our species and 1000’s of others will be extinct.
Right now we see the holes in prior systemic patterns manifesting:
The ecology is losing vital numbers of species now.
Large percentages of the species in the insect world as well and fish and mammals are already gone.
The wealth gap is increasing.
Refugees will need to be housed and cared for in increasing numbers in coming years as economic, political and ecological collapse increases.
Human internal microbiome is now losing vast species of bacteria we need to survive.
Addiction is rising,
Depression is rising
Bacteria is becoming immune to antibiotics.
Nuclear threat is back
Culture is fragmenting
These are all symptoms of a failing global inters-ystemic socio-economic politcial structures.
There is not much time left to make significant change in the way we live. This means… I believe, that we need to change the way we think about ourselves, each other, and the biosphere. We need to recognise the complexity we share, and our interdependency.
Very true, I hear you. Do you think that our perception of time must change as well? I believe that the perception of Time as a linear phenomena to control and predict, or as an enemy to fight against plays a role in all that. It goes faster or slow…and it is not about human subjectivity. After all, ee are not only observers of Time but participants in it, right? So the way we do things, our quality of presence and where we put our attention may change everything. This reminds me of what Martin Luther King Jr. said “Even If I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree”. Have you got any thoughts on it?
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I love that quote… its by Martin Luther.
Time is definitely not linear… and I agree completely that we need to move into another perception of it. We have lots of time if we think of it laterally. Each day through the experience of 7 billion people is actually 7 billion days. 🙂
“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman …
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Reblogged this on cabbagesandkings524 and commented:
Nora Bateson brings a fresh view to the #MeToo phenomenon and its larger context.
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Excelent article that left me thinking a lot Nora! And congratulations for your loving family with your husband!!! Very nice photo!!!
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Thank you for your excellent questions and nuance to the subject. I was particularly interested in the fact that you propose not to dissociate the “systemic perspective” of brutality from the personal responsibility that each has / can / will endorse. I heard a story about the Kogi tribe where each person reflects in a profound manner about their own behavior and interactions as the context of someone else’s misbehavior …
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Thank you Nora for your wisdom of “beyond only two”. What a joy to read your book and blog. I remember you from when I used to drive you and Vanni to High School (when I was Catherine’s assistant at Amherst C.). Now you are a mother, a writer and so much more. You teach me that the generations mature in time’s wonderful passage.
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David! How wonderful to hear from you… wow! I have such fond memories of being with you…. watching Mork & Mindy. Remember that? Many decades ago. A big hug to you.