Can we talk about women? And I don’t mean platitudes about bravery and persistence, I mean the ugly stuff, the nasty stuff, the stuff that makes us look bad, the stuff that gives cannon fodder for the MRA’s and causes even the good guys to lock eyes across a crowded room and spend a moment in a mutual flashback, thinking back on those cray-crays that gave them relationship PTSD.
I’m talking about women and lying. Lying on an epic scale.
Now, I’ve written in the past about the main – and legitimate – reason women lie in a piece about honesty, viewed through the lens of Better Call Saul. I think most female deceit is an understandable survival mechanism borne from having to deal with people – parents, bosses, romantic partners – who are highly controlling and even borderline abusive. Women, by virtue of our sex, are all too often put into positions where we are a junior partner in a relationship (not just romantic, but any relationship), where we have no power and no control over circumstances that are largely inflicted upon us, and some women lie to simply achieve a small amount of wiggle room in which to exist.
But there is another kind of dishonesty that some women partake in. I wrote about its fictional manifestation in my Valentine’s Day piece on Gone Girl. I’m talking about dishonesty on a level that is absolutely unbelievable, where you really cannot believe a person would ever do something so twisted, so conniving. I’m talking about the kind of lying in which a person creates a false reality – literally a persona that doesn’t exist, or a chain of events that never occurred – to manipulate others, to play on their heartstrings, to trick people into believing things that are not true about the world and another person and even reality itself.
There are probably some men who do this type of thing too, and in fact it sounds as if some women have encountered them a time or two. But I haven’t seen any personally, whereas I’ve encountered a fair few women who fall into this category. Men absolutely gaslight, it’s true, but it’s for different reasons, to seize and retain control of any given situation. I have experienced, and utterly despise this type of gaslighting (you have no idea how much I despise it) but to some extent I understand it; it often happens in the heat of the moment and from a dysfunctional need to control ingrained into men by both biology and society rather than a distinct desire and active decision to manipulate. I can forgive that type of not-really-intentional gaslighting because I don’t think it’s evil inasmuch as I think it’s a flaw borne from fear and insecurity.
But there are some people, in my experience mostly women, who are willing to literally fabricate evidence and twist the bounds of reality to get people to do and think and feel what they want them to. Some carry this even to the point of incriminating innocent people and entire classes of people, for what appears to be no better reason than to tug on people’s heartstrings and get a little attention. I have, in my work as a fertility counselor, encountered several women who told incredible and heartbreaking stories about children who died, multiple pregnancies that ended in a loss, fertility clinics that had badly wronged them, husbands who cheated, who were eventually revealed to be lying. Some of them were spinning their sob story to try and get free stuff out of me (silly, because I spend 80% of my time helping clients for free). But a good number were doing it just for fun, for sympathy, to garner attention they couldn’t get elsewhere. And while I do try to understand the loneliness and emotional need that could drive a person to do something like this, often enough I’ve seen this chicanery coupled with actual acts of cruelty committed against others that I can’t, quite.
BethAnn McLaughlin is a neuroscientist who at one point in time had been deeply involved in the #MeTooSTEM movement. Over time some very serious accusations were levied against her – accusations including that she had marginalized minorities and harassed victims of sexual assault. So McLaughlin was known to be a chick with some issues, that’s for sure, but none of those red flags prepared people for what was about to come.
A few days back, McLaughlin posted about her “friend” sciencing_bi, a longtime Twitter activist (since 2016), claiming she had died of Covid 19.
sciencing_bi was purported to be a bisexual Hopi anthropologist or paleontologist who spoke English as a second language, was a victim of sexual assault and harassment, who as it so happened was good friends IRL with BethAnn McLaughlin. sciencing_bi was pretty much the poster child for marginalized people – she ticked off every box you can possibly imagine – and then if that wasn’t enough, she developed Covid on top of it all. Interestingly, McLaughlin was the only person who seemed to have ever met sciencing_bi in person and posted “pictures” with her that later were revealed to be of McLaughlin’s daughter.
(by the way, this isn’t even yosemite)
Later on, perhaps unsatisfied by the level of sympathy she personally was receiving in the wake of her “friend’s” death, McLaughlin implied that she and sciencing_bi had been lovers – which, by the way, would have been quite sketchy considering that sciencing_bi was allegedly a complainant in a #metooSTEM case and McLaughlin was meant to be in charge of that movement.
There is a huge, and considering the state of race relations in America right now, highly concerning racial component at play in all this. It is especially troubling given that sciencing-bi’s racial heritage was only revealed after McLaughlin got in trouble for racial insensitivity herself, and that sciencing_bi made extremely untrue claims about her “employer” at Arizona State University forcing her to prove her racial identity and claiming she was made to continue working during the pandemic – both patently untrue and harmful to the reputation of ASU. sciencing_bi even claimed that the entire state of Alabama was full of people who had persecuted her for her race and sexual orientation. This is worthy of a deep and prolonged discussion, but I don’t feel it’s my place to comment upon any of that; I’ll leave it to folks more knowledgeable than me to unravel those elements.
What I want to discuss is the glaring and unignorable implications of the person who perpetuated this act was in charge of a significant wing of the #metoo movement!!! A person willing to lie to an extent high enough to manufacture a FAKE PERSON and do active harm to ASU and those who work there has been going around calling out men as sex pests at best, rapists at worst, as oppressors, as villains, as fundamentally untrustworthy perverts, and claiming that we need to believe all women without evidence of wrongdoing. This person who was living and breathing deceit was calling out men over rumors, innuendo, and even anonymous tweets and anyone who questioned the #metoo movement, who wondered if we were taking things too far, and asked for proof were called complicit in the patriarchy.
My collective Lucys, we got some ‘splainin to do.
Now, you may find this outrageous, may claim I’m calling out my fellow women over the actions of one, but remember, that was our rallying cry. BELIEVE ALL WOMEN. All women. Not most women, not the vast majority of women, but all women. Believe all women, without proof, without due process. Believe. Don’t reserve judgement and wait for proof. Those of us who questioned the process were shouted down. We were supposed to believe, unquestioningly, without hesitation, because we were told that no woman would ever lie about such a thing. No woman would ever lie about something as serious as sexual assault to garner attention or to get revenge. Men were getting tried and convicted in the court of public opinion on the basis not only of uncorroborated charges but on Tweets and rumors and hearsay and our defense, ladies, was that no woman would ever lie about being assaulted.
Well, as it turns out, one of the lead accusers has revealed herself willing to lie for attention, to make herself look like a better person, to garner respect she hadn’t earned, to get revenge on those she thought had wronged her (her technical term for these people SHE had harassed was “harassholes” – she uses this term in one of the tweets I shared above). In the guise of sciencing_bi, BethAnn McLaughlin jumped on a bandwagon to make false claims against two men who worked at Harvard.
One of the biggest promoters of one of the branches of #metoo was so deceitful she invented a whole ‘nother person and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt she invented claims of being assaulted and harassed. That freaking MEANS something. It is a reality check that cannot be ignored, a dust bunny of lies that cannot be just swept under the rug. This woman was so prominent in the #metoo movement this picture exists of her from when she won the “Disobedience Award of 2018”:
And yet knowing all this, we’re still supposed to “believe all women”. We’re still supposed to take delight in seeing men excoriated in the public eye over claims that are not only unproven, but unprovable.
I think we need a reset button on the #metoo movement until we have some sort of process in place to investigate claims of assault without ruining men’s lives. Not because #metoo is unnecessary; indeed, I think it’s incredibly necessary and long overdue. But because it is so important, we cannot approach something as important as keeping women safe by creating a world in which men are now subject to the whims of an accuser who may be making false allegations for their own ends. Women do face disproportional dangers in the workplace, academia, and the world. It’s simply a fact, like gravity is a fact. Claiming that all women are paragons of virtue who always speak true does not keep women safe, it simply means that society is so busy hunting down innocent men that the guilty ones can sneak past in the chaos of false accusation and constant denial.
The truth is, you can’t believe all women. Women CAN lie, Beth McLaughlin aside. Women can lie because all human beings do lie on occasion, and in a climate that rewards lying without any consequences, more people will lie and many others, even people who are generally truthful folks, will find themselves exaggerating even when they don’t really mean to be dishonest. That’s why when #metoo founder Alyssa Milano quotes “rates of people lying about sexual assault” she’s such a nincompoop – those rates are not tracking a physical law, set in stone and unvarying. They are measuring human behavior at a point in time, and if the circumstances change, human behavior can – and will – change right alongside it.
Mobthink operates as if there’s something toxic in the air, it spreads like a contagion. This is how witch hunts and Red Scares happen. The truth gets stretched to fit a narrative and then it gets stretched a little further to fit a fantasy that supports the narrative. It is undeniable that some women are willing to lie about some pretty crazy and important stuff, to an extent that boggles the mind – BethAnn McLaughlin has proven that to those who doubt it.
SHE IS TALKING ABOUT A PERSON WHO NEVER FUCKING EXISTED. This is one of the people we have put in charge of the #metoo movement. This is one of the people telling us we must “believe all women”.
The saddest part of it is, I don’t think “believe all women” helps anyone, even the accusers. It doesn’t make anyone happier or better off and it doesn’t even make anyone safer. Because as muddying the waters by pursuing a zillion false claims simply makes it that much harder for women to seek redress for actual wrongs. It leads people to continue to doubt our word, to question our honesty, to assume we are exaggerating and overreacting. “Believing All Women” makes women less safe,and less likely to be believed, not more so. And it closes doors that women have heretofore had open to them by making men afraid to mentor women, afraid to take meetings one on one with women, afraid to grant women opportunities for advancement to prevent rumors of favoritism based on sexual relationships from flying.
So where does that leave us? Women want to be safe from unwanted predation. Men want to be safe from false accusations. Organizations want to be free from predation and accusation that happens under their watchful eye, since we are now holding organizations responsible for creating a safe work environment. We all need a world in which the system is not so clogged up with claims of dubious merit that we have a hard time separating wheat from chaff, and we need a world in which fears of being guilty till proven innocent are not actively harming women in the workplace.
How do we make that happen?
You know, it’s funny, but as dull as it sounds, we have a system already in place. It’s a system in which allegations are made through proper channels (not broadcast all across social media), innocence is presumed until proven otherwise, and investigated by impartial parties. Then and only then guilt is ascertained and punishment is decided. It isn’t a flawless system; sometimes the guilty are wrongfully exonerated and the innocent are falsely punished, but on the whole, it’s worked pretty darn well for any group that isn’t in the throes of a witch hunt. It’s pretty much the basis of Western civilization as a whole. We cannot build a functioning civilization if anyone can make up anything about you at any time and you get fired without any evidence whatsoever beyond one person’s word (or even two or three, because BethAnn McLaughlin was apparently two people!)
Now, for a couple-three decades there, that system didn’t work too well when it came to sexual assault and harassment, but I am convinced the reason it didn’t work well wasn’t because of any issues with presumption of innocence per se. It was because of cultural issues where men and women were put into unsupervised situations they probably shouldn’t have been in (many of which involving copious amounts of drugs and alcohol), in a climate of Dionysian indulgence in which fulfillment of sexual desire was seen as not only a virtue, but one of the highest goals a human can possibly attain. And men’s desire was seen as more powerful, more valid, more immediate and undeniable than a woman’s wish to be left alone.
In this climate, women have truly felt – and I know this because I am a woman and I myself have felt this way many times – that not giving in to a man’s request for sex means we are mean, cruel, bad sports, not a team player, and pathologically uncool. A woman saying no to sex (or a drink, or recreational drugs, or to meetings in hotel rooms any of which may lead to sex) has been historically, since the dawn of The Pill anyway, been painted as an uptight prude who is Officially No Fun, a hairy-legged feminist harpy who shouldn’t be treated with kindness or respect. Women, particularly within the borders of certain fields like media/entertainment, have up until quite recently faced a terrible amount of pressure to say yes to sex they do not want, and this doesn’t even get into the cases where force was involved.
This doesn’t mean the system itself was flawed. Presuming innocence till guilt is established is a sound and admirable goal in any case where two parties disagree. It simply means that in the sexual climate we were dwelling in for a few decades, forces were at play that undermined and diluted our ability to properly adjudicate issues of sexual assault. Without those forces, the system would have worked far, far better.
Doing away with a fundamental assumption of innocence because it hasn’t been always implemented perfectly is like tossing out the baby with the bathwater. And doing away with this cornerstone of our system of jurisprudence in a pointless attempt solve a separate and unrelated issue in our culture is lunacy.
If you want to start a REAL movement of reform, a movement in which women will be safer from harassment and assault and men will be safer from false allegations, we first need to change the culture in which partying and putting out are seen as noble endeavors for adults to be engaging in in the workforce and within academia. We need to change the culture in ways to empower women to say NO and for men to not think ill of them when they do. If this seems impossible, that’s silly, because up until 1960 women used to say NO all the time and men did indeed respect them for that, because everyone understood the risk of unwanted pregnancy.
Or to put it another way, as I’ve said in the past, what good is consent anyway when there is enormous social pressure (starting as soon as we are old enough to lay our eyes upon the media) put upon women to consent?
Changing absolutely nothing within our culture and simply saying “believe all women, hurr de durr” is not a solution. Changing absolutely nothing in our culture and saying “believe all women” will create a freaking army of false accusers and a world in which no man is willing to extend his hand to help a female co-worker up the ladder for fear that she may end up knifing him in the back. It will create a world so full of false allegations that the real creeps can hide in plain sight. “Believe all women” is a recipe for a world in which all of us are worse off. But at the same time we can’t just go back to the way things were the past 50ish years either, because that didn’t work. Women weren’t safe in that world, that’s why so many of us have horror stories about handsy bosses and pushy coworkers and regrets about things we did that we really didn’t want to do, but we kind of felt like we had to.
Solving the problem of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace is going to take a two-pronged effort. We have got to change the culture to make it ok, truly ok, for women to say no to men without facing negative consequences for that. And simultaneously we need to return to a system in which innocence is presumed until proven otherwise. Not one or the other, both. Because he said, she said is too open for misinterpretation in a world in which people are pursuing questionable consensual relationships. It’s too easily abused, in both directions.
The more we incentivize her existence, the more BethAnn McLaughlins will exist, yet we cannot deny that #metoo came into existence for a reason and the reason was that many women felt pressured into sexual situations that may have been technically “consensual” but weren’t exactly wanted.
I know, men, that it may bring an end to the workplace all-you-can-sex buffet for some of you. But it prevents the creation of monsters who are willing to stop at nothing to bring you down, for no better reason than they’re lonesome and want the attention.
Because we can’t believe all women.