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Rebecca Solnit: Ending Sexual Harassment Means Changing Masculinity & Undermining Misogynist Culture

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We discuss the ongoing stream of sexual harassment allegations by women against powerful men, and what experts say is a pervasive culture of misogyny that enables sexual misconduct toward women, with Rebecca Solnit. Her recent article is headlined “Let This Flood of Women’s Stories Never Cease: On Fighting Foundational Misogyny One Story at a Time.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, as we turn now to Rebecca Solnit. I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan González. Rebecca Solnit is a writer, historian and activist. We’re going to continue to look at the torrent of women’s complaints around the issue of sexual abuse. Rebecca Solnit has written a piece called “Let This Flood of Women’s Stories Never Cease: On Fighting Foundational Misogyny One Story at a Time,” author of a dozen books, including, most recently, The Mother of All Questions. She’s also contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine.

Rebecca, thanks for joining us again. Can you respond to this last weeks, which has clearly been a sea change in the United States, and the significance of the number of women, scores of women, who are joining this kind of MeToo campaign, stepping up and talking about their abuse—women and some men?

REBECCA SOLNIT: And there’s so many ways to go at what’s happening, which is, as you note, tremendous. I think one of the first things to note is, people who haven’t been paying attention are now forced to recognize how absolutely pervasive this is and how systemic it is. And you look at Weinstein or Charlie Rose and some of these other people, and you see that entire systems around them were designed to accommodate their denigration, harassment, intimidation, silencing, devaluing, and sometimes assault on women, and so that you can’t say, “Oh, it’s this bad guy.” It reminds me a little bit of the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, where the Bush administration kept wanting us to believe it was a few bad apples, and people like you on Democracy Now! were saying, “No, it’s systemic.” It is systemic, which means that what we need to talk about isn’t just going after specific high-profile perpetrators, but how do we change the system, how do we undermine the patriarchy, the misogyny, the lack of empathy, the culture that makes men feel powerful and awesome when they do this stuff.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and, Rebecca Solnit, I’d like to ask you also, the—we have a situation here, as you’re mentioning, the enablers, those who were complicit, who had knowledge of the abuse that was occurring and the harassment that was occurring, but said nothing—to what degree they have responsibility, as well? And also, a system where many of these companies, when women step forward and have the courage to step forward and file complaints, they get settlements and then always a nondisclosure agreement, that you can never disclose the result of the litigation in which you were involved.

REBECCA SOLNIT: The nondisclosure agreements have always horrified me, because rape, in a way, and sexual assault, is an act of silencing, of saying, “Your bodily sovereignty, your human rights, your jurisdiction over your own body, your right to consent or not consent, are meaningless to me. I don’t—you have no value as a human being to me.” So, it’s an act of silencing. And then, when it’s followed by other acts of silencing, whether it’s blaming and shaming the victim, refusing to believe her—or sometimes him—or saying like, “Oh, we recognize what happened, and we’re going to give you money to compensate”—but when it comes with these nondisclosure agreements, it is just another round of silencing. And the whole process is part of the systemic silencing. It’s been really interesting seeing a number of women say, “I don’t care what I signed. I’m going to violate the agreement, because it’s so important to me to talk about what happened, to speak up for other women, to speak up for justice, to speak up for change.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about this moment, this movement, this outpouring, what you call for, this flood, to continue?

REBECCA SOLNIT: You know, in a way, I hope it doesn’t continue—and, of course, this is my editor’s title, as it so often is—because I hope at some point sexual harassment, the denigration and exclusion and silencing of women become something really rare and exceptional rather than quotidian and pervasive. But I always say diagnosis is the beginning of addressing an illness. And this is really getting people to diagnose that we have something that’s broad and deep and impacts women’s lives. You know, of course, feminists have been saying this for decades. But we’re getting it recognized—and recognized as a crisis. So, I hope it doesn’t continue.

And I hope we look at it systemically. One of the things some of these women are saying and that I’m feeling so strongly in this is: How many voices have we lost? How many women left their positions, didn’t advance in their careers, were too traumatized to go on, were devalued in front of their fellow employees in ways that made it impossible for them to do their job the way they should have been? You know, you look from Olympic athletes to actresses to farmworkers, and you see, in almost every field—in academia, in media—women face this stuff, and it is part of the deep, pervasive stuff that prevents us from being equal, from having equal opportunity, equal freedom, equal access to power.

And so, I’m excited that—you know, I’m horrified by what we’re seeing, although not surprised, because I’ve been writing about it for a decade, you know, looking at it for 30 years. I’m excited that maybe we’re sort of going to change it. Although this is not, you know, a first eruption. We had something like this around Anita Hill’s revelations about Clarence Thomas in 1991. We had something like this after the Steubenville sexual assault and the New Delhi rape-torture-murder in late 2012, after the Isla Vista mass murder in 2014. So, you know, it feels like another aftershock in the sort of earthquake of feminism reshaping the topography of our lives.

And what the consequences are, I think, depends partly on stuff like the legislation being introduced into Congress, in a lot of other stuff. And there was an interesting moment when it was just Weinstein, when the Academy of Motion Pictures said they were going to have zero tolerance. And like, I haven’t seen them kick out Woody Allen. I haven’t see them kick out Mel Gibson, who was accused of horrific domestic violence and incredible misogynist abuse of his former partner and is now “redeemed.” So, you know, like—and I was joking, with Hollywood, like what would zero tolerance look like? It would be an industry run by women, which I think would be awesome, because another piece of this is, you look at people like Charlie Rose, you look at some of the male harassers who’ve recently been—Mark Halperin—who’ve recently been sort of exposed, and you see that, you know, our Hollywood stories, our music, our news is shaped by misogynists who hate women and denigrate them routinely as one of their rights.

You know, the change we need to look at and think about is not just a few bad apples. It’s not getting rid of the guys who are in the news. It’s, I think, ultimately, about changing masculinity itself, so that men no longer even desire to do this, so that doing this doesn’t make them feel more awesome and somebody who’s admired by other men, somebody who feels powerful for being a creep, being somebody who masturbates in front of their fellow comedians, being an assailant.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Rebecca Solnit, thanks so much for being with us, writer, historian, activist, her latest piece headlined “Let This Flood of Women’s Stories Never Cease.” We will link to it at democracynow.org.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, is the Trump administration attempting to get rid of net neutrality? Is a vote actually about to take place? And we’ll look at 60,000 Haitians and what they face with President Trump announcing—the Trump administration announcing the end of TPS, temporary protected status, for Haitians in the United States. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Walk Unafraid” by First Aid Kit. The group’s members are among more than 2,000 women who have signed a “Me Too” letter calling out sexual harassment in the Swedish music industry.

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