I stuck my hand into a hornet’s nest on Facebook, when I posted the quip, “Breaking News: Woman found who has never been propositioned by Harvey Weinstein.” For those who don’t follow North American news, Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful movie producers in history, is being sued by multiple women for his decades-long practice of sexual harassment; some of the charges include rape.
While most Facebookers responded positively, a number of female friends were disturbed, perceiving this as making fun of the victims’ suffering and humiliation. That was, in fact, the opposite of my intent, which was to reflect acerbically on Mr. Weinstein’s outrageous—and probably prison-worthy—behavior. Nevertheless, I took the post down immediately (I left the quip on Twitter, along with an explanatory addendum). Several people chastised me for “caving in to political correctness.” But the issue is clearly more complicated than that.
The Weinstein morass has resulted in a wave of revelations by women, and some men, about previously unrevealed sexual assaults (search #MeToo to find these on Facebook and elsewhere). One of the negative responses to my post was from a normally carefree cousin who alluded for the first time to an “unspeakable” incident in her past. My heart breaks. I do not think sexual assault is funny. Ever.
But perception is complicated. Some years back I guest spoke at a family retreat center. I was on a roll when a boy suddenly left his front row seat. Mock-offended, I chastised him mercilessly for disrupting my presentation. The audience roared. To my shock, the camp director stomped up to me after the program and announced that, because of my “obvious hatred of children,” I would never be invited back! Then he stormed away. As I was leaving the building, the boy and his parents ran up to me, laughing uncontrollably, and thanked me for creating their “favorite moment of the weekend!”
We’ll never bring all of our perceptions into perfect alignment. But we can care enough to listen, and try to understand (a job that ends on our deathbeds). And in the meantime, we can
Avoid as many hornet’s nests as possible.