After all, this does have something to do with the B-list comedian’s widely publicized bad date. And it does have something to do with the discussion — even among feminists — suggesting that the story (or “revenge porn“) tests the limits of the moral panic (mostly justified) arising from Weinsteingate. But it also has a much broader application.
The debate over the Ansari story, in the abstract, pits two groups against each other. On one hand, hardcore feminists who want the focus to rest on the way systemic patriarchy results in what they consider to be an assault; they want to extend the MeToo discussion beyond the employment context and to assume a similar power imbalance exists on a date. OTOH, there is the group (larger, I think) that not only finds a date distinguishable from sexual harassment on the job, but also worries that conflating the two ultimately denies women what the hip folks now call “agency.”
At this more abstract level, the debate looks quite a bit like many of the past. The further left one is on the political spectrum, the more one is likely to focus on the systemic “root causes” of a problem. The further right one is on the political spectrum, the more one is likely to focus on issues of “agency” or what conservatives used to like to call “personal responsibility.”
At least, these are the stereotypes. When we get involved in discussing a particular problem, it turns out the stereotypes are just that.
For example, one sad thing we have learned in the Trump era is that there are plenty on the right who are more sympathetic to the effect of structural and collective factors on the plight of the white underclass than they traditionally have been when discussing the plight of the black underclass, which they see primarily as an issue of personal responsibility.
Conversely, if you suggest to leftys that their domination of institutions like academia and the media marginalize conservatives such that you wind up with counter-institutions like Fox News, or that their reflexive assumption and accusations that everyone on the right has the racial attitudes suggested above are part of How You Got Trump, they will usually respond in a manner suggesting that righties need to take responsibility for themselves.
Both are of course partially correct, even as both suffer from situational and tribal analyses of various societal problems.
One nice thing is that responsibility is a renewable resource. There’s nothing wrong with accepting your share while pointing the finger. But the potential downside is landing in the spot where “if everyone is responsible, no one is.”
Finding that balance is the difficult part. It seems like it would be helpful to start by recognizing how often those balances needs to be struck, rather than leaping to whatever frame is convenient to our ideologies or partisan loyalties of the moment.
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