The #MeToo Moment: Parsing the Generational Divide

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We recently asked readers to share conversations they have had with parents, grandparents and children about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault in the wake of #metoo.

We heard from more than 140 of them. Some told stories of discussing long-hidden shame, others shared experiences of trauma using descriptions that were remarkably similar. Still others, like 83-year-old Geraldine Wallace, wrote in saying that she told her granddaughter that “I’m glad your generation isn’t putting up with this.”

This week, after an anonymous allegation against Aziz Ansari was made public in an online magazine called Babe, those conversations seemed to take on a different tone. Women of all ages debated what the article, which recounted a date between a 23-year-old woman known as “Grace” and the actor in 2017, actually depicted. Was it, in Grace’s words, a case of sexual assault — or was it merely a really bad date? The opinions seemed to fall starkly along generational lines.

Caitlin Flanagan, a critic in her 50s writing for The Atlantic, argued that the article was, in effect, “3,000 words of revenge porn”— a case in which a woman who did not clearly say no stayed in a situation in which she was uncomfortable. (“Apparently there is a whole country full of young women who don’t know how to call a cab,” she wrote.)

Meanwhile, a 33-year-old staff editor and writer, Bari Weiss, wrote in The Times Opinion section that Mr. Ansari was guilty of only one thing: Not being a mind reader.

In Vox, Jezebel and The Guardian, women in their 20s and 30s noted that while they considered the Babe piece to be poorly reported, it had sparked an important and necessary conversation about the complicated dynamics of sexual consent.

We gathered Ms. Weiss and two other Times staffers — ages 29 and 59 — to talk sexual consent, #metoo and the seeming generational divide.

JESSICA BENNETT: This particular story has left me grappling with a particular question. Is it possible for something to be nonconsensual but also not sexual assault?

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