Friday, October 27, 2017


[Tom] Hanks, who spoke with David [Greene] during a tour stop for his book Uncommon Type, asserted that he did not feel complicit in the kind of climate that would allow for harassment of this kind.

"I'm sure there were people who knew exactly what was going on and didn't say anything," Hanks said. "The thing is, I've been involved in sets where there were shenanigans — but not sexual predatory behavior. That's the difference."
LISTEN: Tom Hanks On Weinstein Allegations: Some 'Think ... This Is How It Works'
My question, Mr. Hanks, is this: The distinguishing characteristics that separate "shenanigans" from "sexual predatory behavior" are what, exactly? After all, in my own experience, I've seen behavior that simply struck me as thoughtless, lonely and sad, quickly labeled as sexually predatory.

And I suspect that for many women, that's the issue. The issue with unwanted sexual advances or behavior isn't that it's sexual - it's that it's unwanted. And as with so many other things, the line between unwanted behavior that is simply distracting or annoying, and that qualifies as predatory depends on so many different, and subjective, variables that it's nearly impossible to predict in advance. One person may brush off something that strikes another person as bearing attention, a third person as clear cause for alarm but that a fourth person finds gratifying. And while it's highly unlikely that someone would do something overtly predatory in front of Tom Hanks (as this seems like a grade-A Career Limiting Move), it may also be unlikely that someone who felt genuinely threatened by something Mr. Hanks regarded as mere shenanigans, who decided that saying, "I find this to be predatory," might also very well count as a career limiting move.

I've told this story before, so I'm not going to detail it again, but I was simply walking to the grocery store one day in broad daylight, and encountered a woman who then felt so threatened by me that she took steps to ward off a possible assault. At the time, it seemed extreme, and prejudicial, and maybe it was, but here the point is that it doesn't matter how mundane someone thinks they're being. Other people's perceptions, and risk tolerances are their own.

And for some people, sexually predatory behavior starts with shenanigans. Whether it's a means of grooming a target or a way of gauging what will be tolerated, a touch here, a comment there, and then perhaps you're talking real sexual assault. And even then, you have differences of opinion.

I've been told, from time to time, that I'm intimidating. I've even been told that people had thought twice about telling me that I'd done something to bother or slight them because they were afraid of how I would react. Those, fortunately rare, occasions always came as a surprise to me, because I haven't deliberately set out to intimidate someone since I was 14. And even then, I hoped that my uniform would do the heavy lifting for me. I've never seen myself as particular intimidating; my mental picture of myself doesn't match up with my mental picture of a heavy. But I'm not sure how much that matters to someone who looks at me and simply sees someone who masses twice what they do. Under those circumstances, a wisecrack might come across as an order, or a threat. It's easier than one might think. Especially if you happen to have a somewhat morbid sense of humor.

And so while I understand where Mr. Hanks is coming from, I don't think that there's such a bright line between shenanigans and sexual predation. And in that, I think it's difficult to say that any one of us isn't complicit in it.

Part of the issue, I suspect, is that we tend to use complicit in much the same way that we use "accessory" or "accomplice;" someone who knowingly, or perhaps simply negligently, aids and/or abets bad behavior. The responsibility that's implied, perhaps, allows us to rest more easily when making judgments. But perhaps complicity is broader, much broader, than that. And if it is, it's difficult, because we then have to wonder if we're complicit in things that never cross our minds and that we know nothing about.

When I was in college, I took a creative writing class, and we had a short story assignment for Halloween. One young woman in the class wrote a story about a husband taking revenge on his wife for having an affair. My story was a man, with dogs and his rifle, turned out to be on a literal witch hunt. Both tales ended badly for the women involved. If another classmate later pressured a date into sleeping with him, did our stories, which made violence into entertainment, make us complicit in that? Could we claim that we were simply writing scary stories?

The point to this isn't self-flagellation now for something that I was completely oblivious to thirty years ago. It's simply to point out that the answers aren't so easy, aren't so cut-and-dried when we're talking about people's perceptions of the world. The world is not an objective place in any way that most of us can interact with, no matter how much it may seem so in the moment.

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