Eric Schneiderman Proves Why Male Allies Can't Get the Benefit of the Doubt

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.
The Met Gala arrivals had just started when The New Yorker published a bombshell report: Four women accused New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, supposed ally of the #MeToo movement and “good guy” of the Resistance, of physical abuse.
The details of the story are gruesome and terrible, with Schneiderman claiming the encounters — some of which left women seeking medical attention — were all part of consensual sexual activity and role-playing. Even worse, the New Yorker story described several supposedly liberal friends telling one of the victims that Schneiderman was “too valuable” a politician for Democrats to lose as reason for her not to come forward. Unfortunately, I have no doubt the conspiracy theories are already spinning about these women’s connections and why they chose to come forward, especially since Schneiderman resigned mere hours after the allegations came to light.
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But let’s not forget: Eric Schneiderman isn’t the first man who we thought championed women — or at least acknowledged their experiences — to let us down. We watched the ouster of Democratic Senator Al Franken after accusations of unwanted sexual advances six months ago. Just this past weekend, we saw the beginning of the reckoning for critically acclaimed writer Junot Diaz, who was publicly accused of sexual harassment and misogynistic behavior last weekend. Instead of looking for conspiracies, we’re reminded to consider something else: #MeToo isn’t solely about the cases we want to see out there. The real test is how we react when the people taking up the headlines aren’t the monsters from behind enemy lines but in fact the monsters in our own ranks.
It’s one thing to hear that any garden variety anti-women politician or pundit is accused of sexual harassment, assault, or misconduct. It’s a new level of traumatizing when someone we thought was fighting alongside with us for our rights was instead of taking advantage of a charming facade to gain our trust and exploit women behind closed doors.
Like many women, I can’t give a single male ally the benefit of the doubt at this point. And in these times, it’s critical to remember that it isn’t just about the Schneidermans of the world who are theoretically pushing for change on the national stage while allegedly abusing women. It’s every other guy out there attending rallies and joining Resistance Facebook groups all while using that access for ulterior motives. I can guarantee every woman who’s been in a supposedly liberal space in the past has dealt with at least one man who used Schneiderman-like tactics to curry favor with women, only to exploit them later.
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What’s the solution to this? In the short term, I couldn’t tell you, other than not giving any of these men — even the best supposed allies among us — a pass for a while. I also hope it’s a call for us to trust women who come forward with allegations against male “allies,” because after all, we’re fighting for their rights, not those of these men.
So, who do I trust at this point? By and large, it’s women. I want to see more women taking over these spaces. I want to see them getting the attention and the credit and the glory. I want us to get to a point where we don’t need these male allies because we’re in these positions of power and authority ourselves.
And in these dark times, as we watch the credibility of man after man we trusted come crumbling down, there’s hope. We see it in the women on our cable morning shows ruling the airwaves after their male co-anchors resigned in disgrace. We see it in the record number of women running for office in the 2018 midterm elections, battling sexism and ageism and racism and classism to get those seats. We see it in the women of Hollywood making a point of hiring one another and ensuring they all get paid equally. These are the people we have to lean on, not the men.
So, let’s stop giving these men the benefit of the doubt. And let’s stop waiting for them to rise to the occasion; it’s becoming clearer and clearer that most of them never will. Instead, let’s give that good faith to other women, because I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ll bet on them every single time.
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Lily Herman is a contributing editor at Refinery29 and the founder of political volunteer network Get Her Elected. Follow her on Twitter. The views expressed are her own.
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