When most men are accused of sexual harassment or assault, the first advice they get from lawyers and HR is to say nothing. Statements are incriminating, not to mention they can be easily shredded if not in court, at least by public opinion.
Of course, some men don’t take that advice. Last week, Robert Scoble, a popular tech evangelist, writer, and entrepreneur, was accused by at least four different women of sexual harassment and assault. In addition to writing a now-deleted Facebook apology, Scoble decided the best thing to do was to talk about all of the alleged incidents in a post on his widely-read blog.
While it would be easy to write off Scoble as a clueless, creepy perpetrator, here’s why it’s important that we don’t: He isn’t an outlier. He’s the norm. He’s not the only dude who thinks that the character of the victim makes purportedly harassing or assaulting her okay. And he’s certainly not the first guy to liken the current wave of sexual harassment and assault allegations happening across all industries to something resembling a witch hunt.
While his entire post is as bad as it could possibly get — starting with his assertion that he’s speaking out despite his lawyer telling him not to — here are three main issues with it:
Scoble doesn’t understand sexual harassment or gender power dynamics, period.
Scoble’s post starts off with a bang: “If I were guilty of all the things said about me I would still not be in a position to have sexually harassed anyone. I don’t have employees, I don’t cut checks for investment. None of the women who came forward were ever in a position where I could make or break their careers. Sexual Harassment requires that I have such power.” Whew.
First of all, this claim of not having any power is false. Scoble has half a million followers on Twitter. He has been an entrepreneur and a well-known tech writer for quite some time. In fact, all the back in 2005, The Economist went so far as to call him a celebrity blogger. Bottom line: The dude has power. It may not come in the same form as other men in Silicon Valley who’ve been accused of sexual harassment and assault, like investors Justin Caldbeck or Dave McClure, but as we all know, power exists in an infinite number of ways.
But second, Scoble seems to have completely butchered his understanding of the oft-cited phrase “sexual violence is about power” and completely misunderstood what that “power” is. As any woman can tell you, it’s not just men at the top of their respective fields who sexually harass women. They’re sexually harassed by their bosses, their peers, and even their subordinates. Harassment also doesn’t solely take place in work-related situations, either. It happens in bars and at schools and on the street. You can’t “level up” to harassment based on how much money you have or how much influence you wield; it’s all harassment to begin with. And it’s never okay.
Scoble repeatedly tries to victim-blame.
Scoble attempts to continuously point out that although he’s the one who’s married, Sarah Seitz (a woman with whom he said he had a sexually-charged online affair) is the person who was in the wrong here. He characterises her as some sort of crazed person who “felt scorned and attempted to blackmail” his wife and follows up any “regret” he feels by trying to further smear her.
This is a smoke and mirrors technique we often see from married men who want us to forget that they’re the ones with a partner in this situation. Sarah Seitz didn’t make any vows to Scoble’s wife Maryam; Scoble did.
Scoble hints that these women are just trying to be “trendy.”
This is something we hear all the time from men, both the accused and the bystanders: It’s a witch hunt. Women are just doing it for attention. They’re just jealous and mad and crazy. Or in Scoble’s case, “Perhaps because they felt peer pressure to join the #MeToo bandwagon, perhaps because they felt slighted for other reasons.”
But what sort of “pressure” is that? Do you honestly think women want the abusive comments they get when their stories go public? Do they want to be forever known as “the girl who accused ___ of sexual harassment”? Do they want people posting personal details like their addresses and cell phone numbers for the world to see? There are a lot of other things that can get people attention or help them stay “on trend” that don’t involve going through all of this public scrutiny and trauma, not to mention the curtailed career prospects and additional personal life fallout.
No, Robert Scoble isn’t a loner in his rhetoric and assumptions. The difference here is that Scoble is putting this terrible inner monologue online for all of us to yell at, while, for many men, these same thoughts are just insidious ideas that they largely keep to themselves and act upon with few consequences. Moreover, these guys have probably never been challenged to actually articulate those belief to other people the way Scoble has. It’s hard to know your own biases until someone or something makes you think otherwise.
So yes, go after Scoble for what he said. His entire post is abhorrent, and unlike what he claims, he doesn’t actually want a “dialogue.” But also realise that he’s not the minority here. And with that, there’s a teachable moment for us to talk to men about what’s wrong with what he did and the way he thinks. There’s an opportunity for men to ask questions and have that “aha!” moment that we wish they never even had to have in the first place. But Robert Scoble is only the beginning, not the end.