On Being Complicit

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My Matt Lauer moment hardly qualifies as a #MeToo. In fact, it was so immemorable (man in power turns brief exchange into Sexual Objectification Lite) that I had forgotten about it until the recent scandals involving Said Man. This morning, I dug through my files in search of what I remembered as reportage from 2004 that exposed his letchiness. But when I found the clip from The New York Post Page Six, I thought, “Uh-oh.” I texted a photo (posted above) to a few trusted friends and colleagues, asking, “Was I complicit?”

(Complicit, incidentally, is 2017’s most searched word.)

The way the blurb reads, I gave Lauer Too Much Information about my breasts. I don’t remember hearing him actually say “TMI” and would like to think that if I had, I would have said, “I’m not the one who brought up our boobs, dude.” The comment I made felt, at the time, like I was playfully calling him out. Saying some version of: “You want to talk about our breasts? Because we’re happy to. Between the two of us moms, we’ve fed seven children with these four breasts.” We were about to go on air to discuss our auto-biographical play that confessed our worst moments as wives and mothers, sex fights with our husbands, mistakes we’d made as moms. Any aspect of (or fallout from) breastfeeding was right on topic.

But today with my 2017 eyes, I read the exchange as me playing along with Lauer. Making it okay for him to turn an attempted chat about our logo into a sideways reference to our breasts.

When I was attacked at knifepoint in Taiwan in the late 80’s and defended myself thanks what I learned in a Model Mugging course, the police told me I caused the assailant to lose face by knocking him to the ground. They said it wasn’t the man’s fault he had pinned me to the wall of a bathroom because he simply thought I was a prostitute. This is not behavior limited to Chinese cops or culture. For ages, the first question asked of a woman reporting a rape in the U.S. was, “What were you wearing?” If it was a sexy outfit, was she complicit?

I’m not saying Lauer did anything close to raping us, because he didn’t. Like I said, the exchange would have been a throw-away had it not been reported, and even then, forgettable until Lauer’s recent debacle. I am digging through not only my file cabinet but the layers of that exchange, and where I come down is: dude, we’re not the ones who made this about our breasts.  

Matt Lauer as the Today Show host had the power position, and he thrust two choices in front of us – to get offended or play along. (Remember the “how many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb” joke? Answer: “I don’t know and it’s not funny.”) I’d much rather not have to make the choice between The Heavy or The Flirt. Lauer could have had a conversation about our play, and maybe even learned something about the harried experience of over-extended moms. I love men. Many of my dearest friends are men. But it’s time for guys like Lauer to grow up a little and create more options than being complicit or not.  

17 thoughts on “On Being Complicit”

      1. Spell Correct must have edited that comment of mine which was supposed to say: ONE OF LIFE’S GREAT MEN. Which you are. And MANY MEN might have been a kismet spell correct because I experience a GREAT MANY GREAT MEN. Many in power now fall short, are puerile, abusing their own power (and not just now, but throughout history—to which I say, with compassion, I observe that is very difficult for human beings to hold power with integrity. The tendency and temptation seems to be to abuse it

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  1. Wow Hilary- I guess Cindy Adams called it (NY Post), didn’t she? He’s a jerk- always has been, in my humble opinion, and he fooled a lot of people for a very long time. Thank goodness you were on the air and surrounded by many people, and not back in his lair. No, you were not complicit- he was, as also were and are all the ignorant dolts who inquire what outfit the victims were wearing at the time they were assaulted. On a lighter note, I would love to read the play you and Jennifer wrote, as I so enjoy reading your blog and love your writing- you have an extraordinary gift with the written word, among all your many other extraordinary gifts! Keep up the great work, HIlary!!! Xoxo

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    1. What a generous comment. I am so grateful. The play EVE-olution is available on Dramatist Play Services, DPS. In the “About” section on this site there is more info. I really appreciate your point that we were surrounded by people and not back in his lair—the one with the button that locked the door. Yuck!

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  2. Wow. Powerful essay. I really had to think about the complicity here…I think you handled the situation perfectly. This Matt Lauer issue has been so difficult for me to process because I liked him so much. Thank you for pointing out the obvious – “You brought up the boobs, dude!” Seriously.

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    1. It’s interesting because at the time that was the vibe I felt, and what I even thought was the vibe of the Post Page Six piece: Matt Lauer better watch out! But when I re-read it, it seemed like he was saying TMI to me, my “blurting” about my breasts, and I was somehow holding the proverbial buck. It’s mixed, layered. I wonder what I’d do differently now. But the thing is, now I am 53. Then I was 40. Different category, way more of a Crone, more empowered, less prey. There ARE advantages to aging! Thank you for your comment!

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  3. Hilary, I love this post! I’ve distilled it into the most important message, in my eyes. They are the ones with the power, giving us lose/lose choices.
    “dude, we’re not the ones who made this about our breasts…he thrust two choices in front of us – to get offended or play along…I’d much rather not have to make the choice between The Heavy or The Flirt…But it’s time for guys like Lauer to grow up a little and create more options than being complicit or not.”

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    1. Samira- this closing really stood out to me too. In the man-in-power case, it’s as if he has calculated both paths of response available to the women and both options force her to play by his rules. The power play that is so consistently challenging to counter act because it feels trapping either way.

      Thank you writing and helping me continue to do my own processing on my complicity// strength in response to the rampant sexism we face everyday.

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      1. Thank you, Olivia, for your comment. It IS such a layered topic, and so UP these days in our culture. I am so glad we are addressing sexism, as well as being complicit—and pray that all these issues that have been unearthed lead to major healing and evolution for our culture…

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  4. First of all, Hilary , “You were on the Today show!?!” Second is Eve-olution connected to Venus de Minivan in some way?
    Third your use of the terms The Heavy or The Flirt brought back my youth. I remember deeply my mother using those exact words.
    I was brought up in the cultural mileu of believing those to be my options as a woman. I was educated at all the “right” schools and the implication was that I could do anything I wanted if I put my mind to it. Yet I implicitly received the message that to use my mind and speak it would make me, The Heavy, and god forbid I ruined anyone’s good time. The Heavy also translates to angry and rude btw.
    Power was given lip service then power was told to look good, be nice and have fun.
    The Flirt position seemed very acceptable, especially to the white males in my white world, go figure.
    I majored in it!! And I remember feeling the sense of power it gave me however false. A power I did not feel being The Heavy.
    I guess what is coming up for me is that yes as a white owning class woman I was complicit in allowing white patriarchy to define what my options were as a white woman. And I identify myself to clarify this is my experience I speak of. I worked within my cultural paradigm to be accepted and I gave up parts of myself in the proces to do so. I never had a moment which qualifies as #me too yet I see the culture I grew up in as
    the soil upon which I was given false choices of power and freedom which ultimately did not exist. And that feels abusive.
    And hopefully this moment we are in will begin to change the paradigm of how we got here.

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    1. First of all, yes: Venus de Minivan was the incarnation of the play Jennifer and I acted in ourselves, using our real names and the real names of our husbands and children. When the play went off-Broadway in NY, and got published by DPS, we used pseudonyms and made some changes, including the title. Sadly, the focus groups did not “get” the title “Venus de Minivan” so we changed it to Eve-olution.”
      Secondly, thank you for owning the sense of power offered you by “The Flirt” that you did not find in “The Heavy.” I imagine for every woman which role to choose for an attempt at a sense of power might differ. Bottom line being, neither role affords true empowerment. I love that you bring in race here too as this is definitely part of the power paradigm. And yes, letting the patriarchy define our options has a complicity to it. All of this being unearthed and re-examined by as many of us as possible, looking at the impact of our gender, our race, our class on our choices, and the choices we offer others, feels SO IMPORTANT right now. Thank you for your rich comment.

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  5. I am the mother
    The question: “Do you know where your children are?” Popped into my mind as I realized that while I knew where my daughter was, I had no idea about this interaction!

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