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.  

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