Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Is There A Way Back For Men Who Made Women Uncomfortable?

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Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach is an old friend. “The Liberal Lion” of the legislature, when he decided to run for Congress against Pat Meehan (PA-07) last year, he quickly became the front-runner in a crowded Democratic primary field. And then he got caught up in the #MeToo movement. He wasn’t accused of raping anyone or feeling up anyone or using his office inappropriaterly to pressure women to have sex with him or anything like that. But the accusations of making women uncomfortable with his ribald humor caused the Democratic establishment-- who never liked him anyway-- to demand that he withdraw from the congressional race and resign from the legislature. He decided to suspend his campaign and do some serious soul searching. I still don’t know what he’s going to do but yesterday the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an op-ed, What I’ve Learned he had penned. I noticed he isn’t accepting federal campaign contributions any longer.
The last few weeks have given me time for introspection.

Prior to the recent story about me in the Inquirer, I was aware that reporters were calling dozens of my employees, former employees, acquaintances, and opponents to ask them if I had ever made them or anyone they knew uncomfortable. That sort of scrutiny tends to put one in survival mode, triggering something akin to a flight-or-fight response. When the story finally came out, I was angry and defensive. I lashed out, which I regret.

As I began trying to reckon with what happened, I reached out to friends, colleagues, and even some people who don’t think very highly of me. I did a lot of listening.

I learned that I have been largely oblivious to the nature of power dynamics and privilege, both between men and women and between employers and employees. I have never considered myself very powerful or intimidating. I have never been comfortable with a hierarchical structure and have always tried to create working environments that were informal and relatively egalitarian. Thus, I was under an incorrect assumption that anyone who had an issue with me would feel free to address me directly. I now understand that people, especially young women, might be reluctant to approach me with concerns about humor they aren’t comfortable with.

I also asked people if I had ever done anything to make them uncomfortable. Frankly, I was looking for reassurance, hoping for responses like “Absolutely not, Daylin.” There was a good bit of that, which I am grateful for. But some people were candid in telling me that my humor could be off-color or offensive. Some told me they had been offended by my humor in the past, while some told me others might feel that way.

My discussions with others didn’t end at humor. I have always been a somewhat touchy person in conversation with both men and women and, therefore, I always assumed it was OK. But not everyone has the same comfort level with touching. It never occurred to me to even think about this before, which I am mortified to admit.

All of this has left me shaken. It has also taken a toll on my family and staff.

I spent my childhood in profoundly uncomfortable situations. I had very limited parental contact, no siblings, and lived in a series of challenging foster homes. I learned early on that humor and personal contact were ways to make friends and put people at ease. This is not an excuse, but an explanation. While many people have said positive things about my humor over the years, it is clear now that my sense of what is and is not welcome in a given situation has, at times, been flawed. I was sometimes impulsive and thoughtless. That needs to change. I should never put humor before kindness.

As I’ve contemplated where to go from here, one thing is certain: I am truly sorry for ever saying or doing anything that has made anyone uneasy, uncomfortable, or distressed. If there is any way to make things right, I want to do that. If anyone wants to contact me to talk about this, I’m easy to find and eager to listen.

The novelist Craig Silvey wrote that an apology “doesn’t take things back, but it pushes things forward.” I think the best way for me to apologize is to change my conduct. I promise to do that.

I am trying to learn. I know this won’t satisfy everybody, but hopefully, over time, any skeptic will be convinced of my sincerity. I believe that there must be room for growth and forgiveness on this issue and in all areas of life.

We are living through a time in which humanity seems to be in desperately short supply. I hope we can all look at each other as flawed human beings who are constantly trying to improve. I promise that is what I will be trying to do.

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7 Comments:

At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Politics is a very stressful business. If it doesn't make you uncomfortable sometimes, you're not doing it right. If you have delicate feelings, you need to think about another career. The standard of "he made me feel uncomfortable sometimes" is way too low a bar for a good politician like Leach or Franken to be forced into retirement in disgrace. None of this excuses rape, the bad touch or gross sexual "humor," especially if it seems aimed at an individual rather than just generally trying to keep things loose under stress. But staffers are supposed to be adults. Staffers of any gender exist among other things to throw themselves on their swords when the boss screws up: the progress of our careers is always secondary to the careers of our bosses. Years ago Joan Didion "sensed, in the focus on sexual harassment in particular, that we were regressing to Victorian times, when ladies were too fragile to be allowed to go out on the streets. That, strangely enough, the women’s movement, which was ostensibly about empowering women, became a movement about how delicate we were, how horrified we were at the attentions of men." (Sheila O'Malley).

 
At 12:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone liberal is sabotaged in this district.Sestak, Lentz and now Leach. ALL good men with whom I have personally interacted.

 
At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK. That's the kind of guy who I'd want to vote for, as long as he was NEITHER R nor D. Real time, it's impossible to please everyone. Even never speaking at all will make SOMEONE uncomfortable.
As well, the introspection gene has been nearly bred out of American humanity, so it's reassuring that it's only recessive but not totally gone.

Yes, the current environment has made people overreactionary looking for anything with which to indict any man and every man.

And, yes, 10:43, we have become a society of delicate amish little girls. But we'ver been getting much dumber as well. I suppose they do correlate.

 
At 1:35 PM, Blogger Elizabeth Burton said...

The silence from the Democrat Party when someone like Sen. Leach is attacked is telling. If anyone who's been paying attention needed any further proof that their basic agenda is the total destruction of the progressive wing of the party, this would provide it.

However, since I seem to be the lone female commenting, I feel it necessary to point out that the male arrogance being demonstrated by some is precisely the problem that has brought us to this pass. There is nothing "delicate" about being offended by off-color humor that almost invariably demeans women. How do y'all guys feel when some woman starts talking about castration? Oh, you haven't been in that position? Well, let me tell you, at least one woman in your history was been thinking about it. The difference is, she didn't say it out loud.

But that's not really the problem, either. The problem is too many people, and women in particular, are brought up thinking it's rude to call someone out when they do something that makes one uncomfortable. Notice how Sen. Leach heard, mainly from women, that they were afraid to mention how they felt? Why should it be that we're unable to be honest? How is it that those in authority, real or perceived, are still no longer required to maintain even a modicum of courtesy if they don't want to?

And speaking as someone who knows all about "little Amish girls," I suggest you don't want to say that in front of them. These are women who haul water and wash their laundry by hand; and if you think that's easy, I suggest you try it.

 
At 2:20 PM, Blogger Mf Lehman said...

Elizabeth Burton: You seem forgetful. Everyone in Iowa was put "that position:" "The 30-second ad ‘Squeal’ featured [Joni] Ernst gazing into a camera and boasting of castrating hogs on the farm where she grew up. “So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork,” she said. It showed images of pigs, then came her punchline. “Washington is full of big spenders. Let’s make ’em squeal.”" Far from costing her her career at the hands of all of delicate male voters, the ad won her the nomination. Now they call her Senator Ernst. I have never heard a hysterectomy joke.

But given that you think that the "Democrat Party['s] ... basic agenda is the total destruction of the progressive wing of the party," I can't tell if you think that making women uncomfortable with sexual humor is sufficient to get rid of Leach in your opinion. Is it?

My grandmother, mother and sister all would have known what to do if a man spoke or acted rudely to them. I am sorry that a remonstrance or a good slap is no longer being taught to little girls or manners to little boys, although his mother and I certainly taught that to our son. I would urge the return of the concept of ladies and gentlemen, but that would only prove how old I am.

 
At 5:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, if someone is uncomfortable but too "delicate" to say so...
Never mind. In this environment, women finally have the hammer and will find every nail... and plenty of other things to pummel. Understandable. But I do hope at some point the revenge and retribution will be over and we can actually reach an understanding.

And that will be when someone says something, the offended will SAY something.

And, yes MFL, a lot of this has been catalyzed by parents having to work instead of rear their kids, and the media which titillates and excites to the lowest common denominator (sophomoric, moron males).

 
At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Osama smiles in the Afterlife. Before too much longer, the demonic American secular society will be divided along gender lines and kept separated lest lustful thought erupt and disturb the public serenity.

 

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