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Schneiderman and the Integrity of the #MeToo Movement

Op/Ed By George Payne –


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According to the intrepid reporting of Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker, as former NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s prominence as a voice against sexual misconduct increased, so, too, had the distress of four women with whom he has had romantic relationships or encounters. “Two of the women, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, have talked on the record, because they feel that doing so could protect other women. They allege that he repeatedly hit them, often after drinking, frequently in bed and never with their consent. Manning Barish and Selvaratnam categorize the abuse he inflicted on them as assault. They did not report their allegations to the police at the time, but both say that they eventually sought medical attention after having been slapped hard across the ear and face, and also choked.”

Speaking as a male domestic violence counselor, I was surprised but not shocked to learn about Schneiderman’s history of abuse. I believe that his sudden and dramatic resignation reveals a fundamental truth about the #MeToo movement: it doesn’t matter what someone says in public, what causes one represents, the organizations one belongs to, the people one knows, or the pinnacles of one’s ambitions. To be a real advocate of women, one must have integrity. In the words of Joyce Meyer, “Integrity means that you are the same in public as you are in private.”

The reason Schneiderman collapsed so fast is because he did not truly comprehend the movement he fought so calculatingly to accelerate. Rather than reform his own mind and cleanse his own heart, he worked obsessively reform society. Rather than address his own personal struggles with sex, gender, power, and control, by putting in the difficult and time-consuming work needed to examine the root of these vulnerabilities, he devoted his career to uncovering the crimes and misdeeds of others. All along he missed the point entirely.

What Schneiderman failed to realize about #MeToo is that this movement is a call for all men to deconstruct their own arrogance, prejudices, and misconceptions regarding women. Far from a politically emblematic movement centered on finger pointing and scapegoating, this is an empowering movement that inspires and galvanizes women to speak their truth, while simultaneously challenging men to restructure their way of thinking. Someone in Schneiderman’s position may endorse and prosecute numerous laws that aim to protect women, but if they do not treat women with dignity behind closed doors, they will never live up to a single one of them.

As much as anything else, #MeToo is a progressive crusade for men to become answerable to their own conscience. As the Greek poet Sophocles said: “There is no witness so terrible and no accuser so powerful as conscience which dwells within us.”

(George Cassidy Payne is a freelance writer, domestic violence counselor, and adjunct professor of philosophy at SUNY. He lives and works in Rochester, NY. His work has appeared in the USA Today, The Atlantic, The Buffalo News, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle,The Albany Times Union, Counterpunch, the South China Morning Post, the Havana Times, the Minority Reporter, and many more. )

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