The wave of #MeToo allegations, and the varying rigor with which they have been reported, have prompted conversations about the line, often difficult to discern, between date rape and bad sex, between emotional abuse and megalomania. But for the women I know, these conversations do not negate or even contradict the larger movement: They’re difficult, they’re stressful, but they ultimately strengthen the movement instead of diminishing it. These are conversations that in the past simply did not happen — especially not in public. While the conversations we’re having now can be inconclusive — we’re still not sure what to do with these men, definitively — they still make us think more about our behaviors and previously accepted power dynamics, not less.
The same can be said for how we expect an abuser to look, sound, and behave. It would of course be easier to have a black-and-white spectrum of abuse, as well as a clear pathway for what’s supposed to happen to those accused of abuse — but that’s a fantasy. The allegations against Weinstein were horrific enough to seemingly convince even the most skeptical, but they also set up a paradigm in which some people would only acknowledge abuse as extensive and exploitative as his: Either you’re a monster, or you’re a saint, and there’s nothing in between. In real life, the vast majority of abuse takes place in the gray areas, often inflicted by people who can be loving, warm, and compassionate in other parts of their lives. A person can be nonabusive to dozens, hundreds, thousands of people, and still abuse someone.
But to arrive at that conclusion, we, as a society, have to keep talking about all the different, nuanced, difficult-to-process examples of abuse — and acknowledge that one person’s experience of a man, or even 65 people’s experience of a man, does not obviate another’s.