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Can The Men Accused Of Sexual Assault In the #MeToo Movement Return To Public Life?


Over the last year, the #MeToo movement has exposed sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men, including powerful men in entertainment and media, including here at NPR. The most egregious offenders such as Harvey Weinstein are facing criminal investigations. Other men who were accused of sexual assault or workplace misconduct lost high-profile jobs. And we're starting to see glimmers of their return to public life.


Last week, radio broadcasters John Hockenberry of WNYC and Jian Ghomeshi of the CBC had lengthy essays published about their lives after public disgrace. Hockenberry's is in the October issue of Harper's. Ghomeshi's essay is in the New York Review of Books. It was edited by Ian Buruma. Today, amid backlash to its publication, Buruma left his post. The New Yorker's Jia Tolentino says both essays were off the mark. Earlier, we spoke to her from our New York bureau about why. And a warning - our conversation includes descriptions of abuse allegations.

Welcome to the program.

JIA TOLENTINO: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: By way of background, Jian Ghomeshi was accused by more than 20 women of allegations of slapping, punching, choking, abusive sex. He was found not guilty on four counts of sexual assault. In his essay with the New York Review of Books, he paints a picture of somebody who essentially has been wronged. What did you take away from this essay?

TOLENTINO: He wrote this kind of 3,000-word essay about how he's one of the good ones and he feels so ashamed. And, you know, yes, I'm guilty of being a bad guy sometimes. I was, you know, kind of a bad partner. But I think that this movement has gone too far. And I've developed empathy for those who are pilloried in the public square.

CORNISH: Now, this is a little different than the essay from John Hockenberry, formerly of The Takeaway. He had been accused of forcibly kissing a female colleague, of creating a hostile work environment before he was expelled from WNYC. And he really talks at length about a kind of overcorrection by the #MeToo movement. And is that a common thread when you - in the moments when we hear men speak out about this?

TOLENTINO: Absolutely. I mean, it's been coming up since last October. The immediate fear as soon as Weinstein went down was, are we going to start asking these questions about men who only did a little sexual harassment, you know? And I think it's the difference that Hockenberry, you know, has 7,000 words to probe but doesn't - and that women have been writing about in great nuance and detail - that no one is saying that Hockenberry was just like Weinstein, the way that he seems to think that he's been framed. People are saying that they don't want him at their workplace, which is a completely different calculus and, to my mind, a reasonable one.

CORNISH: But they do attempt to reveal what men are thinking, so to speak. Ghomeshi tries to make the point that he's heard from men in the last year who are worried, quote, "what happened to you could happen to me." Is that a point of view revealing or worth hearing in some way?

TOLENTINO: I think it's extremely revealing, and maybe not in the way they think, you know? It's sort of like the Kavanaugh accusations right now. The fact that so many people saw Ghomeshi's story and said, oh, my God, it could be me - you know, to him, that feels like a vindication. To me, that feels like, you know, maybe an accidental admission of the grave extent of the problem and the fact that, you know, the #MeToo movement has not cracked that fact, that essential power imbalance that's at the center of all of this.

CORNISH: Power imbalance in what way?

TOLENTINO: That for men - you know, they see this, and they think, wow, I've operated on these terms of entitlement where I could treat women like this and kind of assume that I would get away with it, you know? And I understand that it must be very shocking to all of a sudden, you know, realize that these things that society taught you could do with impunity you really shouldn't have ever been able to do all along. And maybe you'll be held accountable to that. But, you know, this fear that they'll be held accountable is still centered on them and their lives and their power being the most important thing.

CORNISH: What do you think should happen to them? I mean, is there a model forward? Is there a model essay, you know, that one could write that would be welcomed?

TOLENTINO: You know, we've never - this is an unprecedented moment in history. But, you know, I think it is clear that a lot of men have done things that are problems - that they were inappropriate or criminal or anything in between. And when a kid does something wrong, you ask them, do you understand, you know, why it was wrong to push so-and-so? And they have to say yes before you can move on. And I think we've already skipped over that. And it's - we're sort of asking for restitution without honesty, and that's not possible.

CORNISH: Jia Tolentino - she's a staff writer at The New Yorker. Thanks so much.

TOLENTINO: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETE ROCK SONG, "THE BEST SECRET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.