Sunday, January 14, 2018

Response to Liza Wyles

by David Balashinsky

What is it with Romper and male genital mutilation?  Once again the parenting site has published a non-apology-apologia for it (the title is literally 9 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Choosing To Circumcise My Son).  And what is it with its author, Liza Wyles, and lists?   Of the many articles she has produced for Romper, I counted sixty, published just in the past six months or so, that consist of some sort of enumeration as reflected in titles on the pattern of 8 Reasons This, 9 Reasons That, and 10 Reasons The Other.   This style of composition seems to be prevalent among online magazines nowadays; possibly because one of its cardinal virtues is that it is conducive to brevity.  More likely, because the audience for these media platforms has had its attention span unnaturally stunted by early and excessive exposure to electronic interfaces and commercial media.  Yet another reason might be that the target audience may be presumed to be youngish parents with neonates, infants, toddlers and tweens abounding.  This is not an audience with much leisure time so a series of bullet points is probably the format that market research has shown is best suited to catching and holding such readers' attention.

Whatever the reasons, I will follow Wyles's pattern here, addressing each item in her list in turn.   First, however, I must preface my comments - which I offer as a refutation of Wyles's arguments - by observing that, like Wyles, I am Jewish.  This matters in the historical and cultural context in which the debate over the ethics and appropriateness of male genital mutilation is taking place.  As a Jewish man, I feel not only a particular right but a a special obligation to speak out forcefully against involuntary genital cutting, not only of Jewish males but of all males, females, and intersex children.  All of us, no matter our ethnicity, our sex, or our parents' religion, have an innate and an inalienable right not to have parts of our bodies amputated for non-essential, non-medical reasons.  

The fact that I am Jewish matters also in the present case because, of the nine reasons Wyles gives for having subjected her son to circumcision - or rather, for refusing to apologize for having subjected her son's penis to circumcision - about half of these have no more rational a basis than the momentum of tradition.  In other words, much as Ej Dickson did in the virtual pages of Romper last spring  (and please see my response to Ms. Dickson  here),  Wyles couches her defense of her decision to subject her infant son to genital mutilation in terms of its cultural (and, to a lesser extent in her case, religious) meaning.  This becomes problematical for those who oppose genital mutilation because recourse to arguments of "religious liberty" or "cultural significance" by those who defend it immediately places the question not only beyond the bounds of rational discourse but, more to the point, out of bounds for those outside the cultural or religious group.  In the case of male genital mutilation, which has been a part of Judaism and Jewish tradition for millennia, non-Jews who oppose the practice risk opening themselves to the charge of anti-Semitism: usually wrongly but sometimes rightly, for, of course, there are anti-Semites who oppose genital mutilation, just as there are anti-Semites who have written great music.   (The fact that some anti-Semites oppose male genital mutilation certainly doesn't make genital mutilation right.)  It is all the more important, therefore, that those of us  within the group who oppose male genital mutilation - and our numbers are growing daily - speak out against this anachronistic human rights violation.  Thus, I write as someone who has something in common with Wyles - something that is of more than just passing significance to our identities and experience. 

I also have something in common with Wyles's son.  Like him, I was subjected to genital cutting without my consent and for no more compelling a reason than the force of tradition.  Like Wyles's son, I did not have a bris (nor did I have a bar mitzvah; my parents were both confirmed atheists).  But, like Wyles's son,  I was born into a time and place - into a culture - in which cutting off part of a boy's penis seemed (and still - but, mercifully, less so - seems) perfectly natural.    

That is where the similarities between Wyles, on the one hand, and her son and me, on the other, end.  For, you see Wyles, undoubtedly, was allowed to grow up with her genitalia intact.  She will never have to wonder what erogenous sensations were forever lost to her before she could even experience them.  She does not have to look at her genitalia and be confronted every day with a scar instead of the healthy tissue that should be there but isn't because it was amputated.  In the quotidian moments of nakedness that we all experience - dressing, bathing, peeing - Wyles is never presented with the bizarre and ghastly sight of an internal organ converted through surgical means into an external one. 

Wyles fully anticipates opprobrium for her decision.  In her essay, she writes, "I can't avoid life's haters.  So I fully expect to get flak for choosing to circumcise my son and not apologizing about it."  Well, Wyles certainly doesn't owe me an apology.  The person to whom she really owes an apology is her son.  And, of course, perhaps his future sex partners, particularly if they are female.  And while I don't consider myself a hater, I do hate injustice and human rights violations.   And genital mutilation certainly ranks high on the list of human rights violations.  Turning to Wyles's list, then, let's take it point by point.  I will also, so to speak, turn to Wyles herself, and address the remainder of my comments to her.  Thus, Ms. Wyles, to your nine reasons why you won't apologize for having chosen to circumcise your son:

Because it had cultural relevance:  You write that "it just felt 'right' to have my son circumcised, as he is the son of a Jewish mother."  Female genital mutilation, too, feels "right" and has just as much "cultural relevance" for those who subject their daughters to it.  That doesn't make it ethical.  Moreover, without having been subjected to genital mutilation, your son would be still be the son of a Jewish mother and would be not one iota less Jewish himself.

Because it's what our families have done for generations:  My own family has a multi-generational history of pedophilia and incestuous childhood sexual abuse.  That's not a valid reason for continuing the tradition.   Similarly, slavery, the legal subordination of women,  discrimination against LGBTQ persons, domestic violence, severe corporal punishment of children, stoning, gladiatorial contests, public animal-fighting- and -torture spectacles and ritual human- and animal sacrifice at one time or another also have been practiced for generations (and some of these still are).  That doesn't make these practices ethical, nor does the fact that they persisted for generations constitute a sufficient justification for them to continue.  Forced genital mutilation belongs to this list of wrongs long practiced but that no longer have any place in a modern, civilized society. 

Under this listed rationale, you also state the following: "with circumcision, it felt like a testament to what our families have been doing, to no ill effect [emphasis added], for years and years."  Have you given your male forebears - both immediate and remote (since you speak of "generations") and all the male relatives in your cohort detailed questionnaires  concerning their sex lives, including their penile function and their overall sexual satisfaction?  If not, there is absolutely no way that you can make that statement with certainty, let alone as though it were an incontrovertible fact.  You, yourself, simply may be unaware of the ill effects, but that doesn't mean that there weren't and aren't any.   Infant male circumcision has been definitively associated with  adverse effects upon male sexual functionsensation, and overall satisfaction.  You might also want to check with all the women in your family since studies have also established an association between male circumcision and several sexual dysfunctions or problems in women, including dyspareunia (painful intercourse), difficulty reaching orgasm and overall sexual dissatisfaction.  You should not blithely assume, simply because your relatives have not disclosed to you the most intimate aspects of their sex lives, that all is well, and always has been well, in their bedrooms.  In the absence of their having shared this personal and likely deeply embarrassing information with you - whatever the quality of their sex lives: whether great or not so great - only by assuming that absence of evidence is evidence of absence can you conclude that circumcision has had "no ill effect" on the sexual and emotional lives of the women and men in your family.  More likely, it's just not something they are apt to share with you at family get-togethers.

Because my husband was in favor of it:  What if your husband wanted to torture and beat your son because he thought he was gay?   Suppose your husband wanted to cut off some other part of your child's body, or perhaps pierce his nose or tongue, or have him tattooed?   What if it were not your son's genitals that we are speaking about but your daughter's?  And what if your husband wanted your daughter to undergo labiaplasty for cosmetic reasons?  (This last example strikes most of us as repellent and yet, the alleged aesthetic superiority of a surgically reduced penis is frequently cited by parents as a valid reason for subjecting their sons to radical prepucectomy.  Indeed, her anxiety that, without having undergone this surgery, her son might have "his penis compared to a Sharpei [sic] by a cruel future sexual partner" was actually one of the reasons that Ej Dickson gave for subjecting her son, Sol, to genital cutting [see links above].  To add insult to injury and to heap perversity upon perversity, Ms. Dickson is now a deputy editor at Men's Health Magazine.   What could be more Trumpian than to hire an advocate of male genital mutilation - which harms men's health, to say nothing of their sex lives - as a writer and editor for a media platform and magazine that, as its publisher claims ,  "inspire[s] health, healing, happiness, and love in the world" and professes to be "the premiere destination for wellness content with a purpose"?)   Would these other mutilations and non-therapeutic bodily alterations, too, be okay simply because your husband is in favor of them?  Let me anticipate your response here: these would fall within the category of things you "knew we had to be in agreement on," and you would never (it is to be hoped) agree to such things.  But what about two other parents who do agree that selective amputations of other body parts,  or tattoos or piercings of their child's body are properly their decision and theirs alone, irrespective of what the child herself may want.  What then?  

At the same time, the fact that your husband was in favor of subjecting your son to genital mutilation is no more convincing an argument in support of the practice than is the parallel argument that majorities of women in FGM-practicing nations continue to support that practice.  These are women, after all - and not coincidentally - who, like your husband, were themselves subjected to genital cutting, yet they support the practice and often in greater numbers than do their male compatriots.   This phenomenon is mirrored here in the continued support of male genital cutting by male victims themselves.  That's not a valid justification for mutilating someone else's genitals without her or his consent.  

Because our doctors supported it: A majority of the world's doctors actually oppose it.

Because there were no negative long-term effects [that] I was aware of at the time:  It's been known for over 150 years that removing the male prepuce adversely affects penile sensation. That's why it was advocated as a prophylaxis against masturbation during the 19th century when it was popularized in Great Britain and the United States.   Contemporary research has borne this out.  It has also been known for generations that there are many other deleterious sequela related to male genital cutting including but not limited to an increased incidence of meatal stenosis, an increased risk of sepsis, hemorrhage, and  death.  If you didn't know this when you subjected your son to genital cutting, it's either because you didn't adequately research it or because you were unable to put aside your bias when you did, and this led you to an erroneous conclusion.  (You certainly would not be the first person to fall into that trap.) At the same time, your lack of awareness of the negative long-term effects of infant male circumcision is entirely understandable, given that much of the discourse on this topic is heavily weighted by the mainstream media's reliance on and unquestioning deference to  the leading pro-circumcision professional medical trade organization in the United States, the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, both of which essentially ignore the negative long-term effects of infant circumcision.  Yet these organizations' positions on non-therapeutic infant circumcision have been roundly condemned by bioethicists, attorneys, psychologists, human-rights activists and, of course, physicians.

Because it was what's familiar to me:  One could say the same of domestic violence.  Children who grow up in homes in which domestic violence regularly occurs are familiar with domestic violence.  They also often grow up only to repeat the pattern.  Familiarity with something harmful doesn't make it less so.  Often, we cling to the familiar even when we know it's not good for us because we derive a false sense of security from the very familiarity of it.  That is one of the reasons victims often remain in abusive relationships.  As with the argument "because it's what our families have done for generations," the mere fact that something has persisted or simply that one is familiar with it is not, in and of itself, a valid reason to go on doing it. 

Because it was what I thought was best when he was born:  Implicit in this statement is its antithesis: that, while you may once have thought cutting off part of your son's genitals was the best possible thing you could do for him (it sounds absurd when phrased that way, doesn't it?) you now no longer are quite so sure.  If that is true - and I dearly hope it is - you should consider that there is no shame in learning and growing.  It is something of a mantra in intactivist circles that when we know better, we do better.  I don't question your sincerity and I don't doubt that you did what you thought best at the time.  But that doesn't mean that it was best, and it doesn't mean that you should now dig in your heels just to save face.  It is far less blameworthy to be wrong and to learn from one's mistakes than it is to be intransigent.

Because I only need to do right by my family:  No - you needed to do right by your son. Male genital mutilation isn't a "family" decision just as it isn't something that the entire family undergoes.  You write in your essay - or list -  that "there are some decisions that are personal and affect only us."  But it didn't affect you  - singular or plural - it affected your son.  It was only he who had a crucial part of his penis cut off  -  not you, and not your daughter.  So please stop speaking about your son's unnecessary and irreversible genital surgery as though it were a harmless family affair in which all were equally involved, all had equal input, and all were equally affected.

And while I would never condone any violence or mistreatment of children, circumcision is a safe practice that didn't jeopardize our son's health:  Wrong on every count.  Cutting off part of your child's body in the absence of an emergent medical necessity is, by definition, an act of violence against and a mistreatment of your child.  Male genital mutilation is a harm in and of itself, even without the untoward complications.  It is no more "safe" for the victim than amputating any other body part would be "safe."  In fact, every one of the claims that you make on behalf of male genital mutilation, in this statement and throughout your essay -  it's "familiar," it has "cultural relevance," your "husband supported it," even that it's "safe" - can be be made of female genital mutilation now that  it, too, is being "medicalized" and increasingly performed in aseptic conditions by trained medical professionals.  As for "never" condoning violence or mistreatment - in effect you just did.  Or, if not condoning male genital mutilation, at the very least you just devoted a dozen or so paragraphs to justifying it.  But in this context, the distinction between condoning and justifying is a distinction without a difference.

Which brings me to some final thoughts.  You seem to want to have it both ways.  You write that you "only need to do right by my family and not those who judge me."  And you dismiss as "haters" those who may criticize you for having deprived your son of the right to grow up whole and to experience the full range of sensations and intimacy that are possible only with a whole and fully functional penis.  Thus, you seem to be going out of your way here to prove that you are perfectly unconcerned with the opinions of those who may disagree with your choice and with the rationalizations that you have given for it.  Yet, at the same time that you are professing scorn for such judgement, you appear to be inviting it.  
If you truly are unconcerned with the opinions of others, why publish this list?  And why go to such lengths to justify the decision that you made?

The overriding impression one gets is that the groundswell of moral and ethical opposition to male genital mutilation has managed to resonate somewhere deep within the recesses of your conscience and that is why you feel compelled now to offer this strained and desperate-seeming defense of a dying, barbaric and inhumane practice.  Your refusal to acknowledge any error in having subjected your baby to this harmful, tragically irreversible and totally unnecessary genital surgery strikes me less as evidence of your confidence in the rightness of the decision that you made seven years ago than as defensiveness and overcompensation. 

Implicit throughout your essay is the acknowledgment that what you did to your son was harmful and unethical.    You, yourself, state that "Thinking about the act, it really is terribly cruel." "The choice should have been his. . . ."  And you anticipate the possibility that "He may grow up and hate us for this decision.  He will be justified in being angry that we made a decision about his body for him."  But, of course, it's not simply that you made "a decision about his body" but that you made one that was both harmful and totally unnecessary.   If the anger comes, that will be its genesis: your son's realization not only that something important was irrevocably stolen from him (and how much, he will only be able to guess) but that it was all for nothing.  That you deprived him of an important body part that may have tremendous value to him but for reasons that have meaning only for you.  If he had had cancer and the choice were between saving a limb and saving his life, I'm confident that your son wouldn't be angry at you in the least for having made a reasonable decision about his body on his behalf.  But a prepuce is not a birth defect and having one is not a pathological condition in need of surgical intervention.  And its removal was absolutely not necessary for him to live his life as a Jewish man in accordance with the values and beliefs that you instill in him and in harmony with all the other, non-harmful traditions that are meaningful to our people in which he may share and find fulfillment.  

You make much of your assertion that this decision was a "personal" one.  Indeed, this is one of the claims most often made by parents who claim a right to surgically alter  their children's genitals.  Thus, you write, "While we realize our decisions reach beyond the walls of our apartment, when it comes to our behavior and how we vote, and how diligently we recycle (very), there are some decisions that are personal and affect only us.  I am not beholden to the public when it comes to how I manage certain aspects of my children’s wellbeing."   Yet this assertion, too, is belied by your publishing this defense of infant male genital mutilation.   It is at best naive of you to think - and, at worst, disingenuous of you to pretend - that, in publishing your list of pro-MGM rationalizations, you are not giving aid and comfort to those who insist on perpetuating this inhumane and unethical practice.  One has only to read through the comments that appear under your post on Romper's Facebook page.  As so often occurs when someone publishes a commentary in a parenting site to the effect that it's my child and I can do what I want - it doesn't concern you or anyone else, the effect is to harden the opinions of pro-genital cutters and to embolden them.  Thus, while your decision may have affected only your son, your  publicly justifying your decision most emphatically is an act that reaches "beyond the walls of [your] apartment."  For you are not only validating, retrospectively, the decision already made by you and by other parents who, like you, subjected their children to genital cutting but you are giving your imprimatur, prospectively, to parents who have yet to make that decision.  Do you imagine that a parent like yourself, but one questioning the ethics of this genital surgery and whose decision hangs in the balance, is not susceptible to pro-genital-cutting rationalizations?  Such arguments may very well resonate with some parents.  Unfortunately, it is not they but their sons (and their sons' future sex partners) who will ultimately pay the price for your public rationalizations.  Who knows how many additional infant boys will be (and the men that they become will have been) subjected to genital cutting at least in part because of your words?  Not only your son but, potentially, many other sons, boys, men and women will have cause to be angry at you and to hate you - not for what you did to your son but for what you have implicitly encouraged others to do to theirs.

One of the things that most struck me about your post were these comments: "I can't have regrets.  If in the end it turns out to have been a mistake . . . I will need to deal with it."  Of course you can have regrets.  Anyone who has no regrets is someone who has never made a mistake,  or someone who has never learned from her mistakes, or, worse, someone who refuses to learn from her mistakes.   The brash tenor of your essay - the whole in-your-face, spoiling-for-a-fight,  I refuse to apologize attitude of it - makes me concerned that you are in that last category.  I hope not.  And the good news is that there is no need to be.  Most people on my side of the divide were once on yours.  I, myself, used to think circumcision was harmless and seldom questioned it.  But male genital mutilation, with all the bogus and hyped-up claims and pointless appeals to Tradition! is such a house of cards that all it really takes for it to come crumbling down within the mind of each of us is to question it.

Speaking as one Jew to another, and especially as one who has cast off the cultural blinkers that enabled me to accept what was done to me and what is done still to over one million unoffending infants annually in the United States, while I acknowledge the importance to you of the reasons why you believe you were justified in having your son's penis cut, I feel an even greater obligation - as someone who values human rights, personal autonomy and bodily integrity and, yes, as a Jew - to urge you away from such unenlightened thinking and toward a more progressive notion of Jewishness and a more universal conception of human rights.  Toward that end, I would like to point you toward three invaluable sources.

First, the educational video Child Circumcision: An Elephant in the Hospital, which is a recording of a lecture delivered by Ryan McAllister, Ph.D. that also includes a brief video of an actual circumcision.   In your essay, you recounted how the hospital where your son's genital surgery took place had a policy barring you from observing that which you refer to as a "procedure."  Once you have seen an actual male circumcision, you will readily understand why your hospital didn't want you to see it.  You will also understand how gross a mischaracterization of male circumcision it is to refer to it, as you did, as a mere "snip" and to the densely innervated and highly complex anatomical structure that is the prepuce as mere "skin."  Even though it is seven years too late for your son, I believe that, as Michelle Storms, M.D. (quoted in McAllister's video) has stated, "Any person who wants to subject a child to this  should be required to witness one first."  (There is, of course, much more to McAllister's lecture than this, and I would hope that you would listen to it in its entirely and with an open mind.)

Second: this account by Rosemary Romberg of her own personal journey from being a mother who had her sons' penises circumcised to an active campaigner against the practice.  Ms. Romberg is perhaps the preeminent exemplar of what is known in intactivist circles as a regret mom or a regret parent: someone who had her or his son's penis circumcised but came to regret it.  Sadly - but also, encouragingly - Ms. Romberg is not alone.  I refer you to the writings of Ms. Romberg (and to those of other regret moms) particularly because of your comment, "I can't have regrets."  These courageous women and men demonstrate not only that it is possible to regret having subjected a child to the needless pain and harm of circumcision but that - far from destroying these parents - this very regret was an integral part of their growth as parents and as ethical human beings.

Finally: I refer you to Beyond the Bris.  This is a website created by Rebecca Wald by and for "Jewish people who are united in the belief that circumcising healthy children is harmful and unnecessary. . . ."  In the pages of this site you will become acquainted with "the voices and faces of the pro-intact Jewish movement":  Jewish women and men who are "moving in what we feel is a more thoughtful, more ethical, and more Jewish direction. . . ."  Especially because of your comments to the effect that you had your son's penis cut because of your identification as Jewish and because of the history of this practice in your family (as well as in that of your non-Jewish husband's family) I think it important for you to hear what other Jews have to say about this custom.  The burgeoning movement of renunciation of this anachronistic practice by us Jews ourselves is animated not only by our deeply held conviction that it is unethical but that it is positively incompatible in the modern world with Jewish ethics and values.  In short, Jewish opponents of male genital mutilation do not feel ourselves to be less Jewish because of our opposition to this practice but more Jewish by virtue of our opposition to it.  We encourage you to join us.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The CDC, Censorship, and MGM

by David Balashinsky

As has been widely reported during the past couple of days, the Trump administration has issued a list of words and phrases that scientists and policy analysts at the CDC are henceforth barred from using.  Among these verboten words are "science-based" and "evidence-based."  As the Washington Post reported this past Friday, "Instead of 'science-based' or ­'evidence-based,' the suggested phrase is 'CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.'"

This language is strikingly similar to that used by the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding its position on male genital mutilation.  The AAP has stated that "because the procedure is not essential to a child's current well-being, we recommend that the decision to circumcise is one best made by parents in consultation with their pediatrician taking into account what is in the best interests of the child, including medical, religious, cultural, and ethnic traditions."  In other words, the AAP's position regarding the pros and cons of MGM is that religious beliefs, cultural norms and ethnic traditions should be accorded just as much weight as scientific evidence (or more, since medical efficacy is only one of the four justifications offered here by the AAP).

Now the CDC, under the Trump administration, is likewise adopting an official position in which medical guidelines are to be established only insofar as they conform to prevailing cultural norms and religious beliefs which, it is not unreasonable to assume, is what is meant by the qualifier "in consideration with community standards and wishes."  With respect to MGM, this is not a change in actual policy by the CDC.  Way back in 2014, long before Putin's troll army swayed the election in favor of Trump (and Republican-engineered political gerrymandering swayed numerous down-ballot contests in favor of Republicans), the CDC came out strongly in support of MGM.  As the Associated Press reported at the time, although the CDC justified its proposed new guidelines ostensibly on the basis of the putative health benefits, the director of its National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention program, Jonathan Mermin, M.D., acknowledged, in a statement attributed to him by the AP (albeit not in a direct quote) that subjecting an infant to genital mutilation "is a personal decision that may involve religious or cultural preferences."

It is widely accepted that, in making its recommendation in support of MGM, the CDC was following the lead of the AAP.  And it is also widely accepted that the AAP's own 2012 policy statement recommending "access to this procedure for families who choose it"  reflected its own cultural bias in favor of MGM.  Thus, while it is not new that the CDC's pro-circumcision recommendations reflect a cultural and religious bias in favor of MGM, what is new is that it is now the explicit and official policy of the CDC, under Trump, that cultural and religious beliefs are to carry as much weight as science and ethics - if not more - in establishing this government agency's policies and recommendations.

For the cause of eradicating MGM, this could cut both ways.  On the one hand, it gives the CDC the Trump administration's imprimatur on behalf of issuing culture- and religion-based recommendations in support of MGM in the name of public health policy.  This could embolden the MGM enthusiasts within the CDC (as well as the AAP).  On the other hand, this new policy now means that not only is the CDC relieved of any obligation to justify its pro-MGM recommendations strictly on the basis of scientific evidence but it is now positively barred from doing so.  That should make it easier for intactivists to cite the religious and cultural bias inherent in the CDC's pro-MGM recommendations.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Eugene Wallach: Setting the Record Straight about My Father (Heeding the Call to End the Silence)

by David Balashinsky

My sister, Kathy, was nine years old the first time our father asked her to give him a hand job.  Very early in life, she had begun to gravitate toward the healing arts.  She was a born nurturer - compassionate, caring and empathetic - and this, coupled with her fascination with biology and the natural world, had crystallized into her childhood dream of becoming a physician.  In our home we had an old, poorly functioning yet still functional microscope.  It had been bought originally for our older brothers years earlier but they had long since lost any interest in it (if they ever had any, to begin with).  My sister had therefore assumed possession of it and had lately taken to whiling away the hours peering through the eyepiece at whatever she could get onto the slide below.  She was fascinated by the hidden, microscopic world that it revealed to her.  Observing this, our father saw an opening.  "Wouldn't it be interesting to see sperm under the microscope?" he asked her.   My sister jumped at the opportunity.  Our parents had explained the facts of life to us with scientific detachment and without any evident embarrassment when we were five or six years old.  It certainly was not news to my sister that sperm existed - that they were alive and swam.  And, now, here was an opportunity to witness firsthand one key part of the seemingly miraculous biological process of reproduction.  She eagerly exclaimed "Yes!"  As my sister recounts this defining event from her childhood, she recalls being thrilled by the prospect of seeing live sperm under her microscope.  
The day it was to happen, I went to my room and set up my little microscope on my desk and waited for Pop to come in.  But when he did, I noticed that there was nothing in his hands.  "Where's the sperm?" I asked.  And he replied, "You have to get it."  It was then that I realized what he was doing and I said, "No."  He sheepishly left my room.  I felt so betrayed and hurt.  I didn't have the words at the time, being only nine, but I felt that he was undermining my education.  He was not taking my hopes of one day becoming a doctor seriously.  When he left, I felt a lump in my throat and I cried.  I guess I felt that he didn't really love me.
It is probably unnecessary to add here that my sister did not go on to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a physician.

I referred to this episode just now as a defining event for my sister but this was not the first time that our father had attempted to manipulate her into jerking him off.  That had happened a few weeks prior to the microscope incident and, although he failed on this second attempt, he had succeeded on the first and would succeed again on a number of other occasions, the precise number of which my sister remains uncertain.  When it happened the first time - which she also remembers clearly - instead of exploiting my sister's interest in biology, our father played on her sympathy.  He had broken his wrist and needed his daughter to make him feel better.
I was nine when I first gave him a hand job. It was while he had a broken wrist.  And in my nine-year-old mind, I thought he wanted the hand job because he was hurt. He told me years later that he thought it was "cute" - that's how he described it -  because I kept asking if it's because he was hurt.  I really don't remember how many times I gave him a hand job.  I think I blocked it out.
At least from the time my sister was nine years old, my father viewed her not as a human being (much less as his daughter) - to be accorded all the rights, dignity and respect for both body and person to which the mere fact of being entitles each and every one of us - but as someone he had a right to expect to gratify him sexually.  Once she was in her late teens, and no longer manipulable into hand service, he exploited my sister's innate goodness as a compassionate and earnest listener by recounting to her the sexual experiences that he had enjoyed with her high school friends in excruciating detail.  In this way my father derived a superadded sexual gratification from the experience: first manipulating my sister's teenage friends into some sort of sexual activity and, then, reliving the experience - even as he compounded the perversity of it - by subjecting my sister to an explicit description of what had transpired.  No detail was spared, from critical descriptions of these girls' pubic hair to the specific acts he had had them perform on his body and those that he, in turn, had performed on theirs.

He took a particular pleasure in recounting to my sister how he had exploited the hypochondria of a young woman who had moved in with us.  This unfortunate person was something of a refugee from what was already an abusive environment.  She was a foster child and had been sexually abused by her foster father for years.  My sister befriended her at school when they were adolescents and, a few years later, when we were teenagers, this young woman - I will call her "Rose," but that's not her real name - moved in with us.  Besides being emotionally fragile, Rose had developed an eating disorder.  This was on top of her hypochondria.  I do not wonder that she was a cornucopia of psychological and psychosomatic illnesses, given the turmoil and abuse that had characterized her life.  It was not long before my father, having set his sights on her, was able to exploit her particular vulnerabilities to his own ends.  He described to my sister how he had convinced Rose that an enema was the appropriate treatment for her gastrointestinal conditions (whether they were real or imagined was, of course, beside the point).   He administered it while stroking her clitoris.

I emphasize here that, as horrendous as this abuse of Rose was, my father then managed to compound it by making my sister privy to it: by compelling her to become, so to speak, a disembodied participant in his scatalogical ménage à trois.   When my sister objected that she didn't want to hear about such things, our father accused her of having aged into a prude.  My sister would have been about eighteen at the time.  Our father was pushing sixty.

All of this has been in my thoughts again lately as the public has finally been forced to acknowledge, in the wake of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein and others,  the quotidian sexual abuse and harassment to which girls and women - not exclusively, as I know from my own experience, but primarily girls and women - are routinely subjected.   A seemingly endless stream of personal narratives from victim after victim  has poured forth.  These are deeply personal yet, at the same time, powerful political statements about sexual harassment and abuse.

Three key themes seem to emerge from all this.  

The first and perhaps most obvious is how common sexual abuse and harassment are.  Of course, this is not news to women themselves.  Nor is it news to men like me who were, themselves, sexually abused in childhood.  Nor is it news, also to men like me, who grew up in homes in which sexual abuse, though mostly concealed, was nonetheless pervasive, normalized even, and facilitated by a culture of silence, acquiescence and profound sexism.  

My sister, as it turns out, was sexually abused not only by my father but also by our maternal grandfather.  And as egregious as the abuse visited upon her by our father was, what our grandfather did to her actually makes what our father did pale in comparison (although my sister considers what our father did to her a far greater betrayal, since he was her father).  Our grandfather sexually abused, assaulted and exploited my sister from the time she was about four years old until she was about twelve, when our grandfather - many years later than he should have, if there were any justice - developed pancreatic cancer and died at the age of seventy-six.  It was several years after our grandfather died  that my sister finally disclosed to our mother that he had sexually abused her for most of her life.  And it was only then that my mother revealed that he had done the same to her, to my aunt (her sister), and to who-knows-how-many others. When our father, who had the audacity to call himself a feminist, learned what his father-in-law had done to my sister and our mother, his response to both of them was, "So you made an old man happy; what's the harm?"  This is what I mean when I refer to a culture of normalized sexual abuse and deeply entrenched sexism that prevailed in our home and, I maintain, prevails in our society broadly.  This is the same sort of mentality that minimizes sexual assault with quips such as, "If rape is inevitable, you may as well just lie back and enjoy it."  This notion that sexual abuse - from harassment to assault - is "no big deal" is part and parcel of how common it is, and this, as I have observed, is one of the key themes that has emerged from the numerous accounts of sexual harassment and abuse now coming out in the wake of the Weinstein revelations.   This theme - how commonplace sexual harassment is - runs through many of the accounts by other victims:
Like many other women, I could make a long and ugly “shit men did to me” list, starting at age 11 that includes groping, stalking, date rape, following for blocks in the dark while saying with increasing anger ‘talk to me..what’s your name . . . severe workplace sexual harassment, disgusting whispers on the subway, etc., etc. . . .
Even if a minority, together they’re able to damage a large number of girls and women. . .  .   When you add it all up, it turns out that these experiences are, sadly, common.         -  Jenny Listman 
I could go on about other instances in which I have felt demeaned or exploited, but I fear it would get very repetitive.  Then again, that’s part of the point. I never talked about these things publicly because, as a woman, it has always felt like I may as well have been talking about the weather.   -  Molly Ringwald
Several years ago, I approached a couple of successful female actors in Hollywood about an idea I had for a comedy project: We would write, direct and star in a short film about the craziest, worst experience we’d ever had on a set. . . .  But the stories, when we told them, left us in tears and bewildered at how casually we had taken these horror stories and tried to make them into comedy. They were stories of assault. When they were spoken out loud, it was impossible to reframe them any other way. This is how we’d normalized the trauma, tried to integrate it, by making comedy out of it.  - Sarah Polley
About 10 years ago . . . I attended an empowerment seminar. . . .  [T]here was one moment I’ve never forgotten.  The group leader . . . asked anyone in the room of 200 or so people who’d been sexually or physically abused to raise their hands.  Six or seven hands tentatively went up.  The leader instructed us to close our eyes, and asked the question again.  Then he told us to open our eyes.  Almost every hand in the room was raised.
A decade ago, I couldn’t have conceived of the fact that so many women had experienced sexual coercion or intimidation; now, I’d be surprised if I could find a single one who hadn’t. . . .
[A]s horrifying as the allegations against Weinstein have been, more appalling still is the sense that his behavior isn’t uncommon.  - Sophie Gilbert
The second theme is this: not unlike certain molds or other forms of contagion, sexual abuse and harassment seem to flourish in the absence of air and light.  That is precisely why it is imperative - especially now - that those who have been victimized or others who know about sex abuse speak up and expose it to as much air and light as possible.

At the same time, although it is a truism that silence gives consent, I do not think it is fair to say this of victims of sexual abuse: of themselves nor of others.   Lupita Nyong'o, for example, has written about "joining in a conspiracy of silence that has allowed this predator [Harvey Weinstein] to prowl for so many years."  Minka Kelly has apologized for being "complicit" in concealing Weinstein's behavior by not exposing itIn one news story and editorial after the other, the phrase "complicity of silence" appears again and again.  But a distinction must be made between the silence of those who have no power and the silence of those who do, or between those with limited power and those with unchecked power.  In the case of Weinstein's victims, and of sexual-harassment victims in general, while their silence may contribute to an environment that  enables the abuser to go on abusing without facing any appropriate consequences for his actions, I think that their silence must be always be understood to be a result and not the cause of the culture in which the abuse occurs in the first place.  Victims are often too ashamed to speak up.  Or they fear retaliation.   Often they simply are not believed and it is they, themselves who are, in effect, put on trial.  In some cases they fear being labeled as trouble-makers, or fear being dismissed as having an ulterior motive or merely having an ax to grind.   I think that a less tangible but perhaps even more pervasive reason that victims don't speak up is that they succumb to the explicitly sexist social pressure in which the abusive behavior by powerful men is tolerated because there is a presumption that the powerful have so much more to lose by being exposed than the victims have to gain by exposing them.  This is the phenomenon in which the victims of sexual assault by talented and promising male athletes have been discouraged from seeking justice on the grounds that the perpetrators stand to lose so much by being held accountable for their actions.

These twin themes - silence, and its obverse: the importance of breaking it - likewise appear again and again in these accounts now being published:
What I am most interested in now is combating the shame we go through that keeps us isolated and allows for harm to continue to be done. . . .
I hope we are in a pivotal moment where a sisterhood — and brotherhood of allies — is being formed in our industry.  I hope we can form a community where a woman can speak up about abuse and not suffer another abuse by not being believed and instead being ridiculed.  That’s why we don’t speak up — for fear of suffering twice, and for fear of being labeled and characterized by our moment of powerlessness.  - Lupita Nyong'o
What have we been willing to accept, out of fear, helplessness, a sense that things can’t be changed?  What else are we turning a blind eye to, in all aspects of our lives?  What else have we accepted that, somewhere within us, we know is deeply unacceptable?  - Sarah Polley
Why did I never say anything about Wiesel?  I debated with myself on and off over the years about potential effects on others. . . .   "If I say something, how will it benefit society on the chance that there were not and never would be other victims?  I might hurt many people who would lose their idol.  Would the information be used as a weapon against the Jewish community?  What books will high school teachers assign if I say something?”  It would have made so many people sad.  I didn’t want to add sadness to the world.  -  Jenny Listman
Stories like these have never been taken seriously. Women are shamed, told they are uptight, nasty, bitter, can’t take a joke, are too sensitive.  And the men?  Well, if they’re lucky, they might get elected President.  -  Molly Ringwald
Sometimes it is out of sheer misplaced though deeply ingrained loyalty or even a concern for others that victims are reluctant to speak up, as a result of which the perpetrator himself is never held accountable.  I asked my sister whether she had informed our mother about the more egregious forms of sexual abuse to which she had been subjected by our father.  She told me that she had not, even when she disclosed to our mother what our grandfather had been doing to her.  I asked her why she hadn't.  She answered, "I knew it would crush her.  And I didn't want to hurt him, too."

I have already indicated that my sister and Rose were not my father's only victims.  The Weinstein allegations reminded me of my father in part because, like Weinstein, my father abused his position - as a teacher and as an employer - to coerce and to attempt to coerce girls and young women into  sexual contact with him.  At times this was manifested merely in unwanted touching and, at others, in manipulation into actual sexual activity.

Our father taught art privately for many years.  He considered himself a frustrated artist whose dreams of producing "great art" had been thwarted by the necessity of having to earn a living.  He contented himself, instead, with producing the occasional portrait in charcoal of family members but he also sought a creative outlet through teaching.  He and our mother had converted the garage into an art studio where, every Saturday morning, our father conducted art classes for the neighborhood children.  (One evening each week he also hired a model to pose nude for adults who wanted to sketch nude figures.  For these sessions, a piece of particle board, cut to size, was discreetly placed in the studio window for privacy.  I have a childhood memory of sneaking out to the garage - or studio -  and peeking through the sliver of space between the edge of the particle board and the window frame in order to see the nude model within.)  As my sister relates it,
[Rachel Feinstein (not her real name)] was in the art class with me when we were about twelve.  She was a smart and talented young girl.  She was outgoing and precocious and she would talk a lot with Pop.  You could say he treated her like a favorite student because of her abilities.
One Saturday, Rachel showed up with her parents.  Her parents were livid and demanded to speak to Pop alone.  All I knew at the moment was that she was not coming back.  It turned out that Rachel had told her parents that our father had reached around from behind her with both hands and grabbed her breasts - something he constantly did to me, by the way.  Her parents were furious and wanted to contact the authorities but, in the end, they didn't because they didn't want to hurt our family.   
(There's that concern for others, again.)
For their part,  Pop and Mom talked about how dramatically Rachel had waltzed into the art class that day to say goodbye to all the other students.   Not the actions, they argued, of a frightened child.  They called Rachel (and other girls who would tell on molesters) malicious and vindictive.
There were, of course, other attempts - who knows how many? - by my father to take advantage of his position.  He somehow or other convinced a young woman - a neighborhood girl who had been a childhood friend of my older brothers - to pose nude for him.  My sister recounts this chapter in the chronology of his abuses thus:
- Then there was Mindy [not her real name]. She was posing for a painting for him.  Mindy was around eighteen at the time. She would come over in the evening, and they would go into the studio and Pop would draw and paint nudes of her, more than one.  And the painting was a gift for Mom.  (I don't know how Mom stood it!)  Pop described to me once how one of Mindy's nipples wasn't erect while the other one was, so with the palm of his hand, he rubbed it so they both would be erect. 
In researching this essay, I was reminded that pedophiles and sex-abusers tend to exhibit patterns of such behavior.  I do not know what the statistics are but, anecdotally at least, there seldom appears to be but one victim.  It occurred to me, therefore, to make inquiries of my own of women whose paths I knew crossed my father's decades ago.  I asked one such woman - she had grown up next door - whether my father had ever sexually abused her when she was a child.  She responded, by text, as follows:
He asked me to model and I did but then he asked me to get into a sex position and I refused. It was creepy and scary.  I think I was thirteen or so.  I guess I trusted him but it was a mistake to do so.
Perhaps one of the most galling examples of my father's sexual abuse concerns a young African American woman who, to her misfortune, came to be acquainted with our family in consequence of her mother's being employed by my parents as our "cleaning woman," as they use to be called.  My sister relates this sordid episode as follows:
Mary was Josephine's [not their real names] oldest child.  They were dirt poor and lived in a Queens housing project.  I believe Josephine's husband  was an alcoholic.  Josephine had eleven children altogether and, as the oldest, it fell to Mary help take care of her siblings.  (When all this happened, Mary, herself, was only sixteen.)  Growing up in a ghetto and looking after her siblings so her mother could go clean other people's homes - that was her world.  As a way of helping to broaden Mary's horizons, Mom and Pop invited Mary to attend the art classes without charge.   What an opportunity that might have been for a young girl living in such abject poverty.  It was shortly after the Rachel incident that Pop told me that he had asked Mary to give him a hand job.   How could a man who taught me about civil rights and feminism do that?  How could I, at twelve, see how horrible that was, and not he?   Pop told me that Mary had told him, when he asked her for the hand job, that her father wants the same thing, and she guessed that's how all men are.  I found out sometime later that Mary dropped out of school and had had two children before she turned twenty.  Can you imagine what a difference Pop could have made in her life?
And there were, of course, others whom my father asked for hand jobs or sex.  My girlfriend at the time, who declined (I did not find out about about all this until decades later); her sister, who likewise declined; the young wife of the son of one of my father's cousins, who did not - and on it went.  But the one constant was the abuse of my sister.   I asked her about how much knowledge she believes our mother had of our father's sexual abuse of her.  While my sister never revealed to my mother the true extent of the abuse (my mother died - also from pancreatic cancer - only four years after her father had), she has no doubt that our mother was aware of a good deal of the abuse.
Mom witnessed Pop touching me a lot.  When I started developing, he constantly reached from behind me and grabbed my breasts right in front of her.  One time after he grabbed me, I  was in the dining room setting the table for dinner and I overheard Mom in the kitchen remonstrating with Pop to the effect that girls' developing breasts are sensitive and painful. 
(As if that were the only reason not to do it.)
That just gave Pop a pretext for humiliating me more by coming over to me and loudly and pompously declaring, "Kathy, I owe you an apology.  I didn't realize your breasts were painful." 
He also always grabbed my ass in front of everyone from the time that I was little.
One time I went into Mom and Pop's room to say good night when I was around thirteen.  I was wearing those loose boy pajama pants with nothing underneath.  Pop was lying in bed and Mom was standing near the bed, and I was standing near where Pop was lying.  He started telling me that soon I will be growing pubic hair, and he reached over and began rubbing me on my pubic area.  And then he said, "Wait a minute!" because he felt that I already did have hair there.  Mom looked very worried, and I just made a quick exit.
The third theme that, to me, at least, emerges so conspicuously in light of all these revelations, is that sex abuse and harassment,  especially when they occur in the workplace, represent a peculiar intersection between personal abusive sexual conduct and a broader social order that facilitates it.  That is why I was struck, while reading these personal accounts, as well as pondering my own family history, that never have truer words been written - and perhaps never were these words more relevant than they are right now -  than "The personal is political."  Though not originally given this title by the author herself, this is an essay that came to be known by that name which was written by Carol Hanisch way back in 1969 amidst the burgeoning renaissance of the women's movement (then known as the "women's liberation movement," now often referred to as "second-wave feminism," and which I still prefer to call just plain feminism).  In it, Hanisch sought to counter the criticism that had been leveled against some feminists by others within the vanguard of left-wing activism (and even from some within the women's liberation movement itself) that consciousness-raising and focusing on matters of particular concern to women - matters that affected women every day in their personal lives - were not really political concerns, per se, but were, rather, merely personal ones, and thus had no place within the left-wing movement.  As Hanisch explained in a new introduction to her essay, written almost 40 years later,
The paper actually began as a memo that I wrote in February of 1969 while in Gainesvill, Florida.   It was sent to the women's caucus of the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF), a group for whom I was a subsistence-paid organizer doing exploratory work for establishing a women's liberation project in the South.  The memo was originally titled, "Some Thoughts in Response to Dottie's Thoughts on a Women's Liberation Movement," and was written in reply to a memo by another staff member, Dottie Zellner, who contended that consciousness-raising was just therapy and questioned whether the new independent WLM was really "political." 
This was not an unusual reaction to radical feminist ideas in early 1969. . . .  The radical movements of Civil Rights, Anti-Vietnam War, and Old and New Left groups from which many of us sprang were male dominated and very nervous about women's liberation in general, but especially the spectre of the mushrooming independent women's liberation movement, of which I was a staunch advocate.  Arriving in New York City after ten months in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, I had found SCEF to be one of the more mature and better progressive groups around. . . .  However, many on the SCEF staff, both men and women, ended up joining the criticism of women getting together in consciousness-raising groups to discuss their own oppression as "naval-gazing" and "personal therapy" - and certainly "not political."
They could sometimes admit that women were oppressed (but only by "the system") and said that we should have equal pay for equal work, and some other "rights."  But they belittled us no end for trying to bring our so-called "personal problems" into the public arena - especially "all those body issues" like sex, appearance, and abortion.  Our demands that men share the housework and childcare were likewise deemed a personal problem  between a woman and her individual man.  The opposition claimed if women would just "stand up for themselves" and take more responsibility for their own lives, they wouldn't need to have an independent movement for women's liberation.  What personal initiative wouldn't solve, they said, "the revolution" would take care of if we would just shut up and do our part.  Heaven forbid that we should point out that men benefit from oppressing women.
Recognizing the need to fight male supremacy as a movement instead of blaming the individual woman for her oppression was where the Pro-Woman Line came in. . . .   
I cannot think of a better proof that the personal is political than the phenomena of sexual abuse,  -harassment, and -assault.  Indeed, I take it as axiomatic that sexual abuse and sexual harassment cannot be understood clearly, let alone addressed effectively, in the absence of a feminist critique of society.  My own feminist outlook on this is simple: One must analyze matters to which sex and gender are germane within the context of how sex and gender function to privilege some while disadvantaging others.  There is no question but that our society, to this day, reflects persistent patterns of male privilege and entitlement (for those who choose to avail themselves of it) in certain key areas (and, to a much lesser degree, female privilege and entitlement in others) and that the everyday acts of oppression or abuse that occur as a direct consequence of this social structure cannot be viewed in any meaningful or useful way by artificially detaching them from the overarching social structure that creates the conditions that allow these acts of oppression and abuse to occur in the first place.  Does anyone imagine that, if women had as much power as men do in the entertainment business, we would now be bombarded with claim after claim of sexual abuse and harassment by women against men like Harvey Weinstein?   It makes no more sense to view sexual abuse and harassment as something discrete and unconnected to sexism than it does to view economic exploitation as something discrete and unconnected to capitalism.  

This points, in turn, to a somewhat obvious solution, a point likewise made again and again by others with respect to the Harvey Weinstein accusations.  In his column Steinem, Sandburg and Judd on How to End Sex Harassment,  Nicholas Kristof quotes Rosabeth Moss Kanter (a professor at Harvard Business School).  The solution, Kanter says, is "More women in all positions of power; and not as tokens."  Similarly, Mayim Bialik writes,
I believe that we can change our culture, but it won’t be something that happens overnight.  We live in a society that has treated women as disposable playmates for far longer than Mr. Weinstein has been meeting ingénues in luxury hotel rooms.
One major bright spot: We are seeing more women taking on prominent roles behind the camera.  Women like Jenji Kohan and Jill Soloway are showing the kinds of female characters on their shows that we all know in real life but never got to see on TV.
Or as Molly Ringwald put it:
My hope is that Hollywood makes itself an example and decides to enact real change, change that would allow women of all ages and ethnicities the freedom to tell their stories—to write them and direct them and trust that people care.  I hope that young women will one day no longer feel that they have to work twice as hard for less money and recognition, backward and in heels.
In other words, assuming all the accusations against Harvey Weinstein are true (and I don't see why Weinstein should be entitled to the benefit of the doubt any more than his accusers should) just as Weinstein was able to get away with his abusive conduct for so long because of his power, one antidote, to be sure, would be to change the culture so that powerful men like him would not yield to the temptation to sexually abuse or harass in the first place (or, dare we hope, not even entertain the inclination to do so).  But an even surer antidote would be simply to have more women in power.  Lots more.

I feel strongly then - and certainly this is a conviction born, at least in part, of my own family history - that, as Hanisch argued, the personal is political.   At the same time, however, I am not one to subscribe to the notion that "it's not about sex - it's all about power."  This is an oft-repeated refrain but I think, as an explanation for sexual abuse, it is simplistic and fanciful.  Just as it makes no sense to view sexual harassment and abuse in a vacuum from which sexism and gendered power are excluded, neither does it make sense to view sexual harassment and abuse in a vacuum from which sex itself is excluded.   Of course sex abuse is about sex and not just about abstract power.   Men sexually harass women that they actually are sexually attracted to. 

Thus, while the personal is, indeed, political, I believe that it is also possible to overly politicize sex abuse.  I suspect that those who take this tack - that sex abuse and harassment are about power only, as opposed to sex - do so out of a fear that others may distort their intent by falling into the naturalistic fallacy.  In other words, that if it is acknowledged that the sex drive is innate and necessary for the reproduction of our species, it must therefore follow that every manifestation of the sex drive, up to and including sexual abuse and harassment, must therefore be okay, or at least understandable, hence, forgivableI reject that slippery-slope sort of reasoning.   Sexual abuse is most decidedly motivated by the sex drive but that does not make it any less an impermissible encroachment by the perpetrator on the rights of the victim that occurs less because of the nature of the sex drive itself than because of the power differential between perpetrator and victim.   

It is men's power, after all - the disproportionate power that men have relative to women in specific industries and in society more broadly - that allows them to get away with it or at least to think that they have a right to get away with it.  That is why sexual abuse and sexual harassment cannot be divorced - in practice or in theory - from sexism.  And that is why sexual abuse and sexual harassment cannot be addressed without feminism.   The motive to harass sexually may come from our natures but the power to act with impunity on those impulses comes from how our society is organized along the lines of sex and gender, allotting power disproportionately to some at the expense of others.  Social ills do not arise spontaneously out of thin air.  They are created by the social structure in which they occur.  Sexual abuse and harassment do not flourish in spite of sexism but precisely because of it.  Without sexism, the impulse to harass or exploit might still exist but it would it wither, starved of the environmental factors that it needs to survive. 

For many men, the events of the past few weeks have led - or should have led - to some serious soul searching.  I have also been doing some soul searching and, in my own case, again and again I have come up against the moral conflict between what I have said and what I should have said or, at least, might have said.  - Between the exigencies of justice and the dictates of decorum.  When my father died sixteen years ago, I eulogized him at a memorial service that my brothers, my sister and I gave in his honor for our family and our family's friends.  By then I had become aware of his history of abuse - not all of it, but enough of it - and, although I tried not to completely whitewash that history, I thought it inappropriate at the time, and under those circumstances, to launch into an indictment of his character.  I hinted only obliquely at some of his "unspeakable" offenses but, notwithstanding, concluded by eulogizing him with the phrase with which his friends had been wont to characterize him:"a great guy."  The way that I remembered my father at his memorial service has, over the years, gnawed at my conscience.  In light of the events of the past few weeks, that gnawing sensation has burgeoned into an utter revulsion that can only be expiated with a public airing and repudiation of my father's crimes and an acknowledgement of my own complicity in glossing them over at his memorial service.  

Of course, in the end, my father escaped justice.  And this is another reason why I am now bringing all this out into the open.  Among the essays and personal narratives that I have read in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, one of the most moving, powerful, and, above all, galvanizing, is the one written by Lindy West that appeared in the Times a couple of weeks ago.  In it, Ms. West writes,
In a just system, Weinstein would have faced career-ruining social and professional consequences the first time he changed into a bathrobe and begged a horrified woman for a massage.  In a just system, the abuse wouldn’t have stayed an open secret for decades while he was left free to chew through generation after generation of starlets.  Weinstein’s life, like Cosby’s, isn’t the story of some tragic, pitiable downfall.   It’s the story of someone who got away with it.
The witches are coming, but not for your life.  We’re coming for your legacy.  The cost of being Harvey Weinstein is not getting to be Harvey Weinstein anymore.  We don’t have the justice system on our side; we don’t have institutional power; we don’t have millions of dollars or the presidency; but we have our stories, and we’re going to keep telling them.
I cannot undo what my father did, nor can I undo my own failure to condemn him when I had the chance.  But I can now do what Lindy West seems to be adjuring me to do: to provide at least some small measure of justice for my father's victims by depriving him of the legacy of "greatness," rectitude, and simple decency that he forfeited the first time that he asked my sister for a hand job and every time thereafter.  There is a principle at stake here, and I prefer to  situate myself on the right side of it.  I speak, then, for victims everywhere, and not only for female victims but for all victims.  I speak, especially, for my father's many victims.  And, above all, I speak for my sister.