The Silence Breakers
It’s impossible to “win” sex. The fascist erotics of today’s frustrated man-children imagine sexuality as a battle fought over women’s bodies, as an act of dominance and conquest in which they will one day emerge as kings. But just as consent is not a thing, sexuality itself is not the kind of war anyone can win or lose. The idea of a battle of the sexes, played out in bedrooms and kitchens and across restaurant tables around the world, belies the truth that either everyone wins, or nobody does. If we want to turn this battle around, we must rethink our understanding of consent. We must get to grips with the idea of consent as ongoing and negotiable, rather than consent as an object, a one-time contract that can be fudged or debated in court. If men and women are going to stand a chance of living in this weird new world together without destroying one another, consent is going to have to be more than that.
Among the children of immigrants, Asians in America seem most caught in a state of limbo: no longer beholden to their parents’ countries of origin but still grasping for a role in the American narrative. There is a unique foreignness that persists, despite the presence of Asians on American soil for more than two centuries; none of us, no matter how bald our American accent, has gone through life without being asked, “Where are you from? I mean, originally?” But while this can lead to alienation, it can also have a liberating effect. When you are raised in two cultures at once — when people see in you two heritages at odds, unresolved, in abeyance — you learn to shift at will between them. You may never feel like you quite belong in either, but neither are you fully constrained. The acute awareness of borders (culinary as well as cultural) that both enclose and exclude, allows, paradoxically, a claim to borderlessness, taking freely from both sides to forge something new. For Asian-American chefs, this seesaw between the obligations of inheritance and the thrill of go-it-aloneness, between respecting your ancestors and lighting out for the hills, manifests in dishes that arguably could come only from minds fluent in two ways of life.
Nevertheless, a majority of white voters backed a candidate who assured them that they will never have to share this country with people of color as equals. That is the reality that all Americans will have to deal with, and one that most of the country has yet to confront.
The disdain that so many people feel for Harris’s and my generation reflects an unease about the forces of deregulation, globalization, and technological acceleration that are transforming everyone’s lives. (It does not seem coincidental that young people would be criticized for being entitled at a time when people are being stripped of their entitlements.) Millennials, in other words, have adjusted too well to the world they grew up in; their perfect synchronization with economic and cultural disruption has been mistaken for the source of the disruption itself.
What women like me want in the long term is for you to stop this shit and treat us like people. We want you to accept that you have done bad things, so that in the future you can do better. We want a flavor of equality that none of us have tasted before. We want to share it with you. We want a world where love and violence are not so easily confused. We want a species of sexuality that isn’t a game where we’re the prey to be hung bleeding on your bedroom wall.
The conversation about cultural appropriation is an important one, but limiting in scope, especially when it comes to mixed race people. Because while it may be easy to say a person of a dominant, colonialist culture shouldn’t wear the clothing of an oppressed one, well, what if you’re both? Mixed race people often have to straddle two or more cultures, figuring out where we fit in, and questioning if we will ever be “enough” for either side. And when it comes to fashion, it can easily feel like we’re appropriating ourselves.
And this is not just confined to black athletes—any person with a high profile has to consider their responsibility to help keep the nation honorable and honest. After all the courageous things that have been done by so many courageous people, it's a cop-out to not speak up. Trump has betrayed our nation. Taking a shot at him is worthy of all of us. Not being "political" is not a solution.
Americans should have listened to a black woman then. They should listen to black women now.
"Men can be direct. Women often don’t have that luxury."
“In this climate, I definitely would have said something,” she told me. “Especially after the election. That was so deeply disappointing, and I made a rule to myself that I am going to speak up, no matter what. I’m not going to sit and try not to rock the boat anymore.” But she was dismayed by what she saw as the deeply ingrained hypocrisy of the tech world. “What I find specifically disturbing,” she said, “is that this is an industry that is supposed to be the future. They are so dedicated to making things different, and better. But this is a huge problem that they’re not addressing and not really trying to change.”
To be black and still alive in America is to know urgency. What Marvin Gaye knew, even as a man of God, was that Heaven might not be open for him, or for any of us. He knew then what so many of us know now: We have to dance, and fight, and make love, and fight, and live, and fight, all with the same ferocity. There are no half measures to be had. It is true, yes, that joy in a violent world can be rebellion. Sex can be rebellion. Turning off the news and watching two hours of a mindless action film can be rebellion. But without any actual hard rebellion, without reaching our hands into revolutionary action, all we’ve done is had a pretty fun day of joy, sex, and movies. There is no moment in America when I do not feel like I am fighting, when I don’t feel like I’m pushing back against a machine that asks me to prove that I belong here.
This is part of what makes me, and them, angry: this replication of hierarchies — hierarchies of harm and privilege — even now. “It’s a ‘seeing the matrix’ moment,” says one woman whom I didn’t know personally before last week, some of whose deepest secrets and sharpest fears and most animating furies I’m now privy to. “It’s an absolutely bizarre thing to go through, and it’s fucking exhausting and horrible, and I hate it. And I’m glad. I’m so glad we’re doing it. And I’m in hell.”
Every single one of her training partners — 11 women in total — has made it to the Olympics while training with her, an extraordinary feat. Call it the Shalane Effect: You serve as a rocket booster for the careers of the women who work alongside you, while catapulting forward yourself.
What concerns me is not just the violence being done to children here, although that concerns me deeply. What concerns me is that this is just one aspect of a kind of infrastructural violence being done to all of us, all of the time, and we’re still struggling to find a way to even talk about it, to describe its mechanisms and its actions and its effects. As I said at the beginning of this essay: this is being done by people and by things and by a combination of things and people. Responsibility for its outcomes is impossible to assign but the damage is very, very real indeed.
The media is breaking the news here; the media is also deeply implicated in this news and still shaping how the tale is getting told. Ours is an industry, like so many others, dominated by white men at the top; they have made the decisions about what to cover and how, and they still do. The pervasiveness of these power imbalances and the way they affect how even this story itself is being told are instructive.
After all, not everyone gets to be a provocateur, or a “juvenile” genius, on a film set. And the long leash men specifically receive for their “risky” artistic exploration has too often shown a tendency to morph into a cosigning of the exploitation of power. In fact, in the one-sided history of cinema, so many directors who abuse women in one way or another have been able to find repeated success and acclaim that abuse is not just systematically overlooked — it is often treated as a sign of a man’s genius.
It’s not only the overwhelmingly male culture of kitchens that makes it difficult for women to combat the status quo. Many of us, like women in Hollywood, have had to be a little bit complicit in order to have a career. As a restaurateur, I find myself frequently torn about how to navigate my relationships with famous food-world men, weighing what I know a man can bring to my brand (ugh) against my desire to ask him why he isn’t doing more to help women succeed and why he won’t speak out against sexism. Do I really want to call out the restaurant critic who wrote a column that reads like a liberal version of Mike Pence’s don’t-dine-alone-with-women-and-sexual-assault-won’t-happen philosophy, even though the critic has more than two hundred thousand followers? Do I really want to antagonize the high-powered magazine editor who inanely referred to Chinese food as “slutty,” even though I have a book I’m trying to sell? In both of those cases, the answer was yes, but I’m more outspoken on this topic than most. For women who don’t have the same platform that I do, there’s just no reward in rocking the boat. For the small percentage of women who do manage to break through, there’s just too much to lose.
Professionally ambitious women really only have two options when it comes to their personal partners — a super-supportive partner or no partner at all. Anything in between ends up being a morale- and career-sapping morass.
When men enjoy something, they elevate it. But when women enjoy something, they ruin it.
The things that happen in hotel rooms and board rooms all over the world (and in every industry) between women seeking employment or trying to keep employment and men holding the power to grant it or take it away exist in a gray zone where words like “consent” cannot fully capture the complexity of the encounter. Because consent is a function of power. You have to have a modicum of power to give it. In many cases women do not have that power because their livelihood is in jeopardy and because they are the gender that is oppressed by a daily, invisible war waged against all that is feminine—women and humans who behave or dress or think or feel or look feminine.
“It was a no-brainer,” Twohey says. “This story had the potential to make a big impact and we had the ability not just to expose people, but to have them face consequences as a result.”
The numbers of rapes that happened, the numbers of rapes that were reported, the numbers of rapes that make it to court and then the conviction rate. I mean, it comes down to something minuscule. He’s never had his day in court as a rapist. It’s 15 years in the past now, but this record exists. You have to make a choice, as a listener, if music matters to you as more than mere entertainment. And you and I have spent our entire lives with that conviction. This is not just entertainment, this is our lifeblood. This matters.
"I wouldn't wish those memories on anybody," she says. "I used to think about them and well up with tears, but now I'm so angry about the things that I let him get away with. I feel some sense of responsibility with the girls in the house now. I feel guilty because I was quiet for that long. Now I feel like I have a purpose again because I can talk about this, get it behind me and not be ashamed. Now I'm like, 'Bring it on.' I don't fear him at all."
This is not a problem for women to solve alone; this is not a problem women can solve alone. For too long, men have considered sexual and other gendered violence to be the problem of women. It is a problem for all of us to solve. Yet men have gone on, frowning and furrowing their brows. They are doing it now. They give it the old How horrible, I agree it is horrible and go about their days.
For women, this often is our day. This is a constant. We live with the unceasing fear of what a man is capable of. We know that it’s not convenient; we know that the urge to prey on women does not discriminate by how a man presents to the world otherwise, and especially the men around him.
It’s time for this to get inconvenient for men—for, perhaps, you. It’s time for them—you—to sit with this issue, not just for a day or two, but as part of your life. It’s time to assess values and priorities. Otherwise, why would (and how can) this cycle be any different?
But it’s a losing game to compare women’s stories to one another, to listen only to the ones who endured the “worst” or most sensational trauma—that way of thinking leads to the culture of complicity and silence that protected Weinstein for years. Our stories don’t happen in a vacuum; they’re all deeply connected and propagated by the same sexist culture. We need to continue to share both our experiences and our survival tactics with each other. Which is to say that if anyone is in the market for a fake boyfriend, I know a guy.
Women are already trying desperately to keep our heads above water in workplaces that deny us sufficient credit, compensation and trust. Are we really supposed to keep three separate types of informal warning systems, tiered and coded according to the level of violation, just to make sure that the boundary-pushing jerks don’t get embarrassed because they’re so much better than men who have turned violent? Do you know how much more work women do in media to prove they belong there? Do you know how many names of women in media are splashed across the Internet with libelous, repugnant and public lies about them because they dared offend a man?
This makes for a false but often convincing narrative—you are prey only when you are not good enough, and so you must not have been good enough if you were prey
Women are not taught to do this. We are conditioned to ever prove ourselves, as if our value is contingent on our ability to meet the expectations of others. As if our worth is a tank forever draining that we must fill and fill. We complete tasks and in some half-buried way believe that if we don’t, we will be discredited. Sometimes, this is true. But here is a question: Do you want to be a reliable source of literary art (or whatever writing you do), or of prompt emails?
It is men’s privilege, in other words, not to have to know. For women, that knowledge, obtained via gossip or whisper networks, isn’t frivolous or titillating. It is a means of survival. Until men make it their duty to not just know, but to act upon that knowledge — publicly decrying and dismantling the hierarchies of power that shelter this sort of conduct — it will remain women’s burden to bear.
White nationalists generally don’t want to look like characters out of American History X anymore. Fashion choices at the convention ranged from Ruby Ridge to Mad Men, but most of the people there looked like you might run into them on Capitol Hill or in the U-District. That said, there is a type. According to my observations, the standard Seattle Nazi is a white male under 30 who either works in the tech industry or is going to school to work in the tech industry.
Once we understand the profound human and economic costs of loneliness, we must determine whose responsibility it is to address the problem. The government and health care system have important roles to play in helping us understand the impact of loneliness, identifying who is affected, and determining which interventions work. But to truly solve loneliness requires the engagement of institutions where people spend the bulk of their time: families, schools, social organizations, and the workplace. Companies in particular have the power to drive change at a societal level not only by strengthening connections among employees, partners, and clients but also by serving as an innovation hub that can inspire other organizations to address loneliness.
Heaven is a place where everyone gets your jokes. The group chat is a place where, if your jokes don't land, you have four people telling you how much you suck. I think the ideal group chat is a place where one can unabashedly be themselves. It's an ownership over our right to privacy and personal space — and certainly, POC are not afforded those rights equitably. But my group text is sacred because it's an extension of my family and myself.
The truth hurts white people. Colin Kaepernick has hurt white people, and that is why it’s convenient to banish him, because he holds America’s worst nightmare: the mirror. And while the genuine apologies from the most Black-Lives-Matter-sign-in-the-front-yard white person are endless, there is a real difference between guilt and understanding—understanding that nothing will change unless you and people like you fix the mess that you unfairly inherited, from which you so unfairly still benefit, right now.
It is utterly impossible to conjure a black facsimile of Donald Trump—to imagine Obama, say, implicating an opponent’s father in the assassination of an American president or comparing his physical endowment with that of another candidate and then successfully capturing the presidency. Trump, more than any other politician, understood the valence of the bloody heirloom and the great power in not being a nigger.
This interview with Jenny Zhang is everything
In Bennett's account, then, the "patriarchal equilibrium" is the continual social phenomenon of devaluing of women's work, and devaluing women in other ways, even as technology and conditions of life change. The mechanisms by which better jobs go to men vary case by case and era by era, but the outcome is consistent.
With the exception of traditionally black and multicultural fraternities and sororities—which, while not without their own flaws, often provide refuge for minority communities on majority white campuses—most Greek organizations simply aren't worth saving or fixing. We need groups on campus that help the students who actually require it; not those that uplift the already-privileged and endanger people.
One of the things I think is so hard about writing the complexity, is that so little is known about the reality of Asian Americans. There’s so little real discourse, and we kind of pop up in the smallest amount and it’s usually East Asians, usually used to validate some model minority myth and anti-blackness. And so there’s no room in that realm to talk about the reality.
“There was a point in time when I described working on diversity and inclusion in the tech industry as like being Sisyphus, pushing the rock up the hill over and over again,” says Baker. “Except instead of pushing a rock, you’re pushing a big vat of acid that spills on you at the end of every day. It’s really painful and very frustrating to have to keep fighting these same battles every day. It’s essentially gaslighting—people telling you that this isn’t really a thing; the tech industry is fine; it doesn’t need to be more diverse. … Sometimes I just want to be like, ‘I’m done.’ But I want this industry to be better for the people who come after me, so I keep going.”