On Monday night, late-night host John Oliver used an anniversary screening of Wag the Dog to grill actor Dustin Hoffman about sexual harassment allegations.
Oliver, who was moderating a panel that included the film’s director, Barry Levinson, producer Jane Rosenthal, and Robert De Niro, brought up accusations made by Anna Graham Hunter earlier this year claiming that Hoffman made inappropriate comments and groped her when she was a 17-year-old intern working on a Hoffman-starring 1985 TV movie adaptation of Death of a Salesman. The Washington Post was able to snag a video of the conversation in case you’d like to watch it in all its cringe-worthy glory, but it’s not the confrontation – which went on for nearly 20 minutes and at times became rather heated – or Hoffman’s shitty response to Oliver’s questioning that we need to talk about now; it’s how this video has sparked such a divisive response and what that means going forward.
Because here’s the thing: as empowering and illuminating as the #MeToo movement has been so far, what does it ultimately achieve if we aren’t willing to do more than just “support” women?
While plenty of people praised the late-night host, the negative response to Oliver’s takedown is telling of a larger problem: we’re quick to share hashtagged horror stories of our own, to “stand behind” and retweet the voices of others, and to laud the people responsible for forcing habitual sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein to scurry from their seedy, shadowy holes of unchallenged authority and stand in the unforgiving light of justice via collective shaming. We want to decry Weinstein, with his amassed years of sexual abuse and manipulation, we want to shake our heads at Louis C.K. for whipping out his penis while standing on a feminist platform in his comedy routines, we want to demand Senator Al Franken, Judge Roy Moore, and even the president of the United States be removed from office. But we shy away from the more intimate action, from the dirty work that is required if we’re going to truly purge ourselves of this plague.
I’ll be the first to admit that what Oliver did, while not surprising since this is a guy who’s made a name via scathing attacks on injustice and political hypocrisy, was pretty difficult to watch. The idea of confrontation, public or otherwise, is foreign and unnerving to me and I’d like to think I’m not alone. My mother is a “peacemaker,” my best friend is “easy-going,” I’m a “people-pleaser.” These are all words that have been reshaped by our patriarchal culture to suffocate dissent, to silence opposition, to effectively mute the voices of women by painting their antithetical as less than desirable. Why be difficult when you can be liked? Why make waves when you can fly under the radar? Why speak up when you can suffer in silence for the comfort of someone more privileged and powerful than yourself? It’s part of the reason why women struggle with coming forward with their stories about sexual harassment and assault. We think, “Maybe I overreacted? Maybe he didn’t mean to brush up against me in the boardroom? He jokes like that all the time, there’s no harm in it. Boys will be boys.” We make excuses and shove down our intuition and self-respect to appease others.
It’s also, infuriatingly enough, why this shit continues to happen. What the #MeToo movement has done is given us a revolutionary opportunity, but we’re only at the starting line of this long, painful marathon. We’ve got miles to go before there’s any kind of gratifying end in sight, and if we continue to buy into the lie that hashtagging and placing women on magazine covers and applauding survivors is enough, this reckoning will be wasted and short-lived. If women like Rose McGowan, Tarana Burke, and Ashley Judd, and men like Terry Crews and Anthony Rapp, are going to possess the courage to share their heartbreaking testimonies in order to send these cockroaches scrambling, the rest of us have to have the f*gumption to exterminate them.
Oliver did what any self-professed male “ally” should be doing all the damn time – to his co-workers, his friends, his relatives, strangers on the street, his local bodega guy. If you want to affect change, toss this mythical notion of comfort out the window. These women weren’t comfortable when they were being groped, fondled, catcalled, raped, marginalized, and humiliated. We shouldn’t be comfortable giving the stage (and our congenial silence) to a man, however noteworthy and talented, accused of participating in such behavior.
But Oliver’s interrogation didn’t just make people uncomfortable, it made them downright angry. For some reason, Oliver’s decision to address the allegations against Hoffman prompted actor Michael Rapaport to spew out a steady stream of tweets that claimed Oliver should’ve asked for permission from Hoffman to speak on the issue.
Ron Perlman, who’s been outspoken on twitter against Judge Roy Moore and the RNC’s endorsement of him, also seemed to take issue with Oliver’s questioning, claiming that Oliver picked the “wrong time” to debate with Hoffman and that he was using the incident as some kind of publicity stunt.
But it’s not just men who have an issue with the video. The women of The View seemed to take Oliver to task for calling Hoffman out at the screening. Not only did most of them, save Sunny Hostin, think it was the inappropriate time to talk about the allegations, Joy Behar thought Oliver “sandbagged” Hoffman and Whoopi Goldberg questioned how long Hoffman must respond to these accusations if he believes he did nothing wrong.
We push for men to do more, to say something, to stand in solidarity with women, but when they do, we retreat to the easy routine of sweeping dirt under rugs and purging our collective consciousness of unpleasantness. We want this shit to stop, we want women to feel safe in their place of work, we want children to be protected from sexual predators, we want respect to be a basic right, not a bodily transaction, we want to wear skirts and not field comments about our “great legs” or have co-workers pry into our sex lives.
We shouldn’t have to want for civility, security, and equality, they should be guaranteed to us based on the principles of basic human decency but since they’re not, since we’ve been forced for centuries to endure this specific kind of hell that’s robbed us of our autonomy and drained our self-respect, here’s what we have to do: we have to be okay with not being comfortable.
If watching Oliver roast Hoffman over a pit of flames pissed you off like it did Rapaport and Perlman and the women of The View, then it’s time to start thinking of yourself as part of the problem and begin accepting that you’ll soon be living in a constant state of rage from now on. Because, like Oliver, we won’t be asking for permission to question powerful men accused of vile acts, we won’t be concerned with picking the “appropriate place and time” to defend women who have been oppressed and abused, and we sure as hell won’t be accepting half-assed apologies like the one Hoffman gave Monday night, the “I’m sorry if’s” or the “I don’t recalls.”
And if, like me, watching Oliver skewer Hoffman in that video made you uncomfortable and outraged at the same time, here’s your permission to bask in that feeling. It’s okay to be to be uneasy, unsure, and, also unapologetically pissed off. It’s okay to struggle with the right way to confront someone about things they’ve done wrong or even agonize over having that difficult conversation. Oliver admittedly did.
But it’s not okay to stay silent. Not anymore.