More courage needed to advance from #metoo
Do you wake up stunned at the news every morning and remember that we have white women to thank for putting Donald Trump in the White House?
The brute force of the 2016 election was a slap in the face, and like a January wind, its velocity is relentless. How did this happen? How should we deconstruct the bizarre choice that 52 percent of white women made to give the most powerful position on Earth to the guy famous mostly for abusing power?
There’s more to the story, but we have to scratch the veneer to get at it and it’s uncomfortable. Questions need to be asked.
Is there more to the story, for instance, by Jessie Lacey, the woman who in an article she published online April 26, accused former Maine magazine publisher Kevin Thomas of sexual harassment? The same day The Bollard – a self-described place for “negativity and snark” – released a lengthy piece about Lacey and other former employees of Thomas at Maine Media Collective, most of them unnamed.
I’m not judging the merits of a legal claim of sexual harassment – there is no legal case. Lacey did not file a complaint and the statute of limitations appears to have long past. Lacey says in interviews that she accepted a severance payment and signed a legal document the terms of which she can’t recall and a copy of which she is unwilling to share.
Had she gone through the justice system, she might have prevailed. A reasonable jury could have found, however, exactly what the intrepid reporter at The Bollard described – that the environment was toxic and intoxicating for all genders, and that Lacey was “a little fragile,” a “kind of insecure, beautiful, skittish young wom(a)n” from the sticks who was enamored of her employers and drunk on a material lifestyle and too many drinks.
A reasonable jury could find a furtive drunken kiss in the hallway of a fancy hotel did not constitute harassment and that no reasonable person would expect that acting against their better judgment, as Lacey admits, would bring no consequences. A reasonable jury could boil Lacey’s story down to a very simple narrative: she had too many drinks with a boss she knew to be a scoundrel, was kissed, it was awkward, and later she said was “water under the bridge.”
But she experienced high levels of stress at her workplace (just like everyone else at MMC, according to the reporting) and spent a lot of time panicked and curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor. Seven months later she resigned and got a new, better job that pays twice as much.
In other words, a jury could find #Boohoo, and enter a judgment for the defendant.
But whether or not Lacey could win a legal case is not the point of her story. Which begs the question: What is the point? Should we expect more from a writer – especially a writer for a magazine that competes with Thomas’ glossy magazine – than a story about an awkward encounter with a boss involving sloppy kissing, lots of cocktails and a #metoo?
The question for the readers of stories is not what is legal or illegal but what is courage. What will change things.
The weakness of Lacey’s story is not that she deserved what she got or is at fault but that she didn’t go deep enough in her analysis to make a difference. It’s not enough to put to paper what happened and when and to document the sordid and intriguing details of what it was like to work in a palace.
Courage is landing a jet with one engine or escaping from Boko Haram. A #me too story dripping with privilege, lacking depth and heavy on the “me” is not courageous. It’s boring.
There are no lessons in Lacey’s story, no awakening, no epiphany, which is what makes the consequences to the remaining employees at the company seemingly a bit too harsh, but her story is not finished.
If Jessie Lacey wants to change the world with her story, she needs to actually discover something worth sharing besides #metoo and it’s not too late. My advice: Chin up, old girl. Use your mind. Go to a deeper place. Don’t write a flipping blog post until you have something actually to say about why you and others were so enamored of a lifestyle that obviously was so dysfunctional.
How did it feel to produce a glossy rag that made 99 percent of the people reading it feel inferior? And why did a majority of white women vote for Donald Trump?
As published in the Portland Press Herald