Speaking at the Hollywood Reporter Women in Entertainment gala this week, comedian Hannah Gadsby spoke about her problem with “good men”.
“My problem is that, according to the ‘Jimmys,’ there are only two types of bad men. There’s the [Harvey] Weinstein/Bill Cosby types who are so utterly horrible that they might as well be different species to the Jimmys,” Gadsby said.
“And then there are the FOJs. The friends of Jimmys. These are apparently good men who simply misread the rules. Garden variety consent dyslexics. They have the rule book, but they just skimmed it, you know?”
Gadsby said it was critical to talk about “good men” because they are the ones who draw “the line in the sand” when talking about “bad men.” The problem, she said, was that men were constantly moving the goal posts to place themselves on the excusable side of that line to distance themselves from bad behavior.
This is something I wrote about a few weeks back when I overheard two guys in the pub damning the likes of Harvey Weinstein but claiming that all men were being tarred with the same misogynist brush. The conversations around this and around the whole #metoo thing are illuminating: talk to men and you’ll hear fears of good men being demonised; talk to women and you’ll hear endless tales of good men who weren’t good men.
“Guess what happens when only good men get to draw that line? This world,” Gadsby said. “A world full of good men who do very bad things and still believe in their heart of hearts that they are good men because they have not crossed the line. Because they moved the line for their own good. Women should be in control of that line, no question.”
It’s like the attitudes to rape I blogged about yesterday. You can’t be a terrible person for doing X if you don’t believe X is wrong. So if you believe rape isn’t rape if the woman is drunk, or asleep, or if she was a bit flirty during your date, then you aren’t like Harvey Weinstein if you force yourself on her.
Except, of course, you are.
But this wouldn’t be a Hannah Gadsby speech if it just ended there.
“Now take everything I have said up unto this point and replace ‘men’ with ‘white person,’ ” Gadsby continued, to tepid laughter. “And know that if you are a white woman you have no place drawing lines in the sand between good white people and bad white people.”
The same, she said, could be said for those who are “straight,” “cis,” “able-bodied” or “neurotypical.”
It wouldn’t take long for me to collate endless examples of people who consider themselves to be good people being abusive towards gay people, or trans people, or disabled people, or people with mental illnesses, or to any other vulnerable group.
In many cases, these people measure their goodness in relation to the very people they’re abusive to: I’m a good person because I’m fighting against the gays, the transgender agenda, against political correctness gone mad. I’m protecting our children, or my country, or my race.
As a species we’re very good at rewriting stories to ensure we’re always the hero and never the villain.
Everybody believes they are fundamentally good, and we all need to believe we are fundamentally good because believing you are fundamentally good is part of the human condition. But if you have to believe someone else is bad in order to believe you are good, you are drawing a very dangerous line.