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“Accidentally”

In response to the news that US writer Jeffrey Toobin has been suspended from his job for masturbating during a video meeting, Dr Jennifer Gunter pointed out on Twitter that “masturbating while on a work zoom/call is a choice. If Toobin was on mute he was still listening/watching the other participants and that’s still disgusting and violating. If the urge is so great, end the call. He knew that.”

There is some confusion over the precise circumstances: it’s been suggested that the writer was simultaneously having phone sex while taking part in the meeting, or that he was having phone sex during an interval between calls and accidentally rejoined the meeting too early. But whatever the explanation, his colleagues saw something they shouldn’t because he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing.

As you’d expect, many women who’ve experienced sexual harassment have opinions on this. And I’ve already seen some of those women having to limit their Twitter accounts because of a backlash against the completely uncontroversial statement that you shouldn’t be masturbating at work or during video calls with people from work. I’ve been on social media for decades so I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m seeing people – and of course, they’re men people – saying that there’s nothing wrong with having a surreptitious wank while talking to or listening to your colleagues. The only crime is getting caught.

I’ve written previously about the word “himpathy”, used by Kate Manne to describe the sympathy that’s extended to men rather than to their victims. That appears to be at play here, even though exhibitionism and masturbation are both well-known forms of sexual harassment.

CNN, back in 2017:

As shocking allegations of egregious sexual misconduct continue to emerge, one form of harassment has become a recurring theme.

It isn’t a physical assault, and it doesn’t necessarily involve men using sexual language. Instead, a powerful man masturbates in front of unwilling women made to witness the act.

Gunter linked to this piece, by Lili Loofbourow: The Myth of the Male Bumbler. It’s about the way some people rush to excuse men for doing inexcusable things.

Male bumblers are an epidemic.

These men are, should you not recognize the type, wide-eyed and perennially confused. What’s the difference, the male bumbler wonders, between a friendly conversation with a coworker and rubbing one’s penis in front of one? Between grooming a 14-year-old at her custody hearing and asking her out?

The world baffles the bumbler. He’s astonished to discover that he had power over anyone at all, let alone that he was perceived as using it. What power? he says. Who, me?

It’s an act, of course. The men who claim to be baffled about what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace, as if there’s no difference between complimenting a female colleague’s new hairdo and making her watch you masturbate into a plant pot, know exactly where the line is. They just don’t think the rules should apply to them.

There’s a reason for this plague of know-nothings: The bumbler’s perpetual amazement exonerates him. Incompetence is less damaging than malice. And men — particularly powerful men — use that loophole like corporations use off-shore accounts. The bumbler takes one of our culture’s most muscular myths — that men are clueless — and weaponizes it into an alibi.

Allow me to make a controversial proposition: Men are every bit as sneaky and calculating and venomous as women are widely suspected to be. And the bumbler — the very figure that shelters them from this ugly truth — is the best and hardest proof.

Breaking that alibi means dissecting that myth. The line on men has been that they’re the only gender qualified to hold important jobs and too incompetent to be responsible for their conduct.

…If you’ve noticed a tendency to treat girls — like the 14-year-old whom now-Senate candidate Roy Moore allegedly picked up at her custody hearing — as knowing adults and men in their 30s — like Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and Donald Trump, Jr. — as erring youngsters, large sons and “coffee boys,” this is why.

Loofbourow continues:

This is how the culture attempts to normalize this stuff: by minimizing the damage to women and the agency of men.

…Economists have long and lazily attributed the exodus of women in various industries to their decision to bear children, but now this giant explanatory iceberg is floating up — this absolutely gigantic, widely denied story about how women are routinely driven from their industries because their male colleagues need to be free to use their professional power to indulge their sexual urges.