Three years ago to the day, March 11, 2015, I and some close friends and fellow atheists sat in eager anticipation in the rapidly filling up auditorium at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist and professor at Arizona State University was in town to give a lecture to fellow nerds and freethinkers.
I recall that particular March evening: unseasonably warm and the sun was shining brightly, as if the cosmos themselves were aware Krauss was there and wished to carry favor to all of us eager to hear him fill our minds with his words.
I wasn’t there for the physics portion obviously, as that particular section of science is far beyond my comprehension. I mean, I attribute the wind blowing to trees sneezing still, but rather, I was there to witness one of atheism’s most noteworthy members.
Being a nonbeliever isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, if you can believe it, just in the way that we are often considered social pariahs for our audacity to claim disbelief in the god many of us were raised to believe exists. Outcasts, society’s modern-day lepers, if you will. To have Krauss here in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the heart of conservatism and Red State politics was like atheist Christmas.
He spoke passionately and eloquently, was charismatic and affable, and to my surprise, I followed along with his lecture well, only having a what the fuck is he even talking about moment once during his two hours on stage. I snapped the above picture from my phone near the end of his talk and it is one of my favorite pictures. I even have a print of it hanging proudly on my wall of photos greeting you as you climb up the stairs to the second floor of my home. Lawrence fuckin’ Krauss, man. It was an honor and treat to get to see him in person, and I have nothing but admiration for an incredibly intelligent man who isn’t afraid to be a vocal proponent of atheism. We don’t have many heroes, but Krauss is on our side and it’s a comforting fact.
Then, on February 22, 2018, nearly three years from the day he was in our town, an article first shared by BuzzFeed News was published, accusing Krauss of several instances of sexual misconduct. I saw the article notification on my phone and my heart sunk into my stomach. “Goddamn it…” I whispered to myself as I started to read. 2017 to present has brought forth so many stories of notable men behaving poorly, and it appears Mr. Krauss is not exempt from this.
As expected, several members of the atheist group I belong to shared the article and it has caused quite the stir among the group and causing controversy. Some demand he not be convicted by anyone based on the fact it was a BuzzFeed News article and their clout, lack of factual reporting standards, and inability to remain unbiased when reporting is in question. Some began attacking the veracity of the women’s claims based on the news source. Some straight up objected the claims at all, which is what I’d like to further address here in a moment. Others began attacking our own members for daring to be feminists and being outraged by these accusations against Krauss. I’ll also further expound on that, as well, because of course I will.
First, let me go off course a little bit and discuss sexual harassment and misconduct. If some haven’t noticed, the world is an ever-changing place. Things that were once tolerated and accepted without much fuss probably isn’t so much anymore. I mean, doctors, nurses, patients, and visitors could all smoke in hospitals and offices back in the ’80s, for chrissakes. Now, on nearly all hospital and clinic campuses, smoking is prohibited and if your doctor finds out you smoke, you get a stern lecture about the perils and health risks of it and are urged to quit.
Take a look at the machismo and quintessentially masculine figure of James Bond as another example. Suave, dashing, shaken martinis, owner of super cool gadgets, driver of shit-hot cars, and looooooved the ladies. A man like James Bond would be an HR nightmare and would have been fired years ago for telling Moneypenny he wanted to undo her bow and get to know her.
And not to be outrageous here, but I’m trying to really drive the point home, but um, slaves. At one point in our history, it was totally cool to own another person or several persons and last time I checked, that hasn’t been a thing–and rightly so–for a real long time because gosh, it turns out kidnapping folks, stuffing them into rickety old wooden ships in deplorable conditions and forcing them into servitude and routinely beating them wasn’t exactly a shining moment in our historical timeline.
Times have a pesky way of a-changin’.
Getting back to the James Bonds and Mad Men of the world. At one time, when the workplace was predominantly male-centric, a little office butt-slapping and comment-making on how nice that polyester dress accentuates Margaret’s curves was no biggie. In fact, it might have even appeared that the ladies enjoyed the attention and encouraged it. They never said anything about it, so obviously it was all harmless fun and a way to kick back and relax at the office while Janice did some document filing. Great job on making sure all those papers are organized, Janice. And great job on that ass today, too! Oh, Janice. Go fetch a snifter of brandy and a pack of Lucky Strikes like a good girl.
Then, the ’70s happened and women got the crazy notion that they can be empowered and “anything you can do, I can do, too” came about. More women were leaving their homes for the workplace. Janice suddenly became an office manager and get your own goddamn booze and smokes, you big galoot, and touch my ass one more time and I’ll fuckin’ deck ya. Feminism was on the rise, my friends. Dig it.
And so were reports of sexual harassment on the job. Dave from Accounting made one too many lewd comments about Janice and well, we can’t abide by that anymore, Dave from Accounting. Pack up your calculator and turn in your name tag.
Let’s discuss feminism for a moment, shall we? And apologies for bouncing all over the place, but I get to thinking while I’m typing and yeah.
The dictionary defines feminism as such: (noun): the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. Simple enough concept, right? Barebones definition is “you treat me like a normal human being, and I’ll return that favor. Don’t behave differently around me or expect that you can display dominance over me just because I am a woman. K thnx.” But goddamned if that word strikes fear into some people’s hearts still. Images of unruly women ripping off and burning their brassieres in fits of rage and contempt for men. Fuck men! We hate men! The only thing men are good for is nothing because men are worthless, vile pigs! That, friends, is not feminism. That is a stereotype of feminism perpetuated by people who long for the days of pinching Janice on the behind and innocently shrugging their shoulders in a “what? What’s wrong with that?” way. Let me drop another definition on y’all because I’m in a definin’ mood, I guess. Misandry (noun): dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men (i.e., the male sex). Fun fact: feminism =/= misandry. Are some feminists also misandrists? Absolutely they are. Are all feminists misandrists? Absolutely no they are not. I’m not. I love men. I think most y’all are great, save a few exceptions, but there’s always a few bad apples in the fruit salad, isn’t there? From my opinion in reading some of the comments posted to our group about the Krauss debacle, some fellas can’t make that distinction and someone actually so eloquently referred to feminists as “feminutty,” and gosh dang, that tickled me to bits. Clever, dude. Very clever, indeed.
Now, let’s talk about sexual misconduct and/or harassment. I’m sure some of you have the same picture in your heads like I do when I think of sexual harassment. Any job you’ve ever had over the last several decades makes you watch a video on sexual harassment. Do not touch, make gross comments to, tell dumb sexist jokes, try to proposition, send dick pics, etc, or risk being fired. Basically, remove all thoughts of sex from your mind once you clock in for the day. You’re here to work, not get laid, unless you’re a sex worker, then yes, it is literally your job to get laid. Again–always exceptions. I’ve been fortunate enough in my profession to be in a mostly female-dominant work environment, so I’ve never had to deal with harassment at my job, at least not from my coworkers, lucky me. From gross old men who are patients of mine, however? Oh yes, that’s a different story. I recall checking the pacemaker of an elderly man and while I was placing the wand over his device, he said to me with a sly grin on his face, “I think you better check down here,” as he pointed to his crotch. Classy, sir.
And your job isn’t the only place us dames have to worry about inappropriate behavior towards us. The simple act of walking down the street creates a perfect storm. Catcalling, and in other instances, being attacked and raped are very real threats to us. Have you ever had to walk to your car at night with your keys spiked between your fingers as a makeshift weapon in case someone tries to attack you? I have. Or, with the boom of social media over the last decade or more, have you ever had a complete stranger message your Facebook inbox and send you a picture of their erect penis and then call you a fat bitch for denying their penis and for what I assumed was a request to rate said penis on a scale of 1 to 10 (“2, which I also assume is how long it is” doesn’t seem to be a very popular response with some fellas). A recent incident with myself is I had posted a picture on Instagram of me wearing a low-cut shirt. Some guy I have zero clue who the fuck he is somehow found my profile and sent me a private message of “can I fuck your tits?” Well, golly, Random Stranger! Sure! Fortunately for me, this doesn’t happen very often, but the fact it even happens at all is very telling of how some men just think behaving like this is totally acceptable. I don’t know if it’s some primal instinct kicking in or just plain ol’ stupidity, but the entitlement some men feel to assert themselves on women baffles my mind.
Speaking of, and I’m sorry to have to resort to anecdote here, but it helps with the topic, so please bear with me. Five years ago, I got involved with a man online via a dating site. Due to a series of questionable decisions on my part, after knowing this guy for a whopping 2 months, I decided to move to Austin, Texas to be closer to him. Again, questionable decisions, but I was dealing with my recent divorce and was wooed by this guy. Online and over instant messaging, he was a charmer and I got sucked into it. Desperate for attention, desperate for a change of scenery, desperate to make sense of the life that I didn’t ever think I’d be forced into living as a divorcee, I packed up and moved to Texas. Please keep in mind I had only seen this guy in person once while on a trip to Texas a few weeks prior to moving, so I had no idea what he was like face-to-face as compared to behind a computer screen, but boy howdy golly gee, did I ever find out the hard way! Turns out–and please, I hope you’re sitting down while reading this–get this: he was a completely different animal in real life. I know, right?! Who fuckin’ knew?! I mean!!!
When I moved, I was living with my best gal pal in her apartment, but I would spend a few days a week at his house. On one such day, we became intimate. It was mutually agreed upon to do so. While engaged in the act, he forcibly rolled me over to my side and tried to stick his dick into a place I wasn’t comfortable with. I recoiled in pain and asked him to stop. He pulled me towards him again and tried to do it another time, and I said to please stop, it hurts. He was close to my ear and whispered it would be ok, just to let him do it. Knowing he wasn’t listening to me even after two times of saying no, I caved in and let him do what he wanted to do. Luckily, it didn’t last long (neither did he, for that matter) and it was over quickly. I’m using this as an example. An example of how something consensual can turn into something not in the blink of an eye. Based on what I’ve read about the Krauss case, this appears to be the instance in one of the encounters. Everything was fine and good and then something happened to make it not anymore, but sometimes it’s hard to stop a train even when one of the passengers wants off.
And here’s also the thing: if you had asked me if I had been the victim of something like sexual abuse like that, I’d have denied it. Why? Because I was so confused by what happened, how it went from good to bad, but was it really bad or am I blowing it out of proportion? I has hurt and angry that he didn’t listen to me and ashamed that I wasn’t more forceful in my desire for him to quit. I was mad he didn’t ask me first before doing what he did and just assumed it was ok. I pushed that incident out of my mind and tried to forget about it because we had other matters to attend to in that tumultuous “relationship,” like the verbal abuse I’d suffer from him once he had a few too many drinks, and homeboy loved the sauce, so it was frequent. Within a month of having moved, we had broken up and gotten back together two times. The second time was it for me and I ended up ghosting the sonuvabitch and that is the only solid and good decision I made regarding him.
To those people who demand to know why victims of sexual assault and misconduct don’t immediately come forward and yell for justice regarding what was done to them, reread my last paragraph. Shame. Guilt. Denial. Anger. Fear. That’s why. But because of that, women are rarely believed and are making stories up for some sort of sick perversion they have. They want the attention. They’re sick individuals and need help before they ruin another man’s life with these false allegations. “Why, if that had happened to me, I’d have gone to the police and reported it immediately!” Ok. In some instances, yes, that does happen. In situations like mine, no, it doesn’t happen and won’t happen until years later when all the emotions I listed earlier consume so much of you that you can’t deny it happened any longer. Then, it’s a case of he said-she said and so often, the he said wins.
Look, I don’t want to believe Krauss is capable or guilty of any of the things he is. As I mentioned several hundred words ago, I admire the man. I respect the man and what he’s done for atheism. But I demand these charges be taken as seriously as possible and for men to quit doubting the women involved. I’m also not so naive to realize sometimes, accessions are false because there are twisted people out there. I get the skepticism but that just unearths a deeper problem that some men just refuse to accept women as equal human beings and show the same respect to them as they would another man.
I would also to see an end to the whole falsehood that just because one woman might not find issue with comments or playful touching construed as “harmless flirtation” doesn’t mean that all women feel that way. It’s a person-to-person basis, of course, and if you have tested the waters and a red flag pops up that signals to proceed with caution, heed that warning instead of ignoring it and later finding yourself scratching your head, saying, “wha happen?” Take this, for example, an alleged comment made by Krauss to a university employee he works with: “that he would buy her birth control ‘so I don’t get pregnant and inconvenience him.'”
If I had been told that, I’d have laughed at the joke. It’s funny to me, but I also have a weird sense of humor, so take that as you will. But to others, that’s the opposite of funny and an inappropriate thing to say to someone. Just because I find it humorous does not mean all women will find it equally as funny and to make that assumption that all women would find the comedy in something like that is a dangerous one to make as a person who had a position of power (at the time of writing this, Krauss has been placed on unpaid leave by ASU).
One more thing, and I’ll try to wrap it up. A major cause of argument in my group was the reliability of BuzzFeed News as a credible news source. I can see being wary of articles published by the same organization who offers quizzes like “Everyone Has A Breakfast Item That Matches Their Soul–Here’s Yours” or “Plan Your Dream Wedding and We’ll Tell You How You’ll Die.” (actual, for real quizzes on their site, and for the record: black coffee and drowning in acid). Since then, however, a number of media outlets have also published articles, one being the New York Times, and they’re more known for their credibility and dark, dry editorial cartoons and lack of quizzes about breakfast foods and carry a heftier weight in the news world than BuzzFeed. I’m not arguing that just because the NYT published it that is automatically means it’s 100% true and real and hang Krauss from his testicles. No. I’m just citing more sources like a good little writer.
Honestly, I don’t know where I stand in all of this. As I read this morning on a post to Facebook, the hits keep comin’ at Krauss, and it doesn’t look good for him. Of course, we want to avoid being armchair judge, jury, and executioner and avoid trial by social media, and if Krauss can maintain his innocence in all of this and be cleared of any wrongdoing, well, so be it. If not, then he must hold himself accountable and do better. That goes for everyone.
Thank you for allowing me to write about this topic, and as always, thank you for reading.