As much as the era of #MeToo has been an explosive display in courage, one in which women are speaking out en masse, it’s also a story of silence — and cowardice.
Very few men, by comparison, have stood up to take responsibility for their own actions or for their active or tacit contributions to a system that’s allowed harassment and abuse to flourish.
Even men who have denounced individual bad actors couch their denouncements in an unspoken brag: They were not like him. These men look over at the worst of the worst, perhaps a man who brutally harassed a woman who worked for him, then back at themselves, and decide, “I’m one of the good guys.”
Then there was Anthony Bourdain. He looked at himself. He looked at his industry. He looked at the system. His conclusions were nuanced and honest. And, given that he did this all in public, it was brave.
Bourdain died on Friday. His contributions to the #MeToo conversation will be missed.
Bourdain didn’t just assume he’s one of the good guys
In an interview with Isaac Chotiner of Slate, Bourdain walked through his thinking on the moment, from his girlfriend’s experience with Harvey Weinstein to his own participation in a male-dominated restaurant culture to the bigger questions of entrenched, systemic problems in our culture.
He even considered the role of his blockbuster book Kitchen Confidential, which launched his career. “I’ve had to ask myself, and I have been for some time, ‘To what extent in that book did I provide validation to meatheads?’” he said.
Bourdain’s starting point is rare: Where did I go wrong?
I’ve been hearing a lot of really bad shit, frankly, and in many cases it’s like, wow, I’ve known some of these women and I’ve known women who’ve had stories like this for years and they’ve said nothing to me. What is wrong with me? What have I, how have I presented myself in such a way as to not give confidence, or why was I not the sort of person people would see as a natural ally here? So I started looking at that.
Bourdain could have made a case for his lifelong commitment to women’s rights. He attended the majority-female Vassar College. He was friends with many women. (As many men have liked to point out lately.) Instead, he took a cool-eyed look at his image. It didn’t matter what he might think or feel:
I am a guy on TV who sexualizes food. Who uses bad language. Who thinks our discomfort, our squeamishness, fear and discomfort around matters sexual is funny. I have done stupid offensive shit. And because I was a guy in a guy’s world who had celebrated a system—I was very proud of the fact that I had endured that, that I found myself in this very old, very, frankly, phallocentric, very oppressive system and I was proud of myself for surviving it. And I celebrated that rather enthusiastically.
The interview is worth reading in full.
Bourdain called out his friends
One of the most discouraging pieces of #MeToo is how unwilling men have been to call out the very obviously bad actors.
When industry titans are accused of horrible wrongdoing, there are few male voices on the record saying so. Worse, in recent months, there’s been rumblings about when it’s okay for men to return to public life. The New York Times reported recently that Mario Batali was considering making a comeback. Food celebrities have distanced themselves publicly, but “privately, some suggest the time has come for a more nuanced approach to replace the scorched-earth policy toward men who have harassed women — one that allows something resembling redemption.”
The only critical voice on the record in the story? Bourdain.
“Retire and count yourself lucky,” said Anthony Bourdain, a longtime friend of Mr. Batali’s who has not spoken with him recently. “I say that without malice, or without much malice. I am not forgiving. I can’t get past it. I just cannot and that’s me, someone who really admired him and thought the world of him.”
Meanwhile, Bourdain supported women who spoke out. When his girlfriend, Asia Argento, publicly described a sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein, he tweeted, “I am proud and honored to know you. You just did the hardest thing in the world.”
Then he took aim at Weinstein with a word that almost no one was willing to use: rape. “Can we use the word ‘rapist’ now? #Weinstein.”
Bourdain’s death is the loss of an ally. But perhaps his words can inspire new ones to step forward.