In the wake of the #MeToo movement that swept across America and much of the western world in October of 2017, I was so taken aback by the speed and intensity of it that I genuinely struggled to come to terms with what was going on. The sheer number of horrendous stories that flooded social media had a profound effect on me, and I spent several months trying to work back through my own history with women. Had I been part of the problem? Was my masculinity threatening to the women I had dated or pursued over the years? How many times had I behaved inappropriately? What was inappropriate and what was not?
While questioning myself, I was also experiencing extreme bouts of rage towards those accused of sexually assaulting and raping women. I would imagine inflicting serious amounts of pain onto the perpetrators of these awful crimes, not knowing where the desire to hurt people was coming from.
Confused, I asked my wife what she thought about me and whether I was the person I thought I was. Thankfully, she assured me I was OK.
“I wouldn’t be with you if I thought you were part of the problem,” she told me.
It didn’t stop me worrying completely, but the fact that my wife thought I was ok certainly helped.
I also spoke with other friends who were also extremely disturbed by what was happening. “It’s like reality has turned upside down,” one close friend told me. “What I thought was going on wasn’t what was going on. I feel so horrible about some of the girls I behaved badly to and I don’t know what do do about it. I want to call them up, but I don’t know how they would react.”
Having known my friend for close to two decades, I assured him that he had nothing to worry about. Given he was and is one of the kindest, gentlest human beings I know, I couldn’t believe how he was processing it. I had seen him being treated badly by a number of women, and never once retaliate in kind. But yet he had taken himself off to therapy in order to figure out how much of an asshole he had been. Christ, I thought. If he was one of the bad guys, what did that make me?
As the stories continued to roll in and dissenting views crushed under the weight of justifiable public anger, there came a point when I started to think that men were irredeemable and their opinions shouldn’t be listened to at all. I had become quite extreme in my position and wouldn’t entertain any other perspectives. I wanted everyone accused of assaulting women to face intense public scrutiny and shame, and wasn’t very concerned with any innocent parties who may have been caught up in the crossfire.
During the Oscars however, I read several articles asking why British actor Gary Oldman was being nominated for an award given his history of domestic abuse. I hadn’t known Oldman had any history of abusive behavior towards women, and it was again, another huge let down. On the off chance that there was another side to the story, I started to do some research on his case. And low and behold, it did seem that there was another side to the accusations leveled at Oldman by his ex wife, and it was very, very believable.
In 2001, Oldman’s then wife Donya Fiorentino accused the actor of choking and beating her with a telephone in front of their children, Gulliver and and younger brother Charlie. After the awards show where Oldman took home an Oscar for his performance as Winston Churchill in ‘The Darkest Hour’, Fiorentino gave an interview calling out the awards’ hypocrisy. Fiorentino told TMZ: “Congratulations, Gary and congratulations to the Academy for awarding not one but two abusers with Oscars. I thought we had evolved. What happened to the #MeToo movement?”
The public’s reaction wasn’t much kinder either:
-Gary Oldman was accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife Donya Fiorentino
-Winston Churchill was loved British colonialism, put Africans in concentration camps, wanted to use poison gas against "uncivilized tribes," & believed "Aryan stock is bound to triumph"#Oscars
— Mackenzi Lee (@themackenzilee) March 5, 2018
Never forget: Gary Oldman beat his wife with a phone in front of their kids. #sagawards
— Jaclyn Friedman❄️ (@jaclynf) January 22, 2018
Gary Oldman is a terrible person and also the front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar! Not THIS again!!!!!
— PARTY Ziccarelli (@pattyziccarelli) January 22, 2018
However, Oldman’s sons leapt to his defense and put forward a completely different account of the alleged attack. Gulliver Oldman released a public statement stating that the abuse unequivocally “didn’t happen.”
“In the case of my father, there is only innocence,” he wrote. “There never has been any guilt.”
“I can see how coming out with a statement to combat an allegation must look. However, I was there at the time of the ‘incident,’ so I’d like to make this radiantly clear: it didn’t happen. Anyone who says it did is lying.”
“Saddly [sic], heartbreakingly, all of this is revisited in a very recent interview of my mother by a reporter at the Daily Mail —despite all of this having been thrown away and discredited as false years ago,” he went on.
“For me to write this letter is direct proof of this. Custody of children is not given to a wife beater, and under most circumstances, hardly ever a man. My having lived, full time with my father should be in itself, proof enough. My Father is my one and true guiding light. My only hero. He is the man I aspire one day to become. If I could only become even half as great and half as pure. I was granted the good graces of his fatherhood as a child to be raised by him and only him. For that I am eternally grateful every hour of every day. I owe him the world and I owe him my life. If it appears that publicly speaking ill of my mother something I am either fond of, or accustomed to, that is not the case. She has been a sad and very troubled person most of her life. Yes, she brought me into this world. She didn’t however, teach me how to be a part of it.”
Gulliver’s statement is corroborated by the facts. Fiorentino — who was a recovering drug addict –made some extremely bizarre accusations against Oldman that included him keeping Gulliver “drugged on steroids” to avoid having an allergy treated. Ultimately, her case was thrown out by an LA court where Fiorentino’s visitation rights were restricted further and Oldman granted full custody of the two boys.
This is not to say that Fiorentino’s claims are unequivocally false — it is entirely possible that Gulliver Oldman is lying in order to defend his father, and physical abuse may have actually occurred. But what is clear from the case is that there is another legitimate side to Fiorentino’s claim, and Oldman and his sons deserves at the very least to be listened to.
As the fury of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement calms down, we are hearing more from men whose lives have been turned upside down by spurious accusations. Aziz Ansari for example, was brutally humiliated in public after an anonymous account of a bad date was posted online. Other women came to his defense, including Banter writer Christina McDowell (who also dated Ansari) and attempted to paint a more nuanced picture of the celebrity who was being lumped in with the likes of rapists like Harvey Weinstein.
While I still believe our society has a very, very serious problem with misogyny and violence towards women, I am starting to see a bigger picture. The problems cannot be laid exclusively at the feet of one gender — they go far deeper than that. Men have deserved their comeuppance in recent months, and there is no doubt much more work we need to do. But as a society we cannot engage in witch hunts where men are condemned before they are allowed to speak, or turn sweeping generalizations into immutable laws. Because being falsely accused of rape or assault is no trivial affair, and being a man does not make you automatically guilty. We must find a new balance going forward, one that takes into account the enormous impact of the #MeToo movement, but never forgets the principles of justice that have made it so effective.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.