“Intersectionality” is a trendy word in feminist theory that bids us to examine events and conditions in relation to one another, seeing how together they form “oppressive structures.” It’s an “analytic sensibility,” as the coiner of this term explains, drawing our attention to the “integral, interlocking parts of a whole,” instead of just seeing a single, random injustice.
For today’s lesson in far-Left feminist method, we will apply this sensibility to the interlocking parts of a recent, widely covered sexual-harassment scandal contrived to upend the career and reputation of a friend of mine. It was the case of Wayne Pacelle, unjustly harmed in a #MeToo frenzy, and it bears a careful, intersectional second look.
“Amid” accusations, as headlines put it, Pacelle resigned as president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, a position that made him America’s most visible champion against cruelty to animals. The story went from allegations “surfacing” to Wayne’s departing in a matter of days. A review of the sudden flurry of accusations against Wayne, 52 and married since 2013, had been conducted by the Humane Society board of directors after a month-long, independent investigation by an outside law firm. It concluded that nearly all were unsupported by credible evidence, though in news accounts that was a point easy to miss.
“Nearly all” left the three that caused Pacelle’s undoing. There was the accusation that had started things just before last Christmas, one employee’s claim of receiving, in 2005, an undesired kiss in a coffee shop. There was another employee’s account, as the New York Times specified this charge, that “he stopped by her office late one night in 2012 and asked her to salsa dance with him.” And there was a third alleging a supposedly lewd proposal to a female employee, outside a hotel room, in 2006.
Along with these was a perception that some women “owed their career success to romantic relationships with the chief executive.” The first two harassment accusations, Pacelle told the Washington Post, were untrue, based on either false or embellished details, and the third was a complete invention: “This is a coordinated attempt to attack me and the organization. And I absolutely deny any suggestion that I did anything untoward.”
Endless awkward moments are possible between men and women in social or professional situations, leaving two people with very different impressions. Here, without evidence beyond the accusations themselves, and Pacelle’s denials, it’s impossible to know just what happened. But one “intersection” worth noting, right off, is the point at which his accusers and, apparently, at least one colluding board member crossed paths with the Washington Post reporter just as the board was to vote on his fate. This lends plausibility to his claim of a coordinated attack. A standard instruction in courtrooms is that if a witness has deliberately misled on a material fact, a jury may disregard everything else in the testimony as unreliable. A similar rule of caution may inform our judgment of public accusations spread by underhanded means, in disregard of confidentiality pledges — because, of course, trustworthy people don’t operate that way.
Veracious men and women have the advantage in settings of deliberation — proper interviews, a rational weighing of contradictory accounts, investigation to identify facts and to eliminate impossibilities. People who deceive or exaggerate have the advantage in conditions of pressure and hysteria. If you have factual truth on your side, in a fair hearing, then truth is all you need. And if Pacelle’s accusers wanted to demonstrate integrity and reliability, then slipping a copy of the raw investigative report, filled with accusations that been examined and deemed unsupported, to a friendly, ideologically attuned reporter was not the way to do it. As the board chairman put it, “a great unfairness to Wayne resulted” when discredited accusations were leaked to the Post, “out there for all to see.”
As the scandal unfolded in the Post and Times, it had the feel of a spontaneously occurring #MeToo story, as Wayne’s claim of being the victim of a coordinated attack had the ring of a doomed man saying anything in desperation. Here our “analytic sensibility,” seeking out the “interlocking parts,” turns to a new #AnimalRightsMeToo campaign, “a movement within a movement,” and to a second case of alleged sexual harassment at the Humane Society that unfolded just ahead of Pacelle’s.
#ARMeToo has paired animal-rights activists with militant feminists to produce the most distasteful possible versions of both. Its early stirrings could be found at rallies of the “Resistance” after the inauguration of President Trump, which included a heavy contingent of women who later figured in intrigues against their CEO.
On Facebook, where much of this drama and debate played out, one could read the backstory to the harassment reports of the Post and Times. Who was this “privileged white male,” an “eco-feminist” critic of Pacelle’s demanded to know, to be taking so eminent a place in animal advocacy? Why, asked another woman, were Pacelle’s defenders focused on “Wayne’s wins for animals, and VERY FEW are focused on us”? At stake was nothing less than “the epidemic of patriarchy, sexism, intersectionality, rampant white-feminism, systemic lack of diversity and gross underrepresentation of LGBT/transGNC…” and so on. A shorter post, by a fellow named Michael, offered the movement’s version of male reticence: “Let us now continue to SMASH THE PATRIARCHY!”
#ARMeToo even gave us what I am pretty sure is the first-ever intervention in the animal-protection cause by the National Organization for Women. A press release announced, “The Humane Society Has No Humanity: NOW Calls For Firing of Humane Society CEO.” The pro-abortion people moved in to instruct the anti-cruelty people in the meaning of “humanity.”
The week before Pacelle’s troubles went public, the tumbrils arrived to collect his former colleague Paul Shapiro — a contributor, we learned, to the “toxic environment” of an organization in which eight of every ten senior executives are female. His situation helps us to understand Wayne’s because it involves the very same people, tactics, and attitudes. It offers a glimpse of the #ARMeToo culture in which all of this unfolded, everything being “intersectional.”
Shapiro, whom I also know and admire, led farm-animal protection. He’s such a determined, forthright, and conscientious man that even factory farmers have learned to get along with him as Paul goes about trying to radically change their ways. Like Wayne, he’s a guy whose animating emotion in life is pain over the suffering of defenseless creatures, and yet will walk, as Paul has done, through the mayhem of slaughterhouses if that will serve the mission. Taking in the sights and sounds of such places would be hard enough if you really love meat. Imagine doing it if you really love animals.
Yet in a late-January story fed to a reporter by #ARMeToo activists, readers of Politico were asked to think of this same fellow, 37 and single, as a selfish, calculating abuser of women. You can judge for yourself whether the conduct described adds up to anything more than causing discomfort and creating, as the exposé puts it, “perceptions” of unwelcome sexual designs. For his own part, even though no aggression whatever was alleged, Shapiro was harsh on himself, posting on Facebook these, well, manful “thoughts about my fallibility and efforts to do better”:
[A]t my previous job, I sometimes acted inappropriately, for which I’m deeply sorry. I engaged in sophomoric and unprofessional behavior.… Many of the assertions that have been publicly reported are simply false. I was rightfully held accountable for what I actually did, which was irresponsible enough.
One way of testing these humble words on the moral scale is to compare them with the reactions that followed, which invite reflection as well on just how much a Facebook “friend” is worth.
“Nope,” replies one woman, in a representative comment. “Your half-assed apology of sorts just isn’t going to cut it. Dig deeper. Not until you truly come clean by admitting to and owning up to each and every one of your dark deeds will you be able to be [believed]. Otherwise, no way.”
Shapiro’s apology, instructs another #ARMeToo lady, “does not mention 1) any of the victims, 2) the violence (acts from positions of power are in and of themselves violent), 3) the restitution these victims will or have received… [Y]ou can’t move forward if you don’t own it and this isn’t that, it’s shallow weak-ass deflection.”
The mention of “restitution,” along with that parenthetical reworking of language and law, inspires another woman to provide the precise, approved formulas to follow before absolution is available. And no penitent ever exited the confessional with a more thorough list:
Publicly own up to all past behavior that constituted sexual harassment or creation of a hostile work environment for women, including but not limited to the [allegations].…
1.a. Do this in a way that demonstrates awareness of and empathy for the feelings of the targeted women…
1.c. Do this in a way that demonstrates awareness of the role male privilege has played and continues to play in your professional life…
2. Voluntarily refrain from any applause-seeking behaviors until such time as you are certain that any women you have hurt would not be sickened to see you getting accolades.
3. Voluntarily refrain from seeking any elevated positions… in the vegan or animal advocacy movements.… and be willing to do the kind low-level work often delegated to women.
Nor should Shapiro, upon voluntarily completing these acts of atonement and their subsets, indulge the illusion that he is finished:
4. Do anything else that any of your victims, including but not limited to those six women, have told you or told others that they would like you to do.
And even that’s not all of it. Enough to say that a long, lonely journey awaits Paul if he is ever to make things right again and rejoin humanity. And, until such time, all are prohibited from extending to this loathsome entity even a scrap of forgiveness for sins including but not limited to the ones he stands accused of. This becomes clear when, here and there in the Facebook comments, a stable person intrudes on the acrimony:
“Gender should not come into this,” writes Deborah, a doctor. “Animals need all of us. The perfect and the imperfect. The males and the females.”
“Deborah,” comes the reply, “your intention of commenting on [Shapiro’s] post is transparent, and in essence, your comment is akin to the harassment that the post speaks to.”
“All these people forgiving him so quickly is also part of the problem,” adds another. “I’ve heard enough of these white men speak.”
“Paul,” writes Deborah later on, “you are an angel for animals and we are blessed to have you in this movement. This is a witch hunt and it must stop.”
“Witch hunt,” of course, brings a barrage of discourses on misogyny throughout the ages, culminating in an ominous postscript from a noted “eco-feminist” who all along (as she boasts herself) had helped orchestrate the campaign against both Shapiro and Pacelle:
Friends, to all the women who had to endure his behavior … to those who said #MeToo and found themselves exposed and have been so brave … THANK YOU! And to the men who we thought were allies who might have said something but DID NOTHING, we will remember your abject failure to act in the interest of justice. #TimesUpAR
Madame Mao has more names on her purge list. Talk about a toxic environment!
Catching her drift, the men who DID NOTHING rushed to post their groveling apologies, a depressing collection of milquetoast musings on how they can, must, and will do better. Lots of “demonstrating awareness” up ahead for them. Except, that is, for a fellow named John, who had interrupted the lashings of Shapiro to observe: “And all of a sudden everyone stopped talking about the animal suffering… Lynch mob.”
We can readily imagine, against this backdrop, how two easy-going white, heterosexual males, possessing what the chairwomen of the Star Chamber call “charismatic” personalities (a fault, in these circles), with a loose command of PC etiquette but giving no injury by normal standards, might now and then run afoul of the “Resistance” or set off the eco-feminist alarm bells. Their supposed offenses, it becomes clear, were the occasion for outrage but not necessarily the reason.
Pacelle, as the mob turned to him, managed to trip a wire even in a perfectly harmless reply to a woman who had emailed him demanding answers. To stir up even more indignation, his correspondent, Barbara, shared his email on Facebook, followed by her stunned reaction:
There’s a lot of chatter on these issues, of course. I’d be happy to talk with you if you have a few minutes.
Notice that word… CHATTER. I’ve been sitting with that word, this afternoon, thinking about its use… I’m just getting more angry.
No more than usual, we can guess. She doesn’t even give the guy credit for offering to call her while he’s under siege in the worst week of his life.
A mindset that can never hear the word “chatter,” in its common use to mean communications traffic, without hearing “chatterbox” will always find new problems. As we learned from an essay at Medium, “subtle gendered language” pervades the animal-protection movement: Too many “bro’s” and “hey, man’s” that “unify straight, white men.” “When women see and hear these interactions (and sometimes even when we don’t), we are othered…” The “underlying issue”? “‘Linkages between the oppressions of women and animals, establishing the common patriarchal roots of both groups’ subjugation’.… We criticize mainstream society for its speciesism, but we have yet to address the many isms in our own movement.”
You would never know from this semantics lesson that women have always been the prime movers of animal causes in both influence and rank. Early animal charities were mostly the work of heroic women giving shelter to other women, children, and animals alike from the depravities of men. Women of similar inspiration carry the banner to this day. One thinks, too, of Jane Goodall, Cynthia Moss, Gail Eisnitz, and the shrewd philosopher Mary Midgely, who have produced some of the finest books about animals and our duties of charity and justice. Over at PETA, likewise, Ingrid Newkirk remains one of cause’s most formidable debaters, forever surprising interviewers who expect to brush off a caricature but encounter a sharp, calm mind that gets the better of them every time.
The difference between these female champions for animals and the “isms” patrol is that they keep the focus on animal protection, with bigger things to worry about than one man’s “hey, man” to another man, though we can assume they’re all familiar with male arrogance, presumption, or uninvited ardor. They don’t lack a sense of their dignity as women. They just lack the officiousness to confuse “micro-aggressors” with real users and predators, and to let every personal affront or slight become some all-consuming psychodrama.
The truth about “othering” language and those “linkages between oppressions” is that animal protection is a cause that receives some vulnerable people, men and women alike. People who have issues, which can make for a special empathy, a special bitterness, or an odd mix of both. The best advice — to get out of yourselves and heal wounds by acts of other-directed lovingkindness — was nicely expressed by a woman named Zohra, who posted this notice for the militant feminists:
My encounters with Wayne Pacelle and Paul Shapiro have always been respectful, and this is a memory I will forever hold on to… They have led one of the most effective animal protection movements. They have fought tirelessly to prevent and stop animal abuse…. If you are on my news feed bashing any animal organization that’s sole purpose is to help animals, you will be unfollowed…. I don’t hold toxic friends in my… life…. I am not part of your movement. I am here to help animals, and that is where my energy will lie.
We learned, in any case, that the women of #ARMeToo have quite a talent themselves for “othering” people. Above all that was apparent in the accusation of lewd talk that was leaked to the Post, a transparent lift from last fall’s Hollywood harassment script, at which point their campaign against Wayne went from malicious to wicked. It’s no better now for Pacelle, as the Post reporter stays on the blood trail, the activists her pack of hounds.
“No one makes these stories up for fun,” said one of his accusers, a quote related by Madam Mao the eco-feminist who was helping to flood the Humane Society with anonymous allegations. For fun, no. Of course not. Among other motives for falsehood and embellishment, however: identity politics, fanaticism, opportunism, spite, vanity, and even cruelty are all in play once we understand the noxious culture from which the accusations spring.
Enflamed by a Cultural Moment, #ARMeToo feminists skipped the initial #MeToo stage of deserving targets, journalistic rigor, and standards of evidence, proceeding straight to the People’s Meeting stage where “micro-aggressions” count as assaults, to be accused is to be convicted, to contradict an accuser is to “devalue” her, and none of the particulars of a case matter anyway because it’s all about putting the damn patriarchy in its place.
“Any revolution has its pitfalls,” Rich Lowry of National Review cautioned last fall, while welcoming exposure of the true predators and perverts. “There will be false allegations that will be believed.… [T]here will be an over-correction that will create its own wrongs.” That happens when the factual assertions of a specific case are burdened by the diffuse grievances of a general case, and anything short of “I Believe the Women!” — passionately and a priori — is suspected as hostile, if not as another form of harassment. When the stones are being cast by parties so ideologically vested in a matter, advises Michelle Malkin, we need to be especially alert for “half-truths, exaggerations or outright fabrications. That’s not victim-blaming. It’s reality-checking.”
None of which, in weighing the specific allegations against Pacelle, quite settles anything, except for those of us who can point to an “intersectionality” of his life with ours. As for me, in 30 or so years around politics and journalism, I have never seen a finer person done serious injury by a sorrier group of people — and to borrow a line from The Great Gatsby, he’s worth the whole damn lot of them.
This is the man who, more than anyone else, has steered animal protection away from the ideological snake pits his critics inhabit, presenting it instead as the noble, non-partisan, and winning moral cause that it is. His many successes at the Humane Society explain how the cause became, by most anyone’s definition, mainstream. They also explain why animal abusers of every stripe have rejoiced over his travails. Visit the websites of ivory traders, trophy hunters, cockfighters, sportive dog-fighters, puppy-mill operators, horse-slaughter interest groups, and all the rest, and you’ll see that they count February 2, 2018 as a day to remember, when their jobs got a lot easier and they were finally rid, they hope, of their most skilled and relentless opponent. You don’t make enemies like that without doing some real good in the world.
Years ago, I was with Wayne talking over edits on an op-ed he’d written. It was for a Maine newspaper, challenging the legal and common hunting practice of baiting bears with doughnuts and garbage, then shooting them from behind. One paragraph was confusing and I pressed him to explain what it was he really wanted to convey. He said, with a little extra emphasis that I’ll spare you, “I want them to show the bears a little respect.” Simple, but I loved the spirit of that. Wayne is fond of saying, about humanity’s relationship with animals, “We hold all the cards,” always deciding their fates, and at our best we deal in that power with forbearance and respect. An awful lot of animals today do get respect, shielded from thoughtless and tawdry people, only because Wayne Pacelle was there to cut the deck.
He is the kind of man that the real abusers in this world know to stay away from, and not just exploiters of animals. He’s the guy you want around when operators and bullies of any kind try to intimidate, because his mere presence in any setting or situation multiplies the sum of benevolence, rationality, and class. He’s just about the least conniving, least self-interested, least self-important, and least materialistic person I’ve ever come across, even with his share of frailties. Only in manufactured, hyped-up allegations could Wayne Pacelle be made to appear otherwise.
By chance one day in 2010, a casual acquaintance of mine in Los Angeles ran into Wayne, and afterward, in that L.A. way, kept telling me about the man’s “vibe” and “aura of goodness.” I know exactly what he meant. It’s what sets Wayne apart, draws others to him, shaped a movement, and doubtless even what sent him on his path in life to begin with. It’s why I have always made sure that my young sons get to know him too, so they’ll see what true goodness looks like in a man, how it can shine, how much it can accomplish, and how it can sometimes even make for qualities of greatness.
Of all people to champion the cause of forgotten and mistreated animals, I remember thinking on first impression, back in 1997, here was this smart, funny, athletic, highly presentable, self-possessed, supremely disciplined Yale graduate who could be off doing just about anything well — rising, enriching, or indulging himself in most any field by talent and looks alone. Senators and governors have surely sized up Wayne from across the table noticing gifts they wish they had themselves. With all that the guy’s got going for him, he could have been one of them, perhaps even more.
Instead, somehow, his calling has been to protect bears from idiots who bait and shoot them, elephants from cowards who slaughter them, farm animals from torments no one wants to think about, every kind of helpless creature from every kind of misery that fallen humanity can devise. All of this inspired by a visceral hatred of cruelty that Wayne has felt ever since he was a boy. There’s no other angle, no other motivation — that’s the whole program with Wayne, and it’s an amazing, beautiful thing to see. The unrelenting, single-minded, and often successful pursuit of entirely unselfish goals. How often do you find that?
Before all that has come Pacelle’s way became a fashionable movement, we used to call it mob rule. And what an awful state of affairs to see someone of his character, wherever he might have erred, treated as an outcast. Causes of conscience don’t walk away from their most faithful servants. Wherever fairness and loyalty intersect, it’s not far from self-respect. And any friends to the animal-protection movement who see a future with Pacelle’s critics, the smash-the-patriarchy set, had better take another look because they’re moving with the wrong crowd.
Mr. Scully, a former senior speechwriter to President George W. Bush, is the author of Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.