A Response To Billy Bush From The Planet Of Women

You may have heard something about The Hollywood Reporter's interview with Billy Bush published this week. It was billed as Bush "breaking his silence" on the infamous Access Hollywood tapes that surfaced during the recent election. In it--somewhat predictably--Bush expresses contrition and embarrassment. (I say somewhat predictably because misogyny has become so acceptable. Bush might just as easily have doubled down on his bad behavior, dismissed it as "locker room banter," and let it stand.)

My responses to that interview were varied. My initial thought was You're the father of three daughters--you needed a life coach to tell you that viewing women as sexual objects is a 'negative pattern'?

My next thought was that a man shouldn't need to be the father of daughters to know this is completely unacceptable behavior. Bush seems to make it clear that his daughters are the primary reason he feels contrite. But every man is connected to women in some way. That connection should be enough to make men pause before treating women like objects that exist for their pleasure.

In the end, though, I was willing to give him some credit for taking ownership of his behavior, seeing the need to change, and saying that there was no way to justify what he'd done. Whether that remorse is genuine or not, the fact that he wants to be publicly identified with a position other than boys will be boys is heartening.

Still, here's the part of the interview that I keep getting stuck on:

When a woman watches that tape — and this is what really hit me — they may be asking themselves, "Is that what happens when I walk out of a room? When I walk out of a meeting, is that what they're saying about me? Are they sizing me up?" I can’t live with that.

There are two things I find bothersome here: the word may, and the suggestion that women don't hear men saying things like this. That this behavior happens only behind closed doors--not right in front of women's faces in a meeting room. Or right behind them on a city street. Or right beside them on a commuter train.

I understand that, in the world Billy Bush inhabits, people probably don't behave this way in public. But reading this interview reminded me than men and women aren't just from different planets--they live on them.

Admittedly, we live in some weird parallel universe where the two overlap, so we can appear to interact with each other on a regular basis. But that doesn't mean we're living on the same planet. Not at all. Here on the Planet of Women, there is no may be--there is only of course.

Of course men are talking about you. Sometimes they're talking to you in exactly the same ways they talk to each other. They're telling you that you'd get a promotion sooner if you'd start wearing skirts and heels to work instead of pants. They're suggesting your career success depends on how "nice" you are to the people in positions of power. (In a roundabout way that allows for maximum deniability, of course.) Or they're following you down the street, telling you how good you look, demanding a smile in return for that "compliment."

When Billy Bush says I can't live with that--"that" being women's awareness of the fact that some men treat them like sexual objects--I really want to know what he means. Because he has been living with that, his whole life. Was he unaware of this until now? Even so, it's obvious he isn't dying from a lack of human decency.

(And honestly? If you can't live with this knowledge, Billy Bush, you wouldn't survive for five minutes on the Planet of Women.)

"If a moment like that arose again," Bush says now, "I would shut it down quickly." His belief that changing the subject will somehow make the world a safer place for women is paternalistic at best. (Though that shouldn't surprise anyone: the culture on the Planet of Men is built around the belief that every man is entitled to be in charge of something--a woman, a family, a business, a governing body, etc.)

At worst, it’s simply dismissive: shut it down and the problem is gone. People will learn not to talk like this around you, so you won't have to deal with it anymore. You can go back to pretending the problem doesn't exist.

But on the Planet of Women, we'll still be dealing with it. Here, it's a fact of life. That Billy Bush now refuses to listen to or participate in that kind of conversation changes little, if anything, for the women he loves, and nothing at all for those of us he's never heard of. We're still out here doing our best to prove we deserve a basic level of respect and dignity. On our planet, we know it's dangerous to assume those things are a given.

What did I want Billy Bush to say? Perhaps that it's not enough to react when such conversations arise--that he has to be proactive in making sure they don't occur in the first place. That's a much more difficult job, which is why so few people take it on. But if Billy Bush had told us how he's going to use his public visibility to push back against the rising tide of misogyny, I'd have more faith in his sincerity.

I really hope his contrition is genuine. But words without actions don't mean much on the Planet of Women--we're used to being told that everything's going to be taken care of. Nevertheless, we understand that we have to take care of each other.

A slightly different version of this post also appears on She Dwells in Possibility.