Two months after Dave Meinert, a longtime Seattle nightlife entrepreneur, was accused by 11 women of sexual assault, columnist Nicole Brodeur wonders what has changed and where the #MeToo movement goes from here.
The omelet or the scramble? I wasn’t sure, so I put my hand on what I thought was my server’s arm to indicate that I needed a second.
“You’re touching my ass,” she said. I yanked my hand back, as if I had touched a hot stove, and turned crimson.
It didn’t matter that I didn’t mean to do it, that I hadn’t been looking, or that I am a woman, and old enough to be her mother.
I had crossed a boundary. The server didn’t like it, and she said something. It was a welcome sign that the message of the #MeToo movement had taken hold, and emboldened women to speak up about the slightest offense, intentional or not.
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Still, my eyes filled with tears. I was glad the server spoke up, but I also felt misunderstood, lumped in with Harvey Weinstein and our local ilk, Dave Meinert, the longtime Seattle nightlife entrepreneur who this summer was accused by 11 women of sexual assault, two of them involving rape. (Meinert has denied the allegations.)
Meinert said his acts, too, had been unintentional. (“I have been pushy and continued to make advances when I should have understood they were not welcome,” was how he put it on his now-deleted Facebook page.)
Confronting sexual harassment and abuseThe #MeToo movement has sparked a national conversation about sexual harassment and assault. From actors in Hollywood to security guards at the Seattle Public Library, more people are coming forward with painful and intimate stories of abuse, casting new light on behavior that for too long has been dealt with in whispers, secret settlements or not at all. So where do we go from here? The Seattle Times' occasional series explores that and other questions as we move forward in this changed landscape.
But how could such egregious behavior — the kind he has been accused of — be seen as anything but single-minded? Ignoring the word “No”; forcing women’s heads into your lap; reaching under their skirts and putting his finger inside them while standing at a bar.
Two months later, women are calling out the slightest boundary breach. But I am still waiting for men to say much about the accusations. Are they outraged? Do they believe the women? Has it caused them to reflect on their own actions?
Some of the first men to respond to Sydney Brownstone’s KUOW story on Meinert did so with words of support on his Facebook page. You were misunderstood, they said. You’re a good man. Even Meinert played it all down: “I don’t claim to be perfect and certainly have many faults,” he wrote on Facebook. “That’s not a secret. Age and fatherhood and the #MeToo movement have given me a different perspective on my past actions.” (David Schmader, an editor at Leafly and former writer at The Stranger, blessedly told Meinert to shut up and reflect.)
Meinert has plenty of time for that; he’s essentially become a pariah in the city where he once held social, business and political sway. I’ve heard men talk about that part. “How about Meinert?” I’ve been asked, time and again — often right after “Hello.” That brand of talk continues as I write this, just with different names: How about Les Moonves?
But I don’t hear much from men beyond the gossip stage. And it is a deafening silence.
Kerri Harrop, a longtime fixture in Seattle’s music and political scene, called them out: “Much respect to the women that have come forward,” she wrote on Facebook. “It is time to speak up, and I encourage those of you with something to say to do the same. ESPECIALLY YOU DUDES.”
Cary Kemp, the owner of West Seattle’s Pizzeria 22 and who has worked in the restaurant and music businesses, was one of the first men I knew to make a statement against Meinert. It came in the form of a T-shirt on which he wrote with a black Sharpie, “Meinert Threat.”
A friend suggested Kemp print up a bunch of shirts and sell them, then donate the proceeds to the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. They’re now available on Etsy.com.
“One of the reasons I wear the shirt is to show a new awareness,” Kemp said. “I can only speak for myself. I think awareness is huge. I’m here, and I’m seeing what’s going on. I’m aware of it. ”
On the day the Meinert story broke, Steve Manning posted one sentence on Facebook: “I believe the women.”
That didn’t happen right away, though. Manning, a marketing consultant who has known and worked with Meinert for years, was initially concerned about his friend’s welfare. Then he started thinking about the details of the accusations. The women — some of them friends — who had been impacted. The months and years they had carried around what had happened.
“It took me an hour to come to the conclusion, ‘Who cares what he thinks?'” Manning said of Meinert. “If it was any other dude, I would have been like, ‘[expletive] this guy.'”
Take heart, Manning told me. While men aren’t making a lot of public statements about it all, they are talking among themselves about “what’s different and changing.”
“What dudes said among dudes in the past, they’re not saying it anymore,” Manning assured me. “I honestly have not seen bad behavior, but if someone said, ‘She’s got a nice ass,’ I would never accept that. I’d be like, ‘Come on, man.'”
For his part, Manning no longer greets female friends with a kiss on the cheek: “I have to be more aware of the message I’m putting out. Even though I’m aboveboard and innocent about it, that doesn’t mean the other person feels the same way.”
Manning has a minor in women’s studies. His wife, Kerry Murphy, is involved in political and feminist causes. But you don’t need that background to know to treat women with respect, he said: “Do you believe in equality? Yes? Then you’re a feminist. It’s not that hard.”
Kemp wonders where we go from here. Victims may be a little less burdened, but you wonder if the abusers understand the damage they’ve done.
“Have these people changed?” Kemp asked. “For a man to do something like that, there is something fundamentally wrong with him.
“You can make a T-shirt, but what do we do about these people?” he continued. “If you kick a man out, you’re just pushing him down the road. Maybe you go to a program and get a certificate: ‘I was an [expletive] and now I’m trying to be a better human being.'”
As for the men who crossed a boundary they didn’t realize was there, well, they’re learning.
“Women are my favorite people in life,” Kemp said. “When I go out, I’m not like, ‘Hey! I’m aware of sexual abuse!’ It’s not something you can blurt out. But we’re talking about it now, and we’re being more accountable.”
And we can start — all of us — by keeping our hands to ourselves.