Asking for Too Little: Taylor Swift’s All Too Well Better Wake Us All Up to Normalized, Sexist Abuse of Power
I was there
I remember it
all too well.
Taylor Swift’s restored lyrics to her song and short film All Too Well, re-released last week in its form as “Taylor’s version,” resonate differently with this rabbi.
I’ve spent the week alternating between listening to Swift’s full album, Red, on repeat, and holding space for my friends’, colleagues’, and mentors’ responses to a recent report by the law firm Morgan Lewis detailing decades of sexual abuse, harassment, and sexist campus culture at the Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion, the institute of higher education that, among conferring other degrees, ordains rabbis and cantors in the Reform Jewish Tradition.
No one could read the report and deny that much of the behavior it describes regarding six named men, most of them ordained rabbis, with positions of power in the institution are clearly sexual abuse. (In alphabetical order) Dr. Steven Cohen, Rabbi Dr. Michael Cook, Rabbi Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, Rabbi Dr. Stephen Passamaneck, Bonia Shur, and Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman each crossed sexual boundaries in baldly abusive ways, from ongoing, pestering, pointed sexualization of women in the classroom to the propositioning of students for sexual behaviors to unwanted sexual touch (we call that “sexual assault” or “rape”). These stories are deeply traumatizing, as were the acts they record. What happened to my colleagues and teachers is undeniably morally, ethically wrong. We can , I hope, agree on that. I don’t think it’s asking too much.
What I find particularly powerful about this report, however, resonates with what I find particularly powerful about Taylor Swift’s re-release of her own work, largely (and, it seems, credibly) speculated to be her own truth-telling in response to a deeply power-imbalanced relationship between the singer, then twenty years old, and actor Jake Gyllenhall, then aged thirty-two.
What resonates: Women, folks assigned female at birth, and queer folks have always rememberd “all too well” the insidious, normalized forms of abuse of power perpetrated against us by cis…