In May, sexual misconduct allegations were made against Dominican-writer Junot Díaz. It started with Zinzi Clemmons, author of What We Lose, who accused Díaz of cornering and kissing her back when she was a grad student. Within minutes several other female writers had taken to Twitter to share their own inappropriate and sexist experiences with Díaz. This stirred a lot of conversation around the importance of distinguishing machismo, misconduct, and sexual assault. It even lead to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University where Díaz teaches, to do an investigation into his behavior as both an author and professor. Apparently they have cleared him to return to classes this fall.
Days after the allegations were made, Díaz stepped down as Pulitzer chairman. He also withdrew from a writer’s festival in Australia. MIT investigated into his behavior further but claim that they found no information that would suggest he was behaving inappropriately with any of the University’s students. Apparently Melissa Nobles, dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, and Edward Schiappa, section head for Comparative Media Studies/Writing, were both involved in the investigation. The two of them not only had extensive conversations with Díaz and other professors but they also reached out and spoke to current students the writer had taught.
“To date, MIT has not found or received information that would lead us to take any action to restrict Professor Díaz in his role as an MIT facility member, and we expect him to teach next academic years, as scheduled,” said Kimberly Allen, director of media relations in an official statement.
While I’m not by any means excusing or defending Díaz’s actions, I do think it’s important that we make distinctions when it comes to these things. Díaz was accused of forcibly kissing a writer and a number of other writers accused him of verbally attacking them in very machista ways. All of that is incredibly problematic and behaviors that Díaz needs to address and change. It’s unacceptable. With that said, nothing Díaz has been accused of has been criminal and while some may not think that’s a big deal, I’m here to tell you that it absolutely is.
Díaz is a product of toxic masculinity and machismo, as well as a victim of sexual assault and rape himself. He shared his traumatic experience being raped at 8-years-old by a trusted male relative and how that distorted his views of sex and intimacy. Again, I’m not excusing it. But we can not compare a machista man who verbally attacked numerous women and forcibly kissed another, with serial rapists like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. Not only is it not fair—but it makes absolutely no sense.
Are all these acts connected to a patriarchy problem? Yes. Do they all welcome misogyny along with hurt and pain? Absolutely. But If we want men to not only transform but work as our allies in this fight against the patriarch system, we need to give them room to do so and part of that is making distinctions. It’s making it clear that we aren’t going to lump every problematic act together because they are not all the same.