Rachel Kranz on Sexual Harassment in a World of Imperfect Information
“Okay, here’s the deal. I’ve known Nolan Dalla for many years, and he’s always been amazing to me – supportive, helpful, respectful. In a world that is often hostile to women players – especially older women who aren’t conventionally hot – that’s been a gift I valued beyond measure.
So when I first read the accusations of Dr. Jaclynn Moskow, I didn’t believe them. More importantly, I didn’t want to believe them. I didn’t want to believe that the good, kind, respectful man I had known was capable of such bad behavior.
As more facts have emerged – particularly the texts apologizing to Dr. Moskow for the “unacceptable” events that seem to have happened at the bar – I’ve had to accept that something happened that shouldn’t have happened, that Nolan did something I would consider wrong.
I’ve also had to come to terms with how deeply I don’t want that to be true – and how my way of making it not true was to do all the things I’ve spent my adult life criticizing in others. Refusing to believe the woman’s story. Finding reasons to dismiss her as a liar, a manipulator, a user. Criticizing her use of her sexuality – that picture of her with the cleavage. Wondering why she’d use her mistreatment as a bargaining chip to better her position in the poker world. Looking for any reason I could find to not have to believe her story.
But now I do believe her – at least enough to know that Nolan did something wrong enough to merit Chris Capra’s texts.
Nolan himself has said that he’s innocent. He’s chosen to call his accuser “batshit crazy” and insist that she was lying. And oh, how much I wanted to agree!
Forget that I’ve been harassed myself at the table, multiple times, as have virtually all the women I know who play poker. Sometimes it’s sexual, sometimes it’s just gender-based hostility. Once a man – who has leapt to Nolan’s defense (not Nolan’s fault, just saying) – posted a picture of me on his blog, along with an unflattering sexist and anti-Semitic description of my behavior, my poor play, my ugly hair, my disgusting skin. Once a group of men shouted at me for two straight hours on Day 2 of a $10,000 buy-in tournament, while the floor – many of whom I’d known for several years – refused to act (I wrote about that one in Poker Player magazine). More often, it’s the little things – the infamous microaggression: the eyerolls, the under-the-breath remarks, the stares, the needles. Once, when I called the floor to insist that another player move his big chips forward so I could see his stack, three or four men leapt to the player’s defense – “We’ll tell you what his stack is – leave him alone!” And when the floor insisted on the player following the rules, the guys all groaned. One even said to the offending player, “Well, now you know what it’s like being married.”
Forget, too, that I’ve worn outfits both socially and at the table that are similar to the one for which I initially dismissed Dr. Moskow. Forget that I believe in women being sexual and sexy and playful; and that I think charm and sexuality can be part of a poker arsenal for both men and women, as much as rudeness and insults and other behavior intended to tilt your opponent. Forget that I’ve spent my entire adult life saying that a woman’s sexual behavior isn’t a reason for her to be harassed or assaulted.
Here’s another thing I tried to make myself forget: when I’ve been harassed – when most women I know have been – we don’t always handle it well. We try to pretend it didn’t happen. We double our efforts to be nice to the harasser. We blame ourselves. We don’t fight back. I don’t like that this is true – but it is true. Yet in order to take Nolan’s side, I had to forget that I know this, had to join with the conventional view that a harasser always behaves with perfect clarity and conviction, that she never acts against her own best interests out of fear, anxiety, confusion, or the simple wish to believe that things really aren’t so bad.
Nope. All that political and personal experience was going out the window. Because that was the only way I could defend someone who had been kind and supportive to me when I needed it most.
Now, some of you are probably saying – some of you certainly have written – “We don’t know all the facts.” “Innocent until proven guilty.” “A false accusation can destroy a reputation, so we have to remain silent.”
I get it. If I were in a court of law, I’d have to keep an open mind until all the testimony was in. And I get it about false accusations. I’ve seen them made, including by women who were indeed exercising inordinate power over men’s lives.
But here’s the thing: silence isn’t neutral. It never is. It’s always on the side of power. And in this case, power is with the male poker world that feels entitled to treat women as sexual objects, as objects of contempt, as objects of many kinds. Silence says, “The way things are is okay with us. Until we absolutely are forced to act, we will let things remain the same.”
So as a supporter of women’s rights, I can’t stay silent until some mythical time when “all the facts are in” because it’s not clear that we’ll ever know more than we know now. Nolan has spoken his piece. Dr. Moskow has spoken hers. We’ve got the texts and the emails. We’re unlikely to get much more.
In most cases of sexual harassment, that’s all we ever have. We have a woman with a story – and a man with a counter-story. If we remain silent, leaving the woman to tell her story with no support, things remain as they are. Very few women will be heard and supported. Very few men will believe they need to change.
Hey, we’re poker players. We spend our lives acting on incomplete information. We understand, more than anyone, that if you wait until you’re absolutely certain, till you have every single piece of pertinent information, you won’t be able to take effective action. We love the game precisely because it teaches us how to handle so many life situations in which we don’t have complete information – but have to act anyway.
Of course, in a court of law, it’s a crime to find someone guilty without sufficient evidence to overcome “a reasonable doubt.” I’ll speak out against that, whoever is making the accusation, whatever the crime. I’m of the camp that says “1000 guilty should go free rather than 1 innocent be jailed.”
But in the court of public opinion and social pressure, we can’t raise the bar that high. We have to let women tell their story, and we have to go with incomplete information, just as we do at the table. In matters of harassment and assault, there will rarely be sufficient evidence – the hands will rarely be played face up. So we’ve got to go with compelling evidence. For me (and for the many others who have spoken out without knowing Dr. Moskow personally and without having been there), those texts are that evidence.
Do I know everything that happened? No.
Do I think Dr. Moskow is the perfect accuser, the poster child for sexual harassment? No opinion – because she doesn’t have to be in order to have the right to not be harassed. Most of us aren’t perfect. If we only listen to “perfect victims,” we’ll be getting harassed till the end of time.
Suppose the worst accusations against Dr. Moskow are true: that she wanted to bargain her harassment into a professional opportunity; that she tried to get paid off for what happened to her. Guess what – it doesn’t matter. Either Nolan harassed her, or he didn’t. If he did, her response to it can be the worst of the worst. It’s still bad for every woman out there to have an environment where that kind of behavior can happen. A bad response to harassment doesn’t mean the harassment didn’t happen. And I find the texts persuasive evidence that it did.
Dr. Moskow said she spoke out when she realized that she was avoiding a casino where Poker Night in America was filming. That’s just one small way in which harassment limits our freedom of action – our freedom to play the game with as much focus on the game as men, instead of splitting our focus between the cards and the social scene. I’ve felt it. Just about every woman I know has felt it. It’s so pervasive as to be almost invisible. But it’s real, and it hurts us, and whether you’re a man or a woman, it hurts you too, because it diminishes all of us to have two classes of citizens with unequal rights.
Nolan, if I’m wrong, I look forward to apologizing profusely. And if you are wrong, I look forward to your coming forward with all the courage and heart and righteousness that I have always known in you, because I honestly think that would move our world forward in an extraordinary way.
Meanwhile, in this game of imperfect information, I stand with Dr. Moskow and with those who have come forward in her support. This is how the world changes – lots of tiny steps and then one big leap. I just wish it didn’t hurt so much in the process.
In my piece, I describe a journey. I realize that I didn’t make that journey alone – that I never would have made it alone. The men and women in the poker community who spoke out for Dr. Moskow helped me to see how hard I was working to condemn her*. The friends whom I approached about the issue, or who approached me, were also invaluable in helping me to understand what I now believe is the truth, both about what happened and about my own problematic reactions to it. And the friends who reviewed this piece before it went public helped give me the courage to speak out. We need each other to recognize our mistakes and correct them. So this is also how the world changes – when we all help each other move forward.”
Rachel Kranz is poker player, novelist, playwright and journalist. In 2000 she published her first novel, Leaps of Faith, and a second novel is underway in what is going to be a trilogy. In 2015 she finished in 10th place of the GPI Player of the Year Ladies’ rankings after several deep tournament runs, incl. winning event #16 at WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown. If you want to learn more about Rachel Kranz, check out our two-part interview:
Rachel Kranz: The Adventurous Poker Player Part I and Part II.
* Editors note: Chris Moneymaker, Liv Boeree, Vanessa Selbst, Justin Bonomo, Melissa Burr and Andy Bloch are just some of the other poker players, who have spoken out on behalf of Dr. Jaclynn Moskow.
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