The news that another powerful man has a history of sexually harassing women, sexually assaulting women, or both, for years and even decades keeps coming down the pipeline. We can’t take back the hurt those women have been subjected to, but we need to meaningfully address this scourge of sexual harassment and assault against women by men who wield their power over them.
The men named in the title of this post all offered hush money to the women they sexually harassed and/or sexually assaulted. Some of the women took the money and stayed quiet. The New York Times reports that Ailes and O’Reilly paid their victims millions of dollars to keep the women’s stories quiet, while Weinstein and Cosby got off by paying between $80,000 to $150,000. Eighty thousand dollars is a lot to most women. Millions of dollars is a lot to all women.
Lauren Crosby, one of the victims who accepted Weinstein’s payoff, is now publicly speaking up. I don’t know what prompted her to do so, but it took great courage and it finally exposed Weinstein for the animal he is.
Speaking up is the answer. We must not be silent. We must use our voices to out the offenders and make them accountable for their malefactions. We must listen to victims who speak up, and we must believe them. We must act on our moral convictions and our responsibilities as members of a society that is supposed to be civilized.
I’m not making judgments against the women who haven’t spoken out, whether they’ve taken money for keeping their silence or not. There are multitudes of reasons women don’t tell, and most of the reasons have to do with self-preservation. Women who have been victimized experienced great trauma from the assaults. I acknowledge that asking them to speak up is asking a lot.
This issue isn’t specific to the movie industry; it’s an issue of a man wielding power against women. I know women who have been sexually harassed and assaulted at work, and I’m not aware of one of them who spoke out publicly about it. I sympathize with them.
This is absolutely not a judgment of women who have stayed quiet; it’s an exhortation to women to speak up and tell the world what the bastards have done to them. The more women who speak up, the easier it is for others to follow. Since Lauren Crosby spoke out, numerous others have followed her lead, including Ashley Judd. (And as you’ve heard by now, Meryl Streep and Judy Dench have spoken out against Weinstein.) Best of all? Weinstein was fired from his own company.
Not only is this an exhortation for victims to be brave and speak, it’s a call to action to those witnesses who are complicit because they stand by doing nothing, saying nothing.
I recognize that acting on our convictions is difficult. People in Hollywood admit that Weinstein’s behavior was an open secret; everyone who knew what was going on is the hook, in my opinion. They contributed to the culture that permits violence against women. Even the ones who knew and thought the behavior unacceptable are on the hook, because they said nothing. They unwillingly enabled the offenders because they did not have the conviction and courage to step up and say “What this man is doing is wrong.” Like the victims, I’m sure they acted out of self-preservation—to keep their careers, among other reasons. But they are still enablers.
Doing the right thing is often harder than doing the wrong thing. But if we don’t do the right thing, we’re continuing to foster a culture that objectifies, sexualizes, demeans, and diminishes women, a culture that accepts their victimhood along with the sins of the men who victimize.
What I’m saying isn’t new. I know that. But we need to hear this again and again. We need to think about what we are doing or not doing. The conviction and courage to act, I hope, will eventually take hold of all of us who watch from the sidelines, and we won’t go forth with our lives as though nothing happened. And may there be significant consequences for those who are outed, like the ones that have been visited upon Weinstein.
When we fail to step up, we’re saying “It’s not my problem; it’s hers.” And hers. And hers. And hers. But it is our problem. It’s everyone’s problem.
I have to admit here that I’m guilty of accepting men who have attacked and victimized women. I’ve continued to watch Woody Allen’s movies. I’ve continued to watch movies Josh Brolin and Sean Connery are in. I still listen to the Beatles despite John Lennon’s admission that when he was younger, he was physically cruel to the woman he was with and any woman, in fact, and that he hit the women he was with. And then there’s David Bowie, who allegedly had sex with young teen girls, even threesomes with them, according to one of the women.
I like Woody Allen’s movies. I like Brolin and Connery as actors. I love the Beatles. David Bowie couldn’t be ignored, though he wasn’t a favorite of mine. I’m part of the problem by continuing to support these men. I believe what they did is wrong. Even so, I haven’t changed my behavior accordingly. So I’m a hypocrite. I’m working on that.
It was easy for me to stop supporting Cosby, however. I’d watched The Cosby Show from the time I was a teen through the time I was raising my children, and I looked up to him. He was one of my greatest parenting role models. It’s easy for me to dismiss him and hold his sins against me, because while he was making a huge personal impact on me, he was a devil behind his mask. Bill Cosby betrayed me, and I’m hurt and angry. Maybe that’s what makes it easy for me to say he is despicable and act accordingly.
Maybe that’s what it takes for all of us—for the offense to hit home with us. I’d like to believe we’re stronger and braver than that. I think we owe strangers a moral duty to look out for them, to say something when we see something, like the catch-phrase in our defense against terrorism.
Sexual predators are terrorists in their own way. These men are quiet predators, hurting women and keeping them in fear, keeping their victims quiet, too, if they can. And they will hold the threat of wielding their power over those who would dare think to speak out against them. Allowing this scourge of abuse to continue to flourish in our society is unconscionable.
So if you see something, say something. It will be a monumental step in stopping sexual predators like Weinstein, Cosby, Ailes, O’Reilly, and others like them.