In the midst of the #MeToo movement (which Trump bizarrely dubbed “a very special time” for women), we are seeing two types of men emerge: “guilty,” or “innocent.” (The quotations are there because I have a tiny amount of skepticism with a few people on each side, as much as I hate to admit that). I can’t wrap my head around why the movement finally sprouted wings when Hollywood superstar Alyssa Milano took it to Twitter. Though most people had no idea, #MeToo was originally started over ten years ago by black social activist, Tarana Burke. Regardless, it is now like nothing our generation has ever seen before. Milano had merely hoped to give a sense of the magnitude of the problem, if only every woman who’d ever been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote #MeToo as their status. Burke wanted something more than a viral trend, but was happy to see the cause finally getting the attention it deserved.
Seemingly overnight, allegations came pouring in, catching men completely off-guard, un-lawyered, and unprepared to make statements. There were missteps. There were failed attempts as men stumbled over their words, trying to say the right thing. There were terribly misguided efforts to rationalize the behavior, or to tie it to something completely unrelated, like the revealing of one actor’s (previously presumed closeted) sexual orientation. Without warning, without representation, without any hearing or trial, many men were found guilty and sentenced. In one fell swoop, some of them famously lost their careers and decades of everything they’d ever worked for. No one saw it coming this swiftly. The movement quickly found men waiting for the other shoe to drop, and then, expressing polar opposite reactions. Actors, producers, comedians, politicians, and ordinary people alike began statements. The contrast was stark.
One one hand, there were accused men trying to do the right thing, whether that was to make amends & publicly apologize, or just simply stay humble and silent. I guess they were giving their alleged victims the space to plead their cases and call out unacceptable behavior. These men appeared to accept the consequences, even if their recollection of the allegation was different than what was reported. Some of the men took blame, fell on their swords, and went quietly into the night without a fight, even if the allegations had any chance of being (dare I say it…?) false.
Can we really blame these men? Because sexual misconduct has been allowed to thrive in our country for so long, I’d say it’s completely fair for men to quietly step aside if accused. The odds of innocence are not in their favor. Every woman has, at some point, been sexually harassed. At the very least. Even if she didn’t know that’s what was happening. Every girl in school has had a bra strap snapped, an unwanted butt slap, or boob grab. Every woman who has been out-and-about in public, anywhere, has been prey to at least one cat call, one once-over from head to toe and back up again, or one unwelcome flirtation from a guy who thinks “no” means she’s playing hard-to-get. Many of us grew up believing such uncontrollable, testosterone-fueled behavior was just boys being boys, and sometimes we believed we should be flattered because, “that means he likes you.”
And they got away with it. All these decades, they got away with it. Not because girls and women had failed to call out the behavior, but because Americans, collectively, hadn’t had quite enough of it yet. Men were simply rolling along, doing what they’d been allowed – or even coached or peer-pressured – to do, for centuries. Corporate America has been defining and implementing sexual harassment policies for decades now, but have they really been followed? And what constitutes the kind of sexual harassment or assault that leads a man to be stricken guilty without a trial? This is where I get stuck.
Using your power/age/status to lure a minor somewhere for attempted seduction or sexual assault? Absolutely unacceptable. Using that same power/age/status to lure anyone towards sexual assault? Absolutely unacceptable. Using drugs or alcohol, on a person of any age, for the same purpose? Absolutely unacceptable. Sexual harassment or assault on anyone, in any and all possible situations? Absolutely unacceptable. We’ve determined that right now if someone reports it, then it happened; no burden of proof necessary. The perpetrator of the alleged claim has no rights and can be held accountable for anything they say or do in response. But just a little over a year ago, this wasn’t the case. If it was even a blip on the radar, then Trump wouldn’t have gained traction after the release of the Access Hollywood tapes. Right now it doesn’t seem to be the case in the state of Alabama, either, but time will tell.
What do we do with the men who love to regale their comrades with stories of all the women they’ve conquered? Is that okay just because we’ve historically excused and labeled it locker room talk? What do we do with men who brag about it – even on record, before thousands of listeners? As far as I know, of all the men who’ve been accused of sexual misconduct, there’s only one perpetrator who has plead guilty on tape. Listen to Donald J. Trump here on the infamous Access Hollywood tape (in its entirety). Listen to Trump’s lewd remarks on air with Howard Stern, even take your pick of year:1993, 1997, 2004, and this 2004 clip, 2005, or this compilation of several years of Trump on Howard Stern. Here’s a man who is admitting his guilt. Do we take that at face value, or do we assume he’s exaggerating, bragging about what he only wished had happened?
Until about October of 2017, Americans hadn’t had quite enough of it. Yet. What was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back?
For most of us, it’s absolutely sickening that it took the election of a serial sexual predator to the highest elected office of our country, and nearly a year of the Predator-in-Chief’s antics to wake up an army of weaponized but complacent women – many of whom voted for him themselves. And some of those women voted for Trump not because of the sexual misconduct of Hillary Clinton, but of her husband when he was in office during the ’90s. Forget the fact that Hillary had no such allegations against her… that she had the gall to not divorce her husband when he was unfaithful? That was inexcusable for many women.
The irony is not lost on wise women everywhere that the same people who were so eager to punish Hillary for her husband’s philandering behavior (for which he was already impeached) were so eager to put a man in charge who had at least thirteen known, corroborated and credible allegations of sexual assault. And that number does not count the many times he self-admittedly peeped at underage teens in beauty pageants who were naked in their dressing rooms, because that didn’t involve touching.
It’s entirely appropriate for men to fall on their swords and not argue or undermine alleged victims. Because THEY might not even have been aware of exactly how wrong their actions were. I’d say this is at the very least, an attempt to do what is morally right. Sen. Al Franken, in light of Leanne Tweeden’s allegations, apologized and invited an investigation into the alleged sexual misconduct.
On the other hand, there are men who are denying the allegations and attacking the women, or accusing them (i.e., victim blaming). The most recent example right now is Roy Moore, who’s running for U.S. Senate. Moore has at least nine women who’ve alleged he sexually assaulted them, many of whom were under age. Moore continues to deny the allegations, attack the women accusers, and has repeatedly declared the allegations to be “fake news.” In response, the President resorted to name calling and attacking Sen. Franken on Twitter, and Kellyanne Conway, speaking for the White House, endorsed candidate Roy Moore.
Indeed, we should take women at their word because sexual harassment has obviously been nourished, groomed, and accepted forever, and it’s about damn time for it to stop.
But, how is it that the men who are attempting to do the right thing in response to these allegations are being held accountable and penalized by getting fired, losing contracts, losing their careers, losing everything, while people like Roy Moore (and Donald J. Trump, the predator-in-chief) get off the hook for simply denying the allegations? Either we take women at their word always, or never at all. No man should get a free pass just because he yells “fake news.” Nor should any man go straight to jail (so to speak) for trying to do the right thing, whatever that could possibly be in this situation. (We are kind of in uncharted waters here, since women have never before been taken at their word.)
It will be interesting to see how the senate election goes in Alabama. Maybe then we’ll see more of the true heart of America. For now, I will never understand how we are living in a world where men like Al Franken, who are up front apologizing whether the claims are true or false, are still punished, but people like Roy Moore and Donald Trump are off-the-hook simply because they say the allegations are “fake news.”
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