It is impossible these days to turn on the news and not hear about another sexual abuse allegation.
It seems a waterfall is taking over and powerful men are being swept away. Harvey Weinstein, Russell Simmons, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, Nick Carter, John Lasseter, Glenn Thrush, John Conyers, Gary Goddard, Eddie Berganza, Andrew Kreisberg, Louis C.K., Roy Moore, Matthew Weiner, Jeffery Tambor, Ed Westwick, David Guillod, Dustin Hoffman, Jeff Hoover, Brett Ratner, Andy Dick, Michael Oreskes, Hamiston Fish, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Spacey, Ken Baker, Mark Halperin, Knight Landesman, Leon Wieseltier, Terry Richardson, James Toback, John Besh, Lockhart Steele, Chris Savino, Roy Price, Ben Affleck. Even as I type this list I know it is neither exhaustive nor finished.
We, as a society, are at an important turning point. How we handle this crisis will mark the progress and direction of the women’s movement forever. So, we need to ask the right questions, decipher the plethora of information being spewed forward, we need to hear the narrative and it needs to be the truth. There are so many organizations and movements popping up online that it can be overwhelming. From the #MeToo movement to Project Callisto, the internet is playing an important role as a tool to bring us together to teach and support one another.
But in this day and age of “fake news” and “spin doctors,” it’s difficult to know what is real and what is intended to throw us off the truth track. We cannot afford to be thrown. We need to look inward and examine our own responses. We need to use our brains and think for ourselves and hear what these women have to teach us. We need to lead.
A recent CNN article mentioned that for every man who is accused of sexual misconduct there is a strong woman who feels badly for him as his actions are brought to light. The article said these women enable those men. I disagree. We have every right to feel badly, but I don’t think we are feeling badly for the men; I believe we are feeling badly because our trust has been broken by someone we thought was a good person, a friend, a work colleague. Someone we respected did something so wrong, and we mourn the passing of that relationship.
I also read the opinion that a man’s reaction to this crisis will tell you a lot about that man. I had to think about that one for a bit. I’ve seen various reactions. I’ve seen fear when a man I know well said to me, “Now everyone has to be careful about what he says or he’ll be accused.” I’ve heard anger in the words, “It’s about time these power-hungry men were brought down a peg or two.” Or disbelief in the utterance, “These women, why didn’t the come forward sooner? Now everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon.” (I think that one hints at a bit of fear as well.)
These reactions are important. Let’s take them one at a time. To the man who is afraid he’s going to be accused of something, I say, “Have you ever pushed a woman to do something she didn’t want to? Even after she told you no? Have you ever forced yourself on a woman after she said no? Have you ever tried your hardest to convince a woman to do something she wasn’t sure she wanted to?” “Have you ever turned away when you saw these things happening when you could have helped. If the answer is “Yes” to any of these questions, then you should be afraid. If the answer is “No,” then you have nothing to worry about. It’s a basic human premise, really, to simply treat those around you with respect and afford them the dignity you expect for yourself, your wife, your mother, your sister, your daughter, your son.
We cannot doubt these women. And I fervently hope that no woman comes forward in this wake of these accusations and falsely accuses anyone. We need to be able to believe these women and one false accusation with the intent to gain notoriety, money, whatever, will severely hurt any chances we have of learning from this. These women who are coming forward are brave. They deserve the honor of being Time magazine’s Person of the Year, and I highly doubt any of them are doing it in order to gain something other than respect, a sense of closure for themselves, and a better society for those who come after. It is their right to speak and be heard. It IS time for these men and society as a whole to hear them. To hear the word No and understand that they are not above the law. These men have no right, NO RIGHT to take away anyone’s dignity. And, just because I have been referring to the female silence breakers, I don’t for one minute assume that there are not men who have been similarly subjected to unwanted sexual advances (or worse). We hear you. We are here for you. We understand.
But all this begs the question. How, exactly, do we meaningfully respond to this crisis? While it is utterly important that these specific cases are dealt with, it’s even more important that we look to the future to prevent similar occurrences from ever happening again, we need to affect real social change. There are a few ideas on how that can be done.
In a CNN article, Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Association of Women, said that she’s tired of talking about women.
“We must focus on the men,” she said. “We must be demanding that the men step forward and take responsibility, whether they think they are the good guy or not. They are not the good guy if they are not speaking out against this, if they are allowing the bullying to continue.”
Actress and activist Alyssa Milano and Tarana Burke, creator of the #MeToo movement also believe that men need to absolutely be a part of the solution, as they explained in an interview on Today with hosts Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie, but they also want women to stand for each other as this movement unfolds. Milano says that pitting women against one another is a strategy to keep us down and quiet, and it needs to stop.
There are calls for companies to hire more women, for more women to run for office, for legislators to write fairer laws. The time is now for your voice to be heard. Stay informed, get to know and be in contact with your local and state representatives. Encourage your children to talk about this and what it means. They are the future. We will be writing furiously over the next few weeks to stay on top of the news and get you the information you need to stay informed and involved.
As Burke says, this is not a moment, it’s a movement and movements take time. She started her hashtag campaign in 2006 and never dreamed it would take off as it has. If one woman can affect such a change, what can we all do as a whole? This is it. The time is now. We must persist.