Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Why So Long?

Finally, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s article in the The NY Times, brought the sexual assault that women have been experiencing for years to the forefront. Their article chronicling Harvey Weinstein’s decades long sexual harassment of women started a maelstrom of me toos—first against Harvey, then spreading to others in the entertainment industry, finally moving like a rapidly spreading flame to other segments of our society. The numbers were astounding—and I’m sure this is only the tip of the iceberg. I was stunned by some who were accused, paramount among those was Charlie Rose. I had perceived him as someone who was too comfortable in his own skin to need to prey on women. Likewise Russell Simmons even though the hip-hop community is known for being an exceedingly misogynistic environment. I thought these two men were above that. In both instances I was wrong.

Many in the movie industry claimed they didn’t know about Harvey’s behavior but there were too many “me toos” for me to believe that. Like Bill Cosby, I’d heard rumors about him since the 70s, Harvey in all likelihood was another well-known secrets. Respected screenwriter Scott Rosenberg cosigned on what I thought. Everybody fucking knew, he wrote in a near novella-length Facebook response to those shrinking away from responsibility in enabling Weinstein's behavior. As a society, we have looked the other way. We’ve maintained a boys will be boys mentality. As a teen, a woman that I both loved and respected was bragging to my mom about her son’s sexual exploits. Her Casanova son had humiliated girls that I knew and caused them heartache. I never looked at her the same way after that day. She lost my respect.

I am elated that women are finally speaking up but I wondered why had it taken so long for them to speak out. I voiced this at a gathering of several women and one said, Cynthia if you spoke out your career was ruined. She didn’t think I knew this? I spoke out about a director who had been sexually aggressive with me at an audition and never worked for him. But I was willing to pay that price. The next time I voiced this opinion I got a feminist lecture on the history of the female domination by men. So I decided to keep this opinion to myself. But I couldn’t. The numbers of women speaking out about their sexual harassment has been astronomical.

An ABC Pool published on October 17th found that more than half of all American women—54%—have experienced unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances at some point in their lives. Thirty percent of women have endured such behavior from male colleagues and 25% identified men with sway over their careers as the culprits. Why didn’t women speak out sooner? Newscasters said that before the environment was not safe for women to speak out. Why did it need to be safe?

I grew up during the Civil Rights movement. Nothing about that was safe. Then the danger wasn’t about jobs and careers, it was about lives. And many people put their lives on the line. To gain you have to be willing to risk. Anita Hill is a few years younger than me but she also grew up during the Civil Rights movement. Did watching people risk their lives for Black equality give her the courage to testify against Clarence Thomas twenty-six years ago. Four other women were supposed to testify after Hill but, according to the Los Angeles Times, a deal between Republicans and the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, Democrat Joe Biden (who I generally think of as a good guy) stopped their testimony. But what stopped other women from speaking out then? All were silent as they watched the press destroy Anita Hill. Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against Present Clinton eight years later did not start an eruption of me toos. Scores of women shared their Cosby sexual harassment stories but it did not progress beyond him.

I’m glad the women now feel that the environment is safe enough for them to share their stories. In this new safe environment, scores of men have lost their jobs because of their sexual harassment of women, and in the case of Kevin Spacey men. But it pisses me off that they waited until they felt safe. This went on for longer than it had to because of their silence.

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