You need a scorecard to keep up with the sexual harassers these days. Used to be there was an occasional murmur about bad behavior by a celebrity or a political hot shot, but in recent weeks the murmurs have become a roar.
This surge of outings is a curious phenomenon, and I’m not sure where it’s going or why it’s happening now. An obvious factor is the example of our president, who was heard on tape bragging about grabbing women’s private parts. And we have a first lady who brushed off her husband’s bad behavior as “locker room” stuff. People noticed.
A year later, we had the Harvey Weinstein revelations. Dozens of women have come forward accusing Weinstein, a Hollywood producer, of sexual crimes and misdemeanors.
It’s almost as if decades of sexual harassment reached a critical mass and then all hell broke loose. With Twitter’s #MeToo, women found a voice. And men started confessing or denying or signing up for therapy.
At the same time, Fox News was busy rehiring Bill O’Reilly, despite the fact that he had paid millions to settle claims of sexual harassment over the years.
Among the men who have been accused most recently are veteran news analyst Mark Halperin; Michael Oreskes, chief executive of NPR; and Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber. Presumably these men aren’t idiots, yet they felt entitled to push themselves on women.
A doctor who worked with the U.S. women’s gymnastics team is serving time for trafficking in child pornography, as athlete after athlete comes forward to accuse him of sexual abuse when they were on the team.
Minnesota State Sen. Dan Schoen and State Rep. Tony Cornish have both been accused of sexual harassment. Both deny the charges and refuse to step down.
And we have the ongoing story of Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama. Several women have come forward, claiming that Moore touched them inappropriately when they were teenagers, between ages 14 and 18, and he was in his 30s. Moore’s brother says it’s all a dirty Democratic lie, as if he could know, and compared the accusations to the persecution of Jesus.
Hamilton Fish, publisher of The New Republic, is taking a leave to contemplate harassment charges made by women on his staff. Kevin Spacey was effectively erased from a completed movie and fired from “House of Cards” after charges emerged concerning his sexual behavior with a 14-year-old boy years ago.
Meanwhile, Roy Price, head of Amazon Video; Chris Savino, of Nickelodeon; and fashion photographer Terry Richardson have joined the army of the accused, stepping back from their jobs to “think” about their behavior.
Among all the defensive, half-baked excuses and pathetic denials, among all the lies and self-justifications we’re hearing, among all the claims of ignorance and escapes to therapy, one man stands out for stepping forward with the right words. It’s true, comedian Louis C.K. confessed only after years of accusations by many women, but his comments last week were clear and contrite. His letter comes too late for his victims, and he has already lost his contracts with Netflix and HBO, but he speaks to the issue.
“I’ve brought pain to my family, my friends, my children and their mother,” he wrote. “I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen.” We will see.
Why do men risk reputation and family with reckless sexual misbehavior? I suppose we could ask Eliot Spitzer, or Gary Hart or Dominique Strauss Kahn or John Edwards, Mark Sanford, John Ensign or Silvio Berlusconi — but they probably don’t know, either. Perhaps when people do your bidding all day, you begin to think the rules don’t apply, that you can take what you want.
The sad truth is that for every story that makes headlines, there are thousands of women who put up with harassment because they can’t afford to speak out.
One thing that has changed is the consequences for men who are called out. In the past, harassers like Bill Clinton didn’t have to disappear. He basically rebuilt his life and his reputation. He stuck some Band-Aids on his marriage and forgave himself for bringing shame to his family and disgrace to the office he held.
This recent roundup of miscreants seems different, perhaps because we have social media to focus our attention on their creepy behavior. The abusers are falling hard and fast, and losing their positions of power.
Sexual harassment thrives in darkness and secrecy. We need to keep talking about it and writing about it, and encouraging our sons and daughters to treat one another with respect, at home and at work.
Copyright © 2017 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.