The Assault on Sexual Misconduct


However you look at it– whether you side with the alleged victims or the alleged accused– the ship of sexual misconduct has sprung a huge leak and it’s getting bigger day by day.

Sexual misconduct might be so-named because it does not rise to the level of sexual assault– legally– but for women, the distinction is unimportant.  To feel diminished is just as injurious whether the offending act involves physical harm or not.

As a member of one group that has struggled mightily over the years to overcome the disadvantages of glass ceilings, I have at least over the years been able to avoid being sexually accosted by those in a position to influence my career choices.

The new focus on the treatment of women by men in both employment and professional relationships has been a long time in the coming.  Women have had to pay for their own victimization for generations.  We have accepted the unacceptable for so long that when women managed to climb to the top of their chosen professions, many assumed the unasked question to be true:  did they sleep their way to the top?

The very fact that the question was asked as often as it was is itself an indication of the unspoken realization that men in positions of power extracted a painful price from women looking to move up.

In recent days women have found their collective voice– although surprisingly with considerable public backlash, and the distinct disapproval of other women.  The polarizing debate over the allegations against Bill Cosby illustrates this point.

But this revolution in women’s attitudes about going public with misconduct allegations is only going to grow.  Empowering women to come forth and speak out about the demeaning manner in which they are pinched, groped, touched and visited upon with male genitalia and the like, is a good thing.  But as recent events have shown, it is not so good for men, who may or may not be actually guilty of the things with which they are charged.

CNN attributes this revolution of thought to Fox News host Gretchen Carlson’s accusations against Roger Ailes:  “The industry reckoning began more than a year ago when former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson accused network head Roger Ailes of making unwanted sexual advances.”

Vanity Fair has a different explanation for the new sense of empowerment among women, saying that in the entertainment industry, it was the Harvey Weinstein story by The New York Times that “kicked off the sexual misconduct reckoning in Hollywood and beyond.”

I believe, however, that it is disingenuous to ignore the national debate sparked by 2014 when Bill Cosby faced a similar onslaught of sexual assault allegations. More than 50 women came forward to accuse the comedian in a conversation that polarized the nation. After all, “America’s Dad” was under attack, and it was seemingly incredulous that he could have done the things that were alleged.

The response by consumer-sensitive organizations to the allegations leveled against Cosby was swift. Entertainment venues canceled his comedy engagements. The Cosby Show reruns were threatened with being dropped from syndication. Even a couple of his honorary degrees were revoked. Cosby lost income and lots of it– and long before he went to trial.

Many women were discouraged by the number of people who sided with Cosby and some decided the public scrutiny was too much of a price to pay for telling their own stories of sexual harassment. Some, though, were instead angered and even more determined to see society turn the curve on blaming the (alleged) victim.

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Cosby’s charging and subsequent trial ramped up the conversation about women’s perceived powerlessness at the hands of powerful men wielding influence over their livelihoods and careers. But for women, it’s not a problem that suddenly came to light.

One woman who anonymously posted her own life’s experiences in pursuit of her chosen career goals said: “How tragic that, in 2014, my professional success is at all dependent on my willingness to tolerate the “mild” sexual advances of [a] man who fully knows I depend on him to further my career.”

The punishing of Bill Cosby by corporate sponsors set the tone for every other high-profile man to be accused of sexual misconduct. ‘Thou must do unto others as thou didst unto Bill.’  And now that Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Sen. Al Franken and lesser knowns of the world have been banished as well to the proverbial leper colony, every person similarly accused going forth will suffer the same fate.

The soft-pedaling of sexual misconduct is dead.

Ann Curry, the former Today show anchor who tearfully left the show in 2012 after working with Lauer for years, told People: “We need to move this revolution forward and make our workplaces safe. Corporate America is quite clearly failing to do so, and unless it does something to change that, we need to keep doing more ourselves.”

And it is a revolution– and not altogether bloodless, either.  Corporate America’s response to the unproven allegations leveled against Bill Cosby signaled that change.

Weinstein, Rose, Lauer, Franken and Rep. John Conyers are just some of the most recent high-visibility figures to face misconduct allegations.  All except Conyers have admitted and apologized for their misbehavior.  The aging Conyers will likely be forced to step down from his position, as well.  Still, there are some aberrations:  The man who assaulted actor Terry Crews was suspended for only 1 month.

For generations, sexual misconduct has sat not-so-quietly on the back burner of social issues, even while victim advocates clamored for more focused attention on the problem and a more aggressive approach from the courts and judicial system.

Women have a right to be upset and to feel victimized. It’s historic.  Remember, ex-slaves got the right to vote in 1870, in the 15th Amendment. “Women” didn’t get it for another 50 years, with passage of the 19th Amendment, in 1920– an unfortunate indication of the low level of importance their husbands and fathers attributed to them. (Not that blacks fared any better even with the 15th Amendment).

Women aren’t about to quiet down on this issue. As of press time tonight, The New York Times has posted yet another sexual misconduct story, this one detailing “allegations of sexual abuse from nine women against playwright Israel Horovitz, the father of Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz of Beastie Boys fame.”

Defense lawyers bemoan this new reality where men no longer have the luxury of having these type claims lodged against them and decided in court. Bosses are no longer waiting for verdicts to dismiss employees. Clients are no longer hesitating before canceling endorsements and distancing themselves.

Fox News Host Megyn Kelly said recently: “We are in the middle of a sea change in this country. An empowerment revolution, in which women who for years have felt they had no choice but to simply deal with being harassed at work are now starting to picture another reality—to feel that change is within their grasp.”

This opera ain’t over, and the fat lady hasn’t even begun warming up.  Heads are going to continue to roll.

The 64 dollar question, though, is when will the GOP-controlled Congress at the very least censure President Donald Trump for his locker-room admissions of sexual misconduct?  (We know they’re never going to impeach him.  That would be way too much like right.)