Let’s not start at what is perhaps the most obvious place to discuss a national climate that enables sexual abuse and harassment, our pussy-grabbing braggart-in-chief. (Too on-the-nose, as they say.)
Let’s first think about the tech industry. Reports of the harassment of and prejudice against women are everywhere in tech and reported widely in industry media. No surprise, some would argue, because tech is not only male-dominated and male-led, it is an industry with very few women at any level of hierarchy.
True enough, I suppose.
Without a diverse critical mass, tech has a stereotypical “bro” mentality that fosters thinking of women as the “other”, not to be accepted as colleagues and leaders but to be demeaned, objectified, sexualized and feared. There are precious few women engineers in tech organizations, much less leaders of them.
Most appalling may be the reaction of these tech “bros” to criticism of their industry’s record of marginalization and harassment of women: insinuations of male tech genetic superiority, critiques of women’s contributions to tech (which are historic and substantial), and flat-out threats to those who speak up.
Eyeball social media and see what I mean; it’s sickening.
The case of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has created increased awareness of sexual harassment in America’s workplaces, and we should be grateful for that contribution to our social health. Women in entertainment have been the unwilling subjects of male domination since the industry’s earliest days. And that subjugation has taken on near-legendary status: countless stories of leering producers and casting couches and coerced dressing room assignations.
That a powerful man in Hollywood preys upon the beautiful, young and powerless can be no surprise to anyone at this point. That particular cases, and particular predators, are widely known in the industry, and have been widely known in the industry for long periods of time and have not been called out for their behavior, much less stopped, is disappointing to say the very least.
As human beings, presumably, we wouldn’t want to think colleagues, investors and partners would allow sexually predatory behavior to continue unabated, just because a particular predator was good at getting awards and making money.
But there we are: enablers exist in Hollywood too.
The most well-documented cases, of course, are likely those of the enablers of sexually abusive Roman Catholic priests. For many decades, the church not only looked the other way and enabled ongoing abuse but shielded the abusers from legitimate law enforcement, from their accusers, and their communities.
It was only after numerous civil lawsuits and very high-profile journalistic investigations that the church admitted (some) instances of abuse (and the church’s efforts to hide them) publicly. The conscious and purposeful cover-up reached to the very highest levels of the global church and continues to erode public confidence in the institution.
Worse, it is completely at odds with what the church claims it stands for.
Harassment and abuse also exists in scale, of course, at our schools, colleges and universities, abetted by the typically decentralized structure of academe (especially in higher education). And many educational institutions will not report instances of abuse when they actually occur, or are learned of, only when institutions are faced with public reports and lawsuits.
All this I know too well from personal experience as a communications counsel to many institutions dealing with sexual harassment and abuse: many people know of the harassment and abuse and too few (if any) will move to stop, or even report it.
After the fact, that is to say after the harassment has already ruined psyches and careers and lives, people will share that “Everyone knew about Harvey,” or “I heard the rumors about Father Timothy,” or “Professor Herman was a well-known pervert,” or “Coach Johnson was always giving rides to his players.”
Let me say this directly and as straight-forwardly as I am able.
Sexual harassment and abuse cannot exist in any institution without the forbearance and enablement of a great many people. People knew that Harvey Weinstein was assaulting young women and DID NOTHING. People knew about that tech venture capitalist and DID NOTHING. People knew about the priests and the coaches and the professors and DID NOTHING.
Greed. Loyalty to the institution. Sexism. Fear. Personal discomfort. Other reasons.
Several years ago, I told a colleague about a coach who had raped a series of his players over the course of several years, with the knowledge of his school’s administration. My colleague, himself the dad of a little league baseball player told me with firm conviction that, were he presented with that kind of information about one of his kid’s coaches, he’d kill the guy (or at least take serious action of some kind).
And I said to him I hoped so, but based on my substantial experience, I supposed he would instead convince himself he’d obviously been mistaken (because the coach was too nice a guy) and do nothing.
Without our silence and cooperation (active or tacit), sexual harassment and abuse cannot exist in our institutions.