(No election thoughts yet other than “Woot, no red wave!”)
Back when #metoo was news and multiple women were standing up and saying Me, Too, I blogged about what would happen next. Would we make serious efforts to take down the harassers? Or better yet, stop harassment before it starts? Or as Echidne of the Snakes speculates, would it become like mass shootings: we gasp in shock at each new account but somehow we never do anything.
“Some of the most galvanizing early #MeToo cases suggested that a thorough and eternal discrediting would be the fate of every accused man,” the WaPo says, but it didn’t happen. Many men suffered nothing but a few uncomfortable articles. Others were deemed tainted for a while, then they bounced back. The women they harassed who quit their professions? Nobody cares. As witness the article (and this blog post) focus on the men.
Harvey Weinstein went down. Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Lester Moonves and Roy Moore have had their careers destroyed though Roy Moore, at least, still has his defenders. And while Weinstein’s in prison, the others are free and wealthy enough that they won’t suffer, other than being out of work. Louis CK is touring again; allegations of inappropriate touching against Morgan Freeman got no traction (which is not to say they’re not true). Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations didn’t affect Brett Kavanaugh’s rise to the highest court in the land, and brought out odious defenses of assault. Or consider this account.
Then there’s Johnny Depp, whose response to Amber Heard accusing him of abuse was to sue her for libel. It’s a tactic several pastors accused of harassment or assault have also used. They won’t be the last. And as LGM says, in no way does making accusations benefit the women.
I’m not suggesting that harassers have to be pariahs forever but redemption is something you have to earn — and simply waiting till the fuss dies down is not earning it. Louis CK apologized, which is good, but is it enough? Has he apologized to the individuals rather than to his public (which gets us into reputation management rather than repentance)? Has he done anything to help him resist the temptation to do it again (here’s an example of someone falling back into old patterns)? In his apology he talks about stepping back and listening but he was performing again less than a year later. Other harassers haven’t even done that much, or they came out with a faux apology. For example Joss Whedon blaming “beautiful, needy, aggressive women” for his on-set harassment issues.
The trouble is, our society is not good at thinking about redemption: how it works, when it’s been earned, who needs it. Many convicts who’ve served their time still walk around under a cloud of suspicion. Unless of course, they’re rich, in which case time at a minimum security prison represents unspeakable suffering (they lost their freedom, dammit!) — haven’t they suffered enough? Or for an actor or TV personality, they’ve been out of work for a year, can we condemn them to exile forever?
It also requires organizations to change, as Marti Noxon said last year. If the system allowed harassers to get away with it, organizations need to fix the weaknesses. If HR did nothing because “hey, it’s only one time, maybe it won’t happen again” they need to start thinking “what if it keeps happening? What if it blows up in the company’s face?” Changing organizations is not easy — there’s a reason it’s been compared to teaching an elephant to dance. In an already sexist world, it’s even harder.
As I said at the first link in this post (paraphrasing Cato’s letter), “the only security which we can have that men will not harass, is to make it their interest not to harass; and the best defense which we can have against their being predators, is to make it terrible to them to be predators. As there are many men predatory in some stations, who would be innocent in others; the best way is to make predation unsafe in any station.” We still have a long way to go.