America, in recent months, has awakened to the widespread problems of sexual abuse and sexual harassment as brave people have come forward to tell their stories. Finally, they were, for the most part, believed.
And, in quick succession, prominent, powerful men fell from grace.
There is a danger, however, that the public will declare this dirty laundry aired and move on. But a problem this long in the making — and uncovering — won’t quickly be resolved.
Some men have been punished, but common sense — and statistics — say these famous and powerful men are just a tiny fraction of the problem. For far too many women, harassment, and even abuse, are part of their daily lives. Who is speaking out for the restaurant worker who has to endure unwanted touching and salacious comments? Who is advocating for the construction worker who is routinely taunted and mocked, or the administrative assistant whose boss shares his sexual fantasies with her?
Employers are implementing better policies and training, which is helpful. But here is a much simpler solution: Hire, and promote, more women.
Here’s Scott Mendelson, who writes about film for Forbes, on the need for more women in front of and behind the cameras in Hollywood: “A culture where female-driven entertainment is taken less seriously creates a culture where women are taken less seriously. … And all of the focus groups, ‘listening and learning’ speeches and promises to do better and be better won’t mean much as long as the industry is dominated by the very people who are committing the crimes. It’s a culture that views women as sexual objects to be plundered, which in turn creates movies and TV that view women as sexy lamps, which in turn creates consumers who grow up viewing women as sexual objects.”
As recent revelations have shown, it takes more than a few women in positions of power and authority to change the dynamic. When women reach a critical mass, they begin to influence culture and behavior, author Jay Newton-Small recently wrote in Time.
“When women reached 20 percent in the Senate, they went after the Pentagon to reform the military’s sexual-assault protocol,” Newton-Small wrote. “When they reached 25 percent of Hollywood producers, they took down Harvey Weinstein and his casting-couch culture. And when they reached a third of the White House press corps, Fox’s Roger Ailes, NPR’s Michael Oreskes and other serial harassers in the media began to get called out.
“Somewhere in that zone, when women comprise 20 percent to 30 percent of an institution, things begin to change.”
That change, however, is slow and nonlinear. While Weinstein, Lauer and others were fired, the country elected a president who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy and the Republican Party has rallied around a U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama who is accused of assaulting teenage girls.
Despite these outrageous situations, there is reason for hope, and determination.
Ezra Klein, the founder of Vox, summarized the situation well recently on Twitter: “It’s true: if Al Franken should resign, so should Donald Trump. But the fact that Trump won’t resign doesn’t mean Franken shouldn’t. Democrats holding themselves to higher standards is a step towards everyone being held to higher standards. It doesn’t happen all at once.”
This isn’t, of course, to tell survivors of assault and harassment that they must wait to come forward or to demand justice. They should not. Rather, now that more people are aware of the widespread abuse of women, we must all commit to higher standards and abandon a culture that too often looks the other way as men sought power and status by mistreating women.
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