First there was Bill Cosby. Then there was Bill O'Reilly. Next up was Harvey Weinstein, followed quickly by Roy Moore. Soon the floodtide of accusations engulfed Al Franken and Charlie Rose. Suddenly we find ourselves coming to a realization that women have known since the dawn of history. Powerful men can and DO take advantage of the vulnerabilities of women!
The fact that women are now coming forward and pointing accusatory fingers at abusive male behavior is a good thing. Silence has always been the driving force behind the exploitation of women. But we can't allow ourselves to bask in the warm and fuzzy flow of self-satisfaction. We have seen any of a number of people down in Alabama, for instance, who have come to the defense of Roy Moore. Either they didn't believe the accusers in the first place or they ascribed political motives to the accusations, thus, at least in THEIR minds, calling into question the legitimacy of the charges. Many of them have accused these women of leading Mr. Moore on, in effect, attempting to seduce HIM. There have been charges that these accusations have been bought and paid for by the Washington Post, or simply dismissed as so much political folderol!
Over time, accusations of sexual harassment will come fast and furious. It won't be long before such charges become commonplace. Unfortunately, we will be drawn into the morass of false equivalence. Yes, what Al Franken did was just plain wrong. But can we equate HIS behavior with that of a thirty something year old man taking a teen-aged girl to his home to seduce her? Not all charges of sexual harassment will prove to be equal and we must prepare ourselves for that eventuality.
First and foremost, we have to avoid the temptation of sinking into self-righteousness. It will be easy to huff and puff as we pride ourselves on the exemplary character of our behavior. While it is true that most of us, particularly those of us of the male persuasion, are not all sexual predators, we all do things that we will later come to regret. Enfolding ourselves in the cloak of righteous indignation is both hypocritical and counter-productive.
It won't be long before the charge of sexual misconduct will become more and more commonplace. Before we know it, we'll take a ho-hum attitude about yet ANOTHER big shot caught up in the net of his own uncontrolled desires. We have to guard against becoming so cynical that we lose sight of the need for ALL of us to own our own behavior, to embrace the principle of personal accountability. Most importantly, we will have to be absolutely sure that we're not pointing at the mote in other people's eyes while ignoring the boulder in our own!
We're approaching terra incognita, uncharted territory. We're not used to having women come forward to accuse their much more powerful bosses of inappropriate conduct. They've been cowering in fear, afraid of the kind of retribution only the truly powerful can render. We can't slide back into the pit of indifference. And yes, it won't be long before we discover that SOME women will make up false accusations. Innocent people will suffer. And no matter how vigilant we may be, no matter how MUCH we like to think we've got things under control, it won't be long before we discover that the rich and powerful will STILL be able to bully their way through life. Good old Benjamin Franklin once observed that the cost of freedom is eternal vigilance. So is the cost of humane behavior between the genders!
Filed under: Politics