By Arthur Z. Schwartz
This is one of the hardest pieces I have ever written. The Managing Editor of WestView asked me to write about the Weinstein sexual harassment scandal in a way which was meaningful to WestView readers.
It’s not hard to detest Weinstein, or say that sexual harassers like him should rot in Hell. What’s hard is that the Managing Editor has been a victim, that I have three daughters (but don’t want to write simply from the perspective of a father who would emasculate any man who ever hurt them), and that I have a wife who was a model and actress and knows about that profession at its worst. I also hate saying what everyone else is saying.
The outpouring of women telling their stories as part of #MeToo has been repeated before. In fact, it was only a year ago that some pompous candidate for president was caught on tape talking about how he grabbed women by the “pussy.” That revelation was followed by 12 women making what he called “fake” allegations of sexual aggression. There was an outcry for a while, and then it was quiet. Then we heard about the head of Fox News, Roger Ailes, and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who hurt someone so badly that he paid her $32 million. Then came the Bill Cosby trials, and scores of women coming forward to speak about his version of rape. Each time, things quieted down.
In this round, we have daily revelations about “important men,” even former President George H. Bush. But it would be too easy for most men to say that it’s just something about men in Hollywood, or men in power, and not look at their daily lives and relationships with women. And for every woman (and man) now speaking out, there are 50 who aren’t. I know that I hold a big secret about a super-progressive politician who grabbed and pawed at someone close to me. (It was not a daughter. As I said, the person would have no cajones.) Do I tell, even though he might shake up the world one day, in a good way? Nicholas Kristof said in the Times last week, that if you know something is happening and you fail to take action, whether you are a man or a woman, you are responsible.
Here are a few points. It is not only rich and famous and powerful men who sexually harass. I have settled two cases in the last year for a total of $800,000 for blue-collar women who experienced harassment on the job. There were no movie roles hanging in the balance, just a good job, and their sanity, and the acceptance of harassment by co-workers and their bosses, because the women are beautiful. In that way, sexual harassment supports the economic subjugation of women, just like racism and nativism keeps Blacks, Hispanics, and non-White immigrants from achieving what White people do. It can be a stare, a leer, talking too personally, and maybe even a belief that some married women in the workplace are looking to sleep around.
We must counter the notion that sexual harassment only thrives in industries where women are systematically kept out of powerful roles. Sexual harassment and sex discrimination affects every aspect of every woman’s life. It starts long before work, in high school dating, and college dating. The percentage of college women who report being raped or groped without invitation is astounding. It’s not limited to community colleges either. These are students at Columbia, Yale, and Princeton. It’s the belief that a young woman can’t succeed unless she is attractive to men. Other factors include the continued objectification of teenagers on television, in movies, and in music videos. Those of us who are parents, or even grandparents, of boys or girls, must find ways to address this culture head on.
And men: We have to look in the mirror and learn to think. Women are not here to be sex objects, creatures to be flirted with, and given compliments to gain tactical advantage, personally or in business. Even if the whole world isn’t watching, we have to set our inner alarms to alert us when we cross the line.
Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, and all the other big shots being called out are disgusting and should rot in Hell. But if we have a little of them in us, we must step back and say, “No.”
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village.