At this point, is there anyone who would surprise you?
The wave of revelations about powerful men who have been accused of sexual misconduct has reached the point where the daily tally could — and sometimes is — rendered as a list of drive-time news updates.
It’s Friday morning, there’s a crash slowing traffic on 128. Steven Seagal and Dustin Hoffman have been accused of sexual harassment. Today’s high is a chilly 42 degrees — we take your calls, next!
But to borrow a cliche from talk radio, this feels like a pretty good time to “hang up and listen.”
One of the many ugly, important truths to emerge from this cathartic conversation about sexual harassment and assault is just how pervasive this behavior has been. The revelations about Hollywood producer and apparent sexual predator Harvey Weinstein could have come and gone — a victory for his accusers and a well-earned career annihilation, but not much more.
Instead, finally, some sort of dam broke. The ensuing credible accusations have spanned entertainment and finance and government, crossing boundaries of age and culture and political affiliation. What other dragnet would plausibly ensnare George H.W. Bush, Louis C.K., and celebrity chef John Besh?
The result is that it’s increasingly difficult to come up with a name that would be truly shocking. Maybe Mr. Rogers, God rest his soul? Is there anyone else, living or dead?
Your nominee may be different. But for men who have gone their whole lives without realizing just how widespread this all is — a position of privilege, to be sure — there is something instructive in thinking about what it would now take to surprise you.
Consider your own circle of friends and acquaintances: How many men are there in your life whom you would rush to defend against an allegation, absent hard evidence either way? Given what we’ve learned about how men can duck and shrug and spin away from even the strongest allegations, that number can’t be very large anymore.
For men, that’s a reckoning that’s long overdue. The avalanche of credible allegations dating back decades makes it clear that many of us have been too willing to ignore what women endure on a regular basis. Failure to understand sexual misconduct as a widespread cultural problem, rather than the work of outliers, isn’t the same as committing harassment. But it’s at least something approximating accessory to harassment.
Even now, it is easy to find men who are willing to condemn specific perpetrators but will confidently claim that nobody they know would behave that way. But how can anyone be at all sure of that anymore?
The wave of allegations, complete with powerful men losing jobs and reputations that would have long ago vanished in a more just world, has been heartening. It’s more than many of us thought possible, frankly, when the Weinstein news broke. It has also been accomplished almost entirely on the profound strength of victims who came forward.
For the rest of us, feeling unwittingly complicit in harboring all manner of predators, it’s harder to know what to do.
But there are some obvious steps men can take — starting with, you know, not sexually harassing anyone. We can also call it out when we see it, or shut down the kinds of private conversations that too often open that door — the so-called “locker-room talk.” Some of this involves uncomfortable conversations, or even confrontations, with friends and relatives.
But one of the simplest things we as men can do requires no such personal bravery. It requires only that we hang up and listen.
Instead of reflexively defending ourselves and our gender, it’s time we open our minds to the possibility that more men than we’d expect — our friends, or family, even our heroes — are capable of things we were born lucky enough to ignore.Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.