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As anniversary events go, it’s a little too on-the-nose.
It is one year since we heard the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which the man who is now our president boasted of kissing and groping reluctant women. There followed accusations by at least a dozen women accusing Donald Trump of doing exactly what he boasted of.
And now we have the unmasking of another powerful predator — again, after years of exploitive behavior many knew about, but nobody seemed able to stop.
This time it’s Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein who, according to the New York Times, sexually harassed women who worked for him, and those who wanted to, coercing some into sexual contact. He settled complaints with at least eight women who mustered the courage to object.
Is this going to happen every October now?
It could, of course. There’s enough of this appalling stuff to keep us going for ages. Between Trump and Weinstein, there were Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly and various other figures at Fox News, all accused of sexually harassing women who had the misfortune of working with them.
And there will be more. The predatory behavior described in those explosive headlines isn’t some artifact of an earlier era, despite Weinstein’s claim, in his bizarre “apology,” that he “came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.” As if we once thought it was fine for a powerful executive to show up naked to a meeting with an employee, to invite her to massage him, or watch him shower.
No. It still happens now — even though we profess to be appalled by such behavior.
Maya Raghu is still very busy. The director of workplace equality at the National Women’s Law Center in DC says as many as one in four women report having experienced sexual harassment. Recent studies show it happens across industries — not just in hotels, casinos, restaurants, construction, and on farms, but also in medicine and science.
Raghu says most who experience harassment never exercise their legal rights.
“Victims come to us to learn their rights and many of them ultimately decide not to pursue a complaint,” she said. “They decide that the risk to their reputation and their job and their economic security is too great.”
Weinstein’s alleged victims described the great peril in going up against one of the most powerful men in the industry. Even when your harasser isn’t famous, complaining is risky: If you don’t lose your job, it can still hurt your career, turning you into that woman — a troublemaker, hard to get along with, or worse, a liar.
I would not have dreamed of making official complaints about sexual harassment when I was younger: I worked around it, avoiding being alone with the jerks who subjected me to it, warning others to do the same. Self-preservation mimics complicity. That’s how the Trumps and Weinsteins are able to continue for years — immunized by women’s reluctance to come forward, or by confidentiality agreements.
Sure, we say the right things now. Even Weinstein said the right things. His company distributed “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary on campus rape. He endowed a chair in feminist studies at Rutgers. He supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
It’s easy to seem enlightened. Look at State Street Corp., responsible for the Fearless Girl statue which faces down the famous charging bull on Wall Street, making a statement on women’s empowerment. That would be the same State Street Corp. which just agreed to pay $5 million to resolve a federal investigation into whether it underpaid female and black executives.
We don’t care as much as we say we do. A year ago, we all heard Trump boasting about his genius for sexual harassment. It was enough to make even some in his own party recoil. A few weeks later, 63 million Americans made him president anyway.
How much progress have we made, really, since the ’60s and ’70s of Weinstein’s self-serving recollection?
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