After Harvey Weinstein, it’s beginning to feel like the shield of protection extended to men by an indulgent old boys network is finally cracking.
If those cracks are real and lasting, it’s because women are coming forward — sometimes by name, sometimes anonymously — to reveal workplace encounters that range from unwanted touching to rape. Brave female voices are forcing men to acknowledge a basic societal reality: Male entitlement can empower some very ugly behavior. Decent men can ignore the ugliness as long as their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and female friends do, too. But when women take their outrage public, it’s harder for everyone to look the other way.
After Weinstein, a growing list of men have lost their jobs and reputations to allegations of sexual harassment and assault. These culture-rattling consequences can be traced back to women who spoke up, first against comedian Bill Cosby. Then came headlines about Gretchen Carlson filing a lawsuit against the late Fox chairman Roger Ailes. Sexual harassment allegations subsequently led to the departure of Bill O’Reilly, who continues to deny wrongdoing, even after a report that he paid $32 million to settle a sexual harassment suit.
The media establishment would love to cast this as a problem for a conservative cable TV network that flaunted sexily dressed female anchors. But The New York Times also broke a story detailing explosive accusations of sexual harassment against Weinstein, an Academy Award-winning movie producer and darling of liberal causes and candidates. As more Weinstein victims came forward, their testimony was shored up by #MeToo allegations about scores of other men who don’t work for Fox News. The fall-out is local too. Senator Elizabeth Warren shared a #MeToo story and Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham reported on conversations with a dozen women who worked in or around the Massachusetts State House and spoke of lawmakers who pressed up against them, tried to kiss them, demanded sex, and gathered around a state representative’s cellphone, on the House floor, viewing porn.
Boorish conduct isn’t criminal behavior. But both represent a toxic male mindset. Men who use their power to prey on women cut across all industries and ideologies. They prevail as long as women let them — whether it’s by rationalizing a vote for Bill Clinton or Donald Trump, despite allegations of sexual harassment or assault, or by dismissing the women who make such charges as crybabies or vengeful feminists. Those women who speak up should be celebrated for their bravery, not scorned for their truth-telling. They are agents of cultural change, whose voices need to be heard — and respected — if the Weinstein scandal is to mean something more than the outing of some elite men in Hollywood and the media.