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THOMPSON: Men are learning sexual harassment is routine for women

November 20, 2017 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


Epiphanies aren’t everyday events. But the past few weeks have brought epiphanies to a great number of people…people who are men. A lot of men discovered what almost every woman has known since they became a woman. Sexual harassment is as routine as the sun rising in the east…it happens every day to women. Yes it happens to men, as well, and it’s no less evil…but the sheer numbers of assaults and harassment of women are nothing less than incredible.

Most women know sexual harassment first hand…and most have lived with it because to do otherwise meant trouble. Women endured assaults and harassment because they wanted to keep their jobs...their careers. Those who broke ranks were often treated harshly by men…and sometimes even by other women. Not only did their careers suffer…so did their reputations. Shame…even though they were guilty of nothing…was and is real.

Branded troublemakers, rumours almost always suddenly and mysteriously arose about women who complained or rocked the boat. That promotion you were due…never going to happen. Men held the most powerful positions in the workplace…a fact that remains true today…and women suffered because of it. Institutional disincentives exist in every walk of life…every industry.

You can’t blame women for not complaining about sexual harassment in the past. Usually, given the choices of filing a formal complaint and then suffering never-ending consequences and shrugging it off, the lesser evil was dismissing the act and trying to move on.

I wrote about sexual harassment earlier this year. I suggested then that if men want to learn from the most common victims, ask your mother, your aunt, your sister, your wife, your daughter. I guarantee you…they all faced it at some point or points in their lives.

But the past few weeks have opened some eyes to crimes that have been going on for as long as women have been in the workplace. Even when the mistreatment at the hands of men didn’t cross the criminal threshold…women were embarrassed…humiliated…and made to feel less than equal.

Now, women are naming names among famous, powerful men…with allegations of harassment, assault and rape. Some in the media call it the Harvey Effect…after revelations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s harassment of scores of actresses.

I refuse to give Weinstein any credit…even negative…he’s just another pig. I don’t believe most men are like him…but there’s likely more than any of us would like to admit. Most women might not be surprised if we knew the real number…and likely a lot of men would be shocked.

Sexual harassment takes on a lot of different looks…but it’s certainly an abuse of power in most instances. Movie producer Brett Ratner, comedian Louis CK, actor Kevin Spacey,  Alabama Republican Candidate Roy Moore, and Minnesota Senate Democrat Al Franken are among those whose harassment were revealed in just the past couple weeks.

They join a long list of those accused of preying on others, including James Toback, Ben Affleck, Chris Savino and Roy Price, John Besh, Mark Halperin, Michael Oreskes, Lockhart Steele, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Steven Seagal, Dustin Hoffman, Jann Wenner, Stephen Blackwell, Knight Landesman, Bill Cosby…and on and on.  And these are merely the famous or nearly famous.

Sexual harassment doesn’t respect international borders either. Here in Canada, Calgary Liberal MP Dashawn Kang and Montreal radio personality Eric Salvail both faced allegations in recent months. 

As disturbing as allegations of sexual harassment are…they aren’t always easy to prove. Even with overwhelming evidence…50 women accused Bill Cosby with amazingly similar stories…and yet many still want to give him a pass. Most of those are - almost predictably - men. Defenders often claim some ridiculous conspiracy among women when multiple accusations arise.

For example, Roy Moore - a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in a special election on Dec. 12 - has been accused of harassment by six women when they were teenagers. None knew each other…and most are registered Republicans...so it isn’t politics.

Even so, people - mostly men - stood in line to vouch for Moore and cast dispersions on all the women. Politics shouldn’t guide our condemnation of sexual harassers…if you’re guilty ideology doesn’t matter. You’re a pig. President Trump ignored reporters’ questions for comment about Moore last week. But, how could he say anything? Sixteen women have accused Trump of the same thing!

The most recent accuser of Moore is now a grown woman…Beverly Young Nelson. Last week, she described Moore’s attack on her 40 years ago in detail in a painful-to-watch press conference. Her emotional turmoil - even this long removed - was gut-wrenching. I watched her as she spoke…and no actor - living or dead  - could give a more believable performance. That’s because I believe she spoke the truth.

And yet, historically the first thing that happens with too many people - men and women - is that men get the benefit of the doubt. Defences are often weak. So, charges of “witch hunt” are almost universal among men. People claim women’s allegations could ruin careers…and the lives of these men. That’s true. Funny, however, that these same people don’t see how sexual harassment, assault and rape can ruin women’s careers…and their lives.

The allegations of women in recent months seem to be gaining traction with the general public. The dam finally broke and torrents of emotional distress were unleashed. Social media has allowed huge numbers of women to testify about sexual harassment in the United States, Canada and elsewhere through #MeToo. French women - in a take-no-prisoners version - call out their harassers through #BalanceTonPorc…or “rat out your pig.”

Are all allegations of sexual harassment true? No. But when you have multiple accusers and rumours of previous inappropriate behaviour by harassers among acquaintances and even among friends and associates…I’m going with what should be common sense…it likely happened. We should recognize that sexual harassment isn’t some phase…it’s generally a life-long pursuit. And we need to see it for what it is…and stop it.

It’s almost 2018…and yet U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan last week mandated that all of Congress and staff must undergo sexual harassment and discrimination training. It’s pathetic that something this fundamental to human rights must still be mandated. But consider that in the last 20 years, there have been 260 acts of sexual harassment and discrimination in Congress that were settled secretly at a cost of more than $15 million to U.S. taxpayers.

Here in Canada, earlier this year the federal government approved a settlement for as many as 20,000 women who alleged sexual harassment in the RCMP during the past 40 years. Neither the government nor the RCMP admitted wrongdoing, which is a shame. Lawyers involved in the settlement said about 1,000 claimants will receive close to $89 million. The government has set aside $100 million, but there is no cap for the payouts…so, expect that amount to rise substantially.

Harassment like these examples in the U.S. Congress and RCMP would disappear if names were named and people not protected…”Here, you get money…but it’s to buy your silence.” Beyond stupid…even on the surface. But these male-led institutions thought it somehow sounded right...fair...equitable.

Unfortunately, women have much to fear in the weeks, months and years ahead. Why? All it takes is one false allegation and people - again, mostly men - will say, “See, I told you so.” The implication, of course, is that women can’t be trusted…and somehow they remain unequal in the minds of these men. After all, such men never want equality…they want to subjugate.

I wish every woman would arm themselves with a smartphone and keep it handy. Know how to surreptitiously activate audio and video recordings. You know - sooner or later - some man will try something he shouldn’t. You’ll need hard evidence to get people - mostly men - to believe you. Personally, I’m weary of men and women blaming victims.

All men aren’t bad. But there are plenty out there who are bad. And as long as men are in society’s most powerful positions…you can’t have too much evidence when harassment happens. Maybe someday sexual harassment won’t be an epiphany for a lot of men. But, today, it is.

– Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.  His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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