The groundswell of disclosure, outrage and accountability that began with the fall of Harvey Weinstein has quickly become a dominant cultural force that shows no sign of abating. As we move forward we see former president Bill Clinton being criticized anew by a group that includes one-time allies for his sexual behavior while in office. The elderly actor and LGBT activist George Takei is accused of a decades-old transgression he claims he doesn’t remember one evening in Southern California, and he finds himself regretting a remark he made on the Howard Stern Show that is being re-considered in light of that accusation. Alabama Republican Roy Moore, a former judge and candidate for the US Senate, is under attack from all sides for allegations of predatory behavior and outright molestation when he was a younger man. And we have a predictably clumsy GOP plot to pull-in Minnesota senator Al Franken, a Democrat, for something that occurred several years before his election. Franken, by the way, stepped up admirably in his response.
Apologists may look for wiggle room in the time that has elapsed since some of these offenses, but the facts remain that men of power are being accused of misusing their positions in order to sexually exploit and abuse others.
While there may be a criminal statute of limitations for some of the allegations, we’re finding that the court of public opinion feels differently. Hollywood seems to be quickly punishing its offenders – that is, once bad publicity exposes scandals that many entertainment types knew about for years. We seem to understand instinctively that Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. are just the tip of an iceberg that runs deep. One of the stories emerging recently is that old-time studio boss Louis B. Mayer regularly groped and harassed Judy Garland from the time she was 16, as did other executives, according to reported accounts from Garland. The execs apparently believed they were justified in doing what they wished with “the help.”
Some of what we’re witnessing is perhaps an inevitable point of evolution in a world where men and women operate in closer proximity than ever before; a world where, it must be said, nature still looms large, driving people–mainly men–to periodically misbehave and/or commit criminal offenses. As Senator Franken said in his comments, “All of us—including and especially men who respect women—have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women.”
One thing seems clear – many men have behaved in ways that might bring them shame, if not jail time, in this current climate of disclosure. This appears to be a genuine movement that, with its hashtags of #WeSaidEnough and #MeToo, is bringing us closer to the place we always should have been, albeit with an understanding that the basic rule of attraction and at-times deplorable misuse of it won’t be going away any time soon.
The keys to actual change are correctly interpreting the signals that are sent and, most importantly, respecting them, not to mention general decency standards as well as the law. In other words, nature may be powerful, but it’s not an excuse, and it never was. And holding a position of power is an execrable reason to disregard all that and come on like an animal.
And that leads us to the elephant in the room, the infantile Donald J. Trump, who has been caught on tape enthusiastically endorsing sexual assault. The calls for Franken and Moore to step down ring hollow as long as the sitting president remains. Had Trump spent time with Franken’s accuser, Leeann Tweeden, he may well have, in Trump’s own words, “Moved on her like a bitch.”
It’s commendable that we as a society are demanding higher standards for behavior, but let’s do the right thing and make them cut across all stations of life, from the Waffle House to the White House.