It would be easier to write a list of all the men I’ve ever known who didn’t commit some degree of sexual harassment. If you are female or non-binary, you instinctively know the degrees. It begins with gender stereotyping at birth (even before birth now that we can identify the sex of a baby in utero). Clothes, toy, activities are chosen for us before we can choose for ourselves.
Girls and boys are treated differently. Children who don’t with to be either girl or boy, or who are born intersex, are treated as freaks, called names, misunderstood and mistreated.
We have a roster of excuses for every abuse rained on girls and non-binary kids. Non-males are expected to condone everything that happens, are blamed for those actions committed by males.
Irma Landrum writes, “I live in a world where men’s unwanted sexual advances are always to be understood or withstood.”
Personally, I was sexually molested before I started school at the age of five. The neighbor boys were always trying to pull my underpants down, and succeeded more than once. At the age of eight, my stepfather was hospitalized for cancer at the VA Hospital. When we went to visit him, Mom let me wander around on my own. I was held captive by a man I didn’t know who put his hand down my dress in front of a group of other men. No one said or did anything to stop him. When I finally escaped him and ran back to my mother, I also said nothing.
Things got worse as I got older. But I was no different from other girls, and luckier than others. One of my best friends in third grade was repeatedly drugged and raped by her grandfather and uncle. When her father died and her mother remarried, her stepfather raped all four of the children, girls and boys alike.
We live in a world where sexual misdeeds are excused, condoned, even encouraged. When our own president got elected even after revealing that he “grabbed women by the pussy,” that “when you’re a star, they’ll let you do anything,” how can we be surprised when women come forward and tell us that Senator Al Franken grabbed their butts? The only surprise for me is the number of women who think he should be given a pass because of all the good he has done.
Yes, we have put up with men grabbing our butts in photo shoots. Yes, we have put up with men in the office brushing against us, touching our butts, trying to look down our shirts, making off-color jokes in meetings, ogling our legs, and making innuendos. Putting up with it does not make the behavior okay.
The time has come for change. Critical mass has been achieved. Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski — all accused, some with consequences, some without.
Harvey Weinstein carried on for decades. It wasn’t until a wave of accusers came forward that he began to suffer consequences of his actions. His own company fired him. He was the first booted out of the Motion Picture Academy for sexual assault allegations.
As to why the Harvey Weinstein sexual-harassment allegations didn’t come out until now, Rebecca Traister writes, “…our consciousness has been raised.”
If indeed our consciousness has been raised, if indeed critical mass of allegations has been achieved to make it so, we can expect the list of accused to grow. We can expect repercussions to be varied. Maybe too extreme in some cases (many people think Al Franken is suffering disproportionately, but he has now stated he will not leave office), maybe not enough in others. When the pendulum settles, we should have proportionate punishment to fit the crimes. We have to recognize the difference between inappropriate behavior and criminal behavior. We have to acknowledge the difference between a powerful grown man having sex with fourteen year old girls, and a powerful grown man groping a woman in a photo shoot. Both are inappropriate. One is a criminal offense punishable by law.
#HimToo accused since Harvey Weinstein (as of November 21, 2017) and not including those listed above: Louis CK, Charlie Rose, John Lassiter, Glenn Thrush, Steve Jurvetson, Eddie Burganza, Andrew Kreisberg, Benjamin Genocchio, Jeffrey Tambor, Ed Westwick, David Guillod, Jeff Hoover, Brett Rattner, Kirt Webster, Andy Dick, Michael Oreskes, Hamilton Fish, Kevin Spacey, Ken Baker, Mark Halperin, Rick Najera, Knight Landesman, Leon Wieseltier, Terry Richardson, James Toback, John Besh, Lockhart Steele, Robert Scoble, Chris Savino, Roy Price, Andy Signore,
Generations may pass before we see equal treatment of all our people. Equal rights for all. No more shaming. But we must press on shedding light in the corners, telling our stories, listening to the victims, believing the victims, ensuring the accused receive the appropriate consequences.
What can you do?
Claire Zillerman compiled a list of seven actions we can take to stop sexual harassment in an article for Fortune Magazine. Read it here.
Tell your stories. Listen to others’ stories. Believe the victims. Consider the level of abuse, rather than the political party of the accused. Consider the abuse, not the amount of good the perpetrator has done, or the importance of their art to the world when you decide whether to vote, donate, or boycott.
Sandra de Helen, author of the lesbian thriller Till Darkness Comes also pens the Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson series. She is a poet, journalist, and a playwright. Her plays have been produced in the Philippines, Ireland and Canada, Chicago, New York City, and in thirteen states. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Dramatists Guild. Her books are available online, at Another Read Through Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, and Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego. Samples of her work are available on her website.