Time Magazine has designated “The Silence Breakers” as its “Person of the Year” in recognition of the thousands of women who, at long last, have found the courage to speak out regarding their sexual harassment experiences. The #Me Too can be traced to actress Alyssa Milano. In October she tweeted “if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” By the next morning she found that some 30,000 persons had responded, and the dam was breaking.
Before I continue, I feel compelled to say that I am at a loss to find the words to express adequately my shock, horror and revulsion with respect to this issue. It seems that we are being bombarded with new revelations on a daily basis. I am appalled that so many men feel the need to abuse, harass and even rape co-workers and friends simply because they feel they can get away with it.
During my 42 year business career I was cognizant of verbal interactions, which have now been deemed inappropriate, such as off-color jokes and comments, and I was aware of some illicit office romances. But, I was ignorant of the depth and pervasiveness of this behavior. In addition, until now, I did not appreciate fully the angst of the victims. It is apparent that, as a society, we have a major social problem, and, furthermore, that it has been going on for many years, or, even, centuries.
Time has been selecting a “Person of the Year” since 1927. Until 1999 it was called “Man of the Year.” According to Time, the purpose is to honor and profile “a person, an idea or an object that for better or for worse … has done the most to influence the events of the year.” The first one so designated was Charles Lindberg, the aviator, who, ironically, had not even “made” the cover earlier in the year following his historic trans-Atlantic flight from NY to Paris.
Some interesting facts regarding the honor:
- Every President has been honored while in office, except for three. Can you name them? See answer below.
- FDR is the only person to receive the honor three times.
- Several women have received the honor, including Wallis Simpson (1936), Queen Elizabeth II (1952), and Corazon Aquino (first female president of the Philippines)(1986).
- There have been many shared winners, such Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger (1972), Nelson Mandela and F. W. deKlerk, Yassir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin (1993) and Bill Clinton and Ken Starr (1998).
- Several groups of people have been honored, among them were the “Hungarian Freedom Fighters” (1956), “US Scientists” (1960), and “You”(2006).
- Inanimate objects, such as “The Computer” (1983) and “The Endangered Earth” (1988), have been honored.
- Some of the choices have been very controversial, such as Adolph Hitler (1938), Joseph Stalin (1939 and 1942), Nikita Khrushchev (1957) and the Ayatollah Khomeini (1979). Although they were heinous persons, their choices were in accordance with the criteria of the award.
- Winston Churchill was named “Man of the Half-Century” in 1949.
- Albert Einstein was named “Man of the Century” in 1999.
This year’s selection was very apt. Women are finally finding the courage to speak out. The Silence Breakers “(SB) include women of all ages, nationalities and occupations. We are seeing that abuse and harassment is not limited to Hollywood. Recently, I published a blog on Harvey Weinstein. One of my conclusions was that he would not be the last predator to be unmasked. True, but at the time, I had no idea what was to come.
Now, we see that it pervades all segments of society – the government, athletics, private industry, schools, even the church. Probably, it has always been around. Human nature has not changed. It is what it is. The victims were just afraid to report it due to the stigma and the feeling that nothing would be done anyway.
Now, the SBs give each other courage and support.. Each one gathers strength from those who went before. The stigma has largely been removed.
Just a few SB examples should get the point across:
- Three members of the US women’s gymnastics Olympic team, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gaby Douglas, accused former team doctor, Larry Nassar, of sexual abuse. Nassar pled guilty to molesting young girls at his office and his gymnastics club, even when parents were present, and to possessing “thousands of images of child pornography.” Maroney called Nassar a “monster.” Nassar admitted he has an “addiction,” adding “I really did try to be a good person.” Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison. Good riddance.
- In 1997, when Ashley Judd was just an aspiring actress, Weinstein invited her to his hotel room. Once there, he tried to coerce her, unsuccessfully, into bed. She told “everyone” [in the industry and her father] about it. Judd recalled being told that Weinstein’s proclivities were an “open secret” in Hollywood, the implication being that she could not do anything about it, especially if she wanted a career. Says Judd, “Were we supposed to call some fantasy attorney general of ‘moviedom?’ ” Now, we know how he was protected by the moguls, the press and even influential politicians. Among Weinstein’s other alleged victims were Angelina Jolie, Rose McGowan and Gwyneth Paltrow. In October Judd finally went public and gave others the courage to do so.
- Following an intensive investigation Variety published a frightening account of Matt Lauer’s deviant behavior. They included (a) exposing himself to a female staffer, then propositioning her, (b) giving another staffer a “sex toy” with explicit instructions of how he wanted to use it on her, (c) playing a crass game called “f…, marry or kill” regarding female colleagues, and (d) allegations of sexual abuse during the Olympics. NBC fired Lauer, but the network’s senior executives may face lawsuits due to an alleged systemic culture of sexual abuse throughout the company.
- Representative John Conyers, the longest serving member of Congress (1965) is being forced to resign amid allegations he has sexually molested several females over the years.
- Fox News fired its star rainmaker, Bill O’Reilly, amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment that Fox had settled for a total of $13 million. Wendy Walsh, a former guest on the Factor, was the only one to go public. She did so, she said, “for women everywhere and the women who are silenced.”
- SBs have surfaced in other countries as well, such as Great Britain, France and India, among many others. It has become a worldwide movement.
- Perhaps, the king of sexual harassment, a dubious honor if there ever was one, is former President Bill Clinton, whose sexual transgressions were too numerous to name. In my opinion, he was fortunate to have been president during a period when attitudes were vastly different than today, or else, he likely would have been forced to resign.
- Even President Trump is not immune. Trump is being sued by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, for defamation after he called her a liar in response to her claims of sexual harassment on the show.
I could cite numerous additional examples, but you get the point. Supposedly, there are dozens more allegations to come in the government and Hollywood. Perhaps, even more frightening are the situations involving vulnerable women who do not have the means to fight back, such as the single-mom waitress who has to fend off her boss and even customers, or the chambermaid, who fears being assaulted while cleaning a room, or the office worker who works for a powerful manager, or the soldier who is admonished to “go along to get along,” or the immigrant, the disabled, or the LGBTQ. Time reported it uncovered many, many examples like these.
Abuse is not always in the form of rape or groping. Sometimes, it is the off-color jokes, the lascivious stare or insistent invitations for drinks or dinner. Some men can offend without even being aware they doing so. All of the above make for an uncomfortable work environment. The cumulative effect of these types of behavior takes a significant psychological and emotional toll.
Going public is not as easy as one might think. Many of the SBs s advised they were hesitant to do so because “your complaint becomes your identity.” Lindsay Reynolds, one of the women who reported on the culture of sexual harassment at the group of restaurants run by celebrity chef John Besh, opined “nobody wants to be the buzzkill.” One lobbyist, who was reporting about abuse in the California state government was warned “remember Anita Hill.” On the other hand, many who have gone public report a catharsis of sorts. Says Susan Fowler, the Uber SB, “there’s something really empowering about standing up for what’s right. It’s a badge of honor.”
It is easy to forget that not long ago sexual abuse and harassment were ignored as described above. In fact, before 1975 the term “sexual harassment” did not even exist. With the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the creation of the EEOC things began to improve. At least, we had a law on the books. Corporations have been training employees as to proper behavior. However, societal attitudes have been slow to change. In 1991 Anita Hill’s accusations against Clarence Thomas fell on deaf ears. I dare say, things would have been different today.
This was a very hard blog for me to write. I wanted to do justice to the victims. I am glad that so many have found the courage to speak out, and I am gratified that society is finally willing to deal with the problem.
That said, I feel compelled to denote one important caveat. I fear that we are now very close to a slippery slope with respect to this issue. Once we head down that slippery slope there is no going back. As I said, we are being bombarded with new allegations seemingly every day. We have reached the point where any allegation is being deemed to be accurate. Politicians and high-profile executives have had their reputations besmirched and, in some cases, been forced to resign. Businesses are acting swiftly to terminate those who have been accused. Most of us are applauding these actions, and rightly so, but we have to be careful not to overreact.
The US constitution guarantees due process for those accused of a crime. I don’t want to be put in the position of defending these predators in any way, shape or form. But, one could argue that, in some cases, due process, e. g. a thorough, impartial investigation and a trial, is being denied. That, my friends, is the slippery slope to which I am referring.
Furthermore, in the eyes of the public, all instances are being perceived equally. Thus, an inappropriate joke is being perceived as equivalent to a charge of groping or even rape. Obviously, we as a society need to recognize that not all abuses are equal and the punishment for all of them should not be the same.
Quiz answer: Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Gerald Ford.