The news has been full to bursting with accounts of famous people caught up in sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, molestation, and rape scandals. Actors, directors, agents, politicians, sports figures (not so many of these), and religious leaders have been put on notice that inappropriate sexual behavior may well be tolerated for a time, but eventually will come to light. And that “eventually” is now.
That may be all well and wonderful, but the situation is not without its problems. There are the #MeToo backlash; the #Not All Men protestations; the concerns over “ruining” a man’s life, sports career, or future livelihood; the “mean” or “lenient” judges handing out punitive sentences or slaps on the wrist (respectively); explanations and definitions of “consent”; and the supposed gray area regarding what is and is not permissible between men and women, especially in the workplace, in flirting, and in dating.
This is a conversation that we need to have, try as some do to shut it down. But what worries me is that the emphasis is predominantly about the rich, the famous, the powerful and the women or men they demean.
The people being left out of the conversation are the average Joes and Janes – people who never appear in People, whose transgressions and victimizations never spark a word in even the local press.
Harvey Weinstein may be a Hollywood pariah, but what about the middle manager at the car plant who doles out time off and other perks to workers that laugh at his crude jokes and smile when he (or, sometimes, she) sets up an after-work pub visit that mysteriously turns out to be just the two of them?
What about the fast food worker whose boss continually rubs up against her backside as he passes her behind the counter?
What about the community college student who starts receiving unsolicited dick pics after her email address and photo get passed around?
What about the hotel clerk who finds himself regularly invited up to customers’ rooms, heh, heh?
What about the women and men who are just trying to make a living and have to put up with lewd, crude, demeaning, or threatening behavior just because they need to keep receiving a paycheck or a promotion or a better job assignment.
Some of these people have participated in the #MeToo campaign, sometimes anonymously, without naming their harassers or reporting their conduct. If they’re afraid or unwilling to be specific, if their complaints are never investigated, if they’re too far down the notoriety food chain to have a hope in hell that someone will take action, how will outing celebrity harassers help?
Mom-and-pop shops, small local business, and even some with multi-state presences have no H.R. department, or if they do, have one that concerns itself only with issues other than harassment in the workplace. Though there may be a policy against retaliation for reporting such issues, how likely is it to be enforced when the rules against sexual harassment are not?
Then there’s non-job-related harassment. Stalking, cyberstalking, unwanted attentions of all sorts that do not stop with a simple, clear no. Some of this behavior starts at shockingly young ages – middle school students engage in it. Ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends use revenge porn or other online harassment for which there is no recourse.
Admittedly, just because a person accuses a celebrity or a person of power doesn’t mean that she or he will be believed. Too often accusations are dismissed as whining, retaliation for some imagined slight, publicity-seeking, or just plain malice. But the climate in the United States at the moment is for some of these higher-ups to get their comeuppance.
Soon, I fear, the pendulum will swing in the other direction and the reports and accusations will again be ignored or pushed aside. You can see that beginning to happen already.
And in the meantime, average working people and students and tenants and – well, virtually anyone – will continue to be harassed with impunity and without effective recourse.
Because, after all, society cares more about the problems of the popular and the powerful.