Hey guys, (and by that I mean men), we need to talk! It’s time for man-to-man conversations about our role in combating sexual harassment, abuse and predation. Time to think about and confront the reality that it is so pervasive in our culture because men in positions to do something about it become complicit by staying silent, cavalierly dismissing victim’s claims, or purposely sweeping them under the rug.
Yes, men are sometimes victims. And sometimes they may be falsely accused. But let’s face it, sexual harassment and abuse results from the perpetrator taking advantage of power, be it economic, physical or psychological. And it happens that most perpetrators are men because it is men who primarily hold the power in our economy and culture.
Sexual harassment isn’t just a women’s issue. It is a human issue. If we want to change the culture we have to become allies with the women it affects, not bystanders. If you are in a position to do something, your silence becomes an enabler.
Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein got away with his sexual abuses because for decades his colleagues looked the other way. As filmmaker Quintin Tarantino lamented. “I knew enough to do more than I did.”
Before the Weinstein revelations there was Bill O’Reilly, the hypocritical platitudinous general of the right’s Culture War to defend “Great American” values.
In at least six different agreements from 2002-2017, O’Reilly or his employer, Fox News, reportedly paid out over $45 million to settle and avoid sexual harassment suits against the talk show host. But with good ratings O’Reilly was still given a $25 million a year contract extension. Until potential public exposure of the details of harassment threatened business, whereby the network finally terminated his contract in April.
Oregon has its own high profile stories.
Bob Packwood was elected Oregon Senator in 1968 and re-elected four times, the last in 1992, in part because of support from women for his pro-choice advocacy. After the 1992 election the media began detailing sexual abuse and assault claims from several women, 19 eventually came forward. After a Senate Ethics Committee investigation Packwood resigned in 1995 rather than face expulsion.
In a 10,000 page report, including citations from his diary, the Committee, chaired by now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, detailed Packwood’s activities over his 25 years in office. McConnell summarized “There was a habitual pattern of aggressive, blatantly sexual advances, mostly directed at members of his own staff or others whose livelihoods were connected in some way to his power and authority as a Senator.”
Ed Fadeley served 26 years in the Oregon Legislature with a reputation that discouraged women from even getting in the elevator with him. After losing to Neil Goldschmidt in the 1986 gubernatorial primary he won an open seat on the Oregon Supreme Court in 1988. In 1996 the Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability filed ethical complaints against him that included sexual harassment. Fadelely resigned after the Commission recommended he be suspended.
Goldschmidt had problems too. He had been Portland’s mayor from 1973-1979 before being elected Governor in 1986. After surprisingly declining to run for a second term he headed an influential law and lobbying firm in Portland. But in 2004 the media began to unravel and reveal his secret: while mayor he had a sexual relationship with a young teenager.
He had managed to keep it quiet for so long with the assistance of Portland businessmen and many others who worked for him that either knew of the abuse or knew of the rumors.
Eventually their conduct caught up with all these men. But not before they were able to have long, often lucrative, careers because those who knew of their conduct kept silent or conspired to keep others silent.