Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor — these are just the latest men to be ousted for sexual misconduct in the ongoing quest to expose workplace sexual harassment. Since The New York Times broke the story on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in early October, there has been a cultural reckoning when it comes to sexual harassment.
The New York Times article revealed that Weinstein regularly sexually assaulted women that he worked with throughout the years. This was a well-known secret in Hollywood, with actress Jessica Chastain revealing that she had been warned about working with Weinstein. But the Weinstein piece was just the start of what would eventually be a series of revelations about various men both within and outside of Hollywood, many of which had been “well-known secrets.” And the list of men accused of sexual misconduct keeps growing longer every day, at a rate that is almost impossible to keep up with.
Hours after the Weinstein investigation was published, pop culture writer Anne T. Donahue asked women on Twitter to share when they met their version of a Harvey Weinstein. Her tweet received thousands of responses from women sharing their personal experiences of sexual harassment, particularly by men in power.
#MeToo spread across social media with women posting the hashtag to signify that they had also been a victim of sexual harassment or assault in some form. The goal was to show the magnitude of women who are affected. Similar hashtags started trending around the world, like France’s #BalaceTonPorc.
Social media has given women a voice, both to let others know how rampant this problem is, but also to actively expose men’s behavior. When Ben Affleck issued a statement on Twitter regarding his disappointment in working with a man like Weinstein, many women were quick to point out his hypocrisy. First, pointing to Affleck’s brother Casey, who was sued for sexual harassment, then pointing to Ben Affleck’s own behavior as video footage resurfaced of Ben Affleck groping Hilarie Burton on Total Request Live in 2003.
It’s easy enough to show outrage over a case like Weinstein. Weinstein shows an extreme example of abuse of power but it’s not just the extreme cases that matter. Showing sympathy towards the cause, as Affleck did, is not enough when your own behavior is a part of the problem. But Affleck is not the only example of a man whose actions betrays his words.
In early November, the New York Times published the allegations of five women made against comedian Louis C.K. for sexual misconduct. Like producer Harvey Weinstein, C.K.’s inappropriate behavior had been an open secret for a while, with allegations dating back to at least 2000. The secret was so open that tv producer Michael Shur tweeted that he heard about it before C.K.’s last appearance on the NBC show "Parks and Recreation" in 2012, a show that Shur co-created, produced, directed, and wrote for. Shur apologized for not doing more — a perfect example of someone enabling a man’s bad behavior.
For many women, the uncovering of Louis C.K. felt like a particular kind of betrayal. Louis C.K. seemed to get the male problem. He frequently joked about the many failings of men and he has quipped that men are the number one threat to women. Yet at the same time, masturbation was a common theme in C.K.’s comedy, as he regularly made fun of his own masturbatory habits. His comedy wasn’t just extremely relevant. It was his own admission of guilt, letting us know that he knew what he was doing and even knew how bad it really was.
It’s not just C.K.’s work that perfectly encapsulates the male problem; his own life encapsulates the problem. He is the perfect example of the male feminist who speaks out loudly against other men and yet continues his own demeaning behavior. And in this way, Louis C.K. does more than explain the problem, he shows it.
This problem is familiar to many women. I once sat in a group of men, all bemoaning the state of the nation, all self-proclaimed feminists. But when one man brought up a female journalist he worked with, he effortlessly described her big boobs and blonde hair. When someone asked what her name was, he didn’t hesitate to say “does it even matter?”
He was so blissfully unaware of his own hypocrisy. Just minutes before I heard him rant about inequality and race relations, yet here he was demeaning a woman with such ease. I’d like to pretend that this isn’t a normal occurrence, but it is. We continue to see it with every man who denounces sexual predators only to be exposed as one himself.
Writer Dana Schwartz collected stories from women who had similar experiences in her piece “Hating Trump Doesn’t Make A Man A Feminist.” Women were quick to answer her call when she asked on Twitter for stories about women’s interactions with “fake woke” liberal boys. Her article is filled with occurrences like the one described above. Women are all too familiar with this kind of disappointment in so-called feminist men.
We want to believe that the men who commit these acts fall into a certain stereotype. We are quick to classify them as monsters, to try to define how they are different from us and other upstanding people we know. But sexual harassment and sexual assault aren't just committed by the worst men and in the worst ways. It’s not just Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, or Roy Moore. Sexual misconduct is committed by your bosses, neighbors, and even your friends. It’s committed by men who claim to be feminists and by men we sometimes admire.
It can be hard to reconcile the good things you know about someone with the terrible things they’ve been accused of. But people can be both. They can be good fathers and sexually harass women. They can be your friend and be accused of assault.
Allies need to do more than be outraged when it’s convenient for them. They need to take responsibility for their actions both in how they treat women and how they enable other men’s behavior.
Adriana Vazquez (@vazquezadriana) is a Young Voices Advocate currently living in the Bay Area.
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