In the last several weeks, I’ve read numerous accounts of women finding themselves in offices or other meeting spaces with men only to find the man suddenly whip out his private parts. A recent op-ed piece by Maureen Dowd is an eye-opener. What type of person does that? And from what planet do these guys come?
There must be a place in the universe that grants certain people a set of rights and authenticates a type of behavior that empowers men to be totally id-driven and act without accountability. Most of us would call this place “Fantasy Land.” Unfortunately, it is not a fantastic place nor a place that exists only in imagination. Moreover, it’s population is larger than we imagine or want to acknowledge.
This whole episode of Harvey Weinstein and his sexual predatorship reminds me of my time as a foster parent. When young foster boys are caught, or even accused by a credible witness, of flashing their genitals to other people, it is grounds for severe remediation. The offending child can be immediately reprimanded in some way, referred to his case worker or a psychiatrist, or removed from that family’s home and placed in another. Typically, the consequences are affected without delay.
In this manner, foster kids, like the rest of us, learn that “flashing” is developmentally unacceptable, socially inappropriate, and universally offensive in everyday society. It is a behavior that merits correction. Why, then, do grown men in power believe that it is their right to do what preteens and adolescents know is verboten?
My wife and I were watching the marvelous social-conscious comedy One Mississippi on the Amazon network last week. In a most disturbing scene, a radio producer begins masturbating under his desk as a woman is discussing a new program. We watched in disbelief and asked each other, “How did they even conceive that scene!” It was so disturbing. Well, two days later, I heard Rebecca Luby on NPR describing how the same thing happened to her in real-life.
Talk about life imitating art.
What kind of home training, groupthink, fraternity mindset allows this to happen? Social psychology tells us that people change when they are in groups. Behaviors that people won’t engage individually gets sanctioned by the crowd, or the company, and bad things happen. The Fox News and Bill O'Reilly settlement shows how it happens.
That place within that empowers men to affront women with sex and rape and other forms of harassment is deep-seeded. Social psychology can name it, but not change it. Only individuals can do that.
It would help if the bystanders start speaking out sooner. Few people want to be a whistleblower, but standing by as a colleague abuses people of lesser power is the equivalent of forfeiting one’s moral imperative to protect those who cannot protect themselves. It’s an easy way out, but also a path to self-inflicted moral injury as regret and remorse sink in.
Perhaps, that is why the Quentin Tarantino’s of the world are speaking out in shame against their own silence. The thing is, Weinstein isn’t the only one. Why aren’t they speaking up now against the others? And what about the rest of us?
We all have a moral imperative to speak up against the Weinsteins of the world. Where do they come from? They come from our own social universe. Sometimes, it’s our family. At other times, it’s our office space. It could be our friendship circle, too. Either way, any silence is complicit with their nefarious actions. So let us not be silent.
There is a song in my faith tradition, Unitarian Universalism. It is “Where Do We Come From?” The words are simple: “Where do we come? Who are we? Where are we going?” This is a chant that we all can turn into a socially-conscious mantra.
Only a universal protest, one-by-one, company-by-company, union-by-union, and so forth will bring change. There will be seismic transformation of the film industry as those who've spoken out speak about.
We can’t change from where we came, but we can change the direction in which we are going.