A lot of women may laugh at that statement, and they deserve to have that laugh. But in my comfortable naivete, I had no idea of the scale, scope and prevalence of sexual predation inflicted on so many women by so many powerful men in the workplace.
Back when the Bill Cosby stories began to emerge, I thought them bizarre but isolated, one man’s perversity. Then Roger Ailes? Disgusting. Then Bill O’Reilly and Mark Halperin and Eric Bolling and Harvey Weinstein and James Toback, and of course Donald Trump and Bill Clinton and and and ….
Yes, really. Trump’s attitude in that infamous Access Hollywood tape — “When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy” — turns out to be not merely the bragging of one serial abuser but the ethos of many more men than I would have suspected.
In reading multiple victim accounts, I’m struck by how alike they seem, although to each individual victim it must have seemed like their own very personal nightmare. In every case, you see the casual, confident cruelty of the perpetrator. These men liked to toy with their victims as if they were cats playing with a mouse they had captured. They appear to revel in their power to do whatever they wanted, without fear of consequence and certainly without concern about the impact on their disposable victim.
You also see a stunning sense of entitlement at work, as if these men believed that the right to treat women this way was part of their contract with the universe, a perk of their success. Nothing illustrates that sense more emphatically than O’Reilly’s operatic anger at being caught. He blames his political opponents, he blames the media, he blames the victims, he even blames God. He does not blame himself, continuing to insist that he had never done anything wrong
He also tries to hide his inexcusable behavior behind his children, insisting that the stories are doing them harm. Yet that professed concern for the impact on his children didn’t stop him from using his media power to lure, intimidate, and impose his sexual fantasies upon a series of women. He also whines about a conspiracy to “take him out of the marketplace forever,” which is rich stuff from a man who repeatedly used his own power to make or break careers in order to force compliance with his wishes.
You also hear the stories from those who suspected and to their shame did nothing; you hear less from those who knew outright and did nothing. Those too take on a sameness, perhaps because there are only so many ways to describe a debasement to power. But I’m shocked most by how institutionalized the predation had become at places such as Fox News and the Weinstein Company, and no doubt elsewhere as well. Six-figure, seven-figure, even eight-figure lawsuit settlements were pretty much built into budgets as the cost of doing business. People knew; a lot of people knew and even participated in various ways. Lawyers, public relations people, private detectives, human resources personnel … entire systems were created to facilitate the abuse, to then silence and intimidate the victims, and if that failed to then secretly pay off victims and force the signing of non-disclosure agreements, so that it could all continue and no one would lose their place on the gravy train.
Victim after victim, year after year, settlement after settlement, they got away with it. Look at Trump. Just a year ago, some two dozen women came out to accuse him of various forms of abuse, assault and harassment; some 20 of them did so publicly, in their own names. A few weeks later, he got elected president of the United States, and many of those in politics who expressed horror at his actions now compete abjectly for his favor. Look also at O’Reilly, who has been welcomed back on to Fox shows and is reportedly negotiating a multi-million-dollar contract to return to the airwaves with Sinclair Broadcasting.
This is not OK and not to be tolerated, except of course when there’s money to be made.
And if you’re stunned that all this has been happening in the highly visible, highly public fields of politics, media and entertainment, pretty much right out in the open, in liberal settings as well as conservative, think about where else it must be happening. In big cities and small towns, Fortune 500 companies and neighborhood restaurants, in the military and charitable nonprofits, in Congress and state legislatures — everywhere, every day.
I didn’t know, not really. I do now, and I’m disgusted by the knowledge.