Sexual harassment and sexual assault have always bubbled just below the surface of our national consciousness. In 2017, we began to understand how pervasive and insidious the problem really is.
These are the obvious predators. Harvey Weinstein—a lumpy, sallow ogre—was clearly a horrible man. According to numerous on-and-off the record accounts, Weinstein’s history of sexual assault was an open secret throughout the industry.
Women were pressured into silence—whether explicitly by Weinstein or implicitly by virtue of being a woman in an industry dominated by men.
This fall, however, more than 80 women accused him of sexual misconduct from harassment to rape. He was fired by The Weinstein Company and ousted from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and his accusers are finally being heard. It’s good, but it’s not enough and it’s been far too long.
It helped that his accusers were famous, rich white women who the media were eager to believe and take seriously. Had they been lower income women of color, sadly they would almost certainly have been ignored. Nevertheless, Weinstein-gate triggered a valuable national conversation about sexual misconduct.
Former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was similarly grotesque, inside and out. He was one of the most evil men alive. He shaped the modern conservative message and paved the way for today’s alt-right extremism. He was forced to resign after several women at Fox—notably former Fox and Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson—accused him of sexual misconduct. (Then he died. Karma?)
If Roger Ailes was the Emperor working behind the scenes to build his evil empire, Bill O’Reilly was Darth Vader. The allegations of vile behavior towards women were well known. He was—and still is—simply the worst. But now his reign is over. Instead of dominating cable news, he rules a tiny, meaningless corner of internet radio.
The Nice Guys
This year shattered the illusion that women need only fear fire-breathing misogynists. The “woke” male feminist is all too often the most dangerous, because he seems the safest. Until he isn’t. Though he refuses to admit any sexual misconduct, Bill O’Reilly doesn’t pretend to not be an asshole.
Louis C.K., on the other hand, built his comedy career around being a decent—not perfect, but decent, white male ally. Yet he also derided and silenced his accusers for years before The New York Times expose forced his admission of guilt. His statement of “apology” never once included the word “sorry,” but numerous mentions of C.K.’s own talent and professional superiority to the women he targeted.
Having Senator Al Franken caught in a groping scandal was similarly disturbing, given his long record of championing leftist causes that benefit women. Some Democrats called for him to resign to avoid accusations of Democratic hypocrisy on sex scandals. Others threw up their hands and asked, “well who would run the government if we just oust every man who has touched a woman inappropriately?” This year was apparently also the year men forgot that women are allowed to vote and run for public office.
Then there’s Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a loud advocate for strong female characters. He called himself a feminist before it was cool. But this summer, his ex-wife Kai Cole revealed he spent almost their entire 15-year marriage cheating on her. In place of a staunch male ally was a chauvinistic predator who used his reputation to prey on the young hot women he almost exclusively cast—ugly women have no place in Whedon’s feminism—and gas-lighting his wife.
This year, 2017, was a reminder that the term “male feminist” is worthless.
After Weinstein-gate broke the dam, the flood of accusations poured through and haven’t stopped. Practically, every morning we wake up to news that another man has been accused of sexual misconduct. Senate candidate Roy Moore, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, Charlie Rose, Jeremy Piven, James Toback, the list grows every day. It pervades every sector of American life: politics, Hollywood, news media, music or private industry.
The cases we hear about are only a tiny fraction of a problem so pervasive that every woman has either experienced it or knows someone who has.
Now, somebody please fire Geraldo Rivera.