November 17, 2017
I am visiting the United States and the big news continues to be the almost daily revelations about sexual harassment by men in Washington, Hollywood — pretty much everywhere, actually. Yesterday it was a Democratic senator and a few days before that the Republican candidate for senate in Alabama was accused of trying to date 14 year old girls when he was in his 30s. In the UK parliament a similar series of scandals are emerging, and threaten the stability of Teresa May’s already unstable government.
The first of the big sexual harassment revelations came weeks ago, with Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, and it has been nonstop ever since. Was anybody really surprised that a wealthy, older man was using his power to try and convince young, pretty actresses to have sex with him? I was not. But I wonder after a few weeks of reflection, shouldn’t we all be ashamed that it was so unsurprising?
Not to excuse it in the least, but Harvey Weinstein’s behavior sounds exactly like the kind of thing one expects to go on in Hollywood (not to mention many other places). The truth is that I — and many other people — assumed that things like this were going on and didn’t give it any thought at all. It’s not that I thought sexually harassing women was okay, it’s more that I accepted that was just part of how things worked. Unfortunate, yes, but also standard.
Though I have no direct connections to the Weinstein scandal, the above does make me partly complicit. It also helps explain how so many people continued to keep one man’s abhorrent behavior a secret for so long — dozens of people over dozens of years, not only the victims, and in fact many of the people the whole world watches in movies and television every day.
All this causes further shock when I begin to think about the implications for my five year old daughter. Not only do I now fear she will encounter some kind of sexual harassment in the future — apparently a statistical certainty — but it is also becomes increasingly obvious how early-on society begins to set different parameters for the acceptable way for men and women (boys and girls) to behave.
It is amazing how often my daughter spouts some generalization about boys and girls. “Boys are stronger than girls.” — No, honey, some boys might be stronger than you, but not all, and girls can play sports too. “Boys don’t wear necklaces, and girls do.” — Boys can wear necklaces, and girls don’t have to. “Boys sleep later than girls.” — No honey, your father is just lazier than your mother.
It’s a mistake to think that harassment scandals erupting in far away places like Hollywood, are an exception. They are not, they are the norm. They also mean that we can’t pretend we don’t know anymore.