As 2017 comes to a close, it is not an overstatement to say that this year we have lived through a revolution. And it is a revolution that is just beginning. Millions of women, drawn by the hashtag #MeToo, have come forth to put their experiences with sexual harassment, assault and rape on the record. Some men also have revealed similar heartbreaking stories of sexual predators that altered their lives. It is as if an enormous dam has broken with the gut-wrenching descriptions pouring out unendingly, toppling icons of power like bowling pins. Just as Betty Friedan started the revolution we call the women’s liberation movement, so this avalanche of sordid encounters that began with revelations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has touched off a revolution but of a much faster pace than the one 50 years or so ago. Social media has helped connect these victims and carry the torch of outrage.
I suppose from the earliest times when men and women have walked the earth, there have been sexual predators. Mostly the predators have been men who were able to exact what they wanted from vulnerable women who needed their protection and support, perhaps for such basics as food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their children. Once women entered the workplace in large numbers, they were often assigned to male supervisors who could advance or block their careers or even take away their jobs.
Those jobs could be in Hollywood, in TV journalism, in large and small offices, in hotels, in politics, in academia, in short anywhere that there might be an imbalance of power leaving one employee vulnerable. What’s different now? The whisper network that warned has become a social network that shames.
Time magazine named the Silence Breakers as 2017 Person of the Year. The hashtag, #MeToo, will go down in history although the movement’s founder, Tarana Burke, was not featured on the cover. Instead the group photo comprised actress Ashley Judd, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, Visa lobbyist Adama Iwu, songstress Taylor Swift and Isabel Pascual, a Mexican strawberry picker who asked to use a pseudonym to protect her family, according to Time. They might have been anyone on the cover, although the famous attract more attention, from the doctoral candidate at a prestigious university who refused her professor’s advances and consequently was denied her degree, to the housekeeper in a hotel who goes about cleaning the bathtubs but never knows when she might be cornered by a guest or supervisor demanding sexual favors.
The first time I personally knew anyone who had been a sexual victim was in college. A close friend was talking about her affair with a professor and was overheard by another student who was having the same experience. The unlikely encounter and some quick conversation revealed the same professor was bedding both women. In a rage, my friend confronted her lover with the words, “You are sick!”
But was he sick? Or was he just acting out the culture in which he had been raised? As Time magazine wrote, “It wasn’t so long ago that the boss chasing his secretary around the desk was a comic trope, a staple from vaudeville to prime-time sitcoms.” Cultures are all pervasive, and where they are not confronted by conscience or mob outrage, they continue.
On the eve of the holidays, let’s focus on a short but delightful segment from the “PBS News Hour” Tuesday night. Women confide to sometimes feeling taken advantage of financially when bringing cars to be repaired, knowing so little about the way cars work. One woman felt tired of feeling a victim, quit her job as an engineer, went to auto-mechanic school and opened up what appears to be the nation’s first all-female auto-repair shop in California. It seems to be a great success. Best of all, she no longer feels a victim. There is a moral here.
Happy and healthy holidays to you and yours!