Dec. 16, 2017
In the past several months, earthshaking accusations of sexual misconduct by men in politics, show business, the media, sports, corporate America, and more have begun to reshape our national social landscape. After the careers of Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Marshall Faulk, Garrison Keillor, Russell Simmons, Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, and many more have crashed and burned before our eyes, there seems to be a chance that the fallout might include a refreshing and respectful way to conduct business between men and women (or men and men, as the case may be).
What we have lost in comedy, cinema, music, sports, and political acumen will more than be offset by a better society … if we can all learn the consequences of sex being just another tool in the arsenal of the power hungry.
Like any seismic shift in the social order, there will be a long period of uncertainty about what norms will emerge from the chaos of near daily revelations of another fallen star. We have pretty much exhausted our capacity to be shocked, even though we know for certain that, as we speak, additional accusations are scratching their way to the surface. It is not hard to imagine Hollywood stars, politicians, movie moguls, athletes, corporate bigwigs, etc., tidying up their offshore bank accounts in anticipation of the moment that they are going to be outed.
How did we get here? It was 37 years ago that sexual harassment in the workplace became illegal under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Since that time, men and women have had the opportunity to work out what is acceptable sexual activity and what is unwanted — and therefore illegal — sexual harassment. Most of us have been subjected to countless videos about sexual harassment in the workplace. As we watched lecherous men drooling over the new office worker while washed-up actors lectured us on proper behavior, we could confidently state that OUR workplace was a safe place for everyone. After all, we had watched the video.
So after all those years of properly groomed behavior, what happened in 2017 that blew up all that hard work we had done? Are 37 years of video-cleansed professional behavior by happy men and women down the drain because of Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer?
Without a doubt, we, like Time magazine, must acknowledge the bravery of those women who have come forward with their complaints. While we must try to avoid the hysteria that might lead to ruining careers of men who are falsely accused, we are in a period when women must be given the benefit of the doubt because we have for so long simply ignored what was obviously happening in every realm of our society.
It’s impossible, however, to avoid giving credit where credit is due. It’s far too early for us to catalog all the national shame Donald Trump has, or will have, brought to our country through his reckless policies, his racist rants, his general lack of understanding of even the basic principles upon which our country was founded, etc. But we do know he deserves a lot of credit for bringing to our attention just how ineffective monotone lectures by washed-up actors on cheesy videos are in eliminating sexual harassment.
Trump’s long history of treating women in the most degrading manner possible was well known in his circle. I even got to witness it first-hand when we somehow ended up at the same wedding reception years ago. As I took a pause from the dancing to reload a couple glasses of wine, Trump walked over to me to give me a play-by-play analysis of various women on the dance floor. When he worked his way over to my then-wife, who was dancing with some of her girlfriends, he gave me a graphic description of what he’d like to do to her. He didn’t know she was my wife … or maybe he did. I don’t suppose it matters. It was my first look at a couple of jerks: him, and me.
In his lewdness and objectification of a woman he didn’t even know, I recognized how poorly I, too, had treated some women in my own life. (This was pre-1980, so I hadn’t had a chance to watch any videos yet.) What Trump did for me in the late 1970s, he did for the entire country in Billy Bush’s Access Hollywood “secret” video revealed in 2016. At the moment we found out that a major presidential candidate was bragging about kissing this and grabbing that, we learned just how normal predatory behavior by some (many?) men in power could be. And then a month later, when we actually elected this lowlife to the Presidency, we learned that millions of people cared little that not much had changed since sexual harassment became a crime in 1980.
When 61,900,651 people loudly announced on Nov. 8, 2016 that kissing this and grabbing that were not only normal behaviors but also behaviors worthy of our highest elected office, we had certainly reached the lowest point in our history regarding respect for women.
But in that awful moment, perhaps a spark was ignited. Perhaps women everywhere, so long silent victims of predatory behavior, came to realize that enough was enough. Sure, more than a dozen women with credible stories of Trump’s criminal behavior weren’t enough to prevent his presidency. But maybe that spark was enough to ignite the tinderbox that has brought us to today’s daily exposés.
So thanks, Donald. Help is on the way.
You can read more of Mark Pontoni's thoughts on education, politics, sports, and family at www.thegrumblings.com.