By Beverly George
There has been a cacophony of “Me, too!” cries recently from scores of women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace by men in power.
On October 5th, Harvey Weinstein began the long parade of powerful men in business, entertainment, and politics losing their jobs, with more men getting their marching orders every day. The range of odious behavior directed to women begins with inappropriate, rude, or crude comments or actions, and extends to lewd or criminal behavior.
While I am pleased to see the spotlight shine on these heinous acts, I have some nagging thoughts.
First, what about the victims of sexual harassment or assault from a less famous employer, such as the manager of the local corner store, restaurant, manufacturing plant, or car dealership? Will these victims have the courage to tell their stories, or will they fear losing the jobs they desperately need? Will these men be held accountable?
Second, I’ve read about the standing procedure for making a complaint of sexual abuse in the Congress and in other high offices. In the past, victims have received financial settlements, but at the very high personal price of signing non-disclosure agreements so ironclad, the offenders’ names can never be disclosed, enabling them to continue their illicit behavior. I resent mightily that my tax dollars are used to pay the settlements and keep the cloak of secrecy in place while the wheels of these crimes roll over additional victims.
‘I resent mightily that my tax dollars are used to pay the settlements and keep the cloak of secrecy in place while the wheels of these crimes roll over additional victims.’
Third, the repercussions for an assailant in business is immediate and severe as it should be, but politicians spend a lot of time denying (even with multiple, credible victims) and then dithering. They seem to get a pass if they can ride out the 72-hour news cycle that immediately follows. And when they deny strongly and continuously, many of their female supporters join their cheerleading squad! When I see Alabama women support Roy Moore in spite of the numerous accusers, I am completely dumbstruck. Moore’s incongruous support from women makes me brace for a backlash after the initial, wide support for victims.
Fourth, I worry the emphasis in the media will shift from the deep and enduring harm done to the victims by these predators, to the perceived-as-too-harsh penalties paid by them. Could we hear this statement in the not-so-distant future? “He lost his job, his business, his reputation, his family, his position in the community.” This could backlash into silencing the victims again. And if one, just one, woman’s story is found to be false, the backlash to women will be immediate and acute, and all future testimonies will be discredited with doubt and a suspected “woman scorned” motivation.
I’ve heard TV pundits say we need to keep the conversation going and try to find the elements in our culture that have promoted, or at least allowed, the prevalence of sexual abuse by men in power to grow.
I believe America has a very real caste system. It is a part of American society or culture that people of color and people of lower economic income are valued less than their white or wealthier neighbors. I see it in the prosecution of our laws, differences in public education systems, low minimum wage, investments in community infrastructure, and recent legislative efforts to lessen or remove critical social services from those most in need.
Does this devaluation of some American lives extend to women in America? The evidence indicates it does. American women workers still earn $0.80 on the dollar for the same work done by men. Recent GOP efforts to repeal and replace the ACA had men writing the legislation to determine and limit reproductive health choices for women. The legislation they wrote without any women’s voices effectively categorized women as chattel. The sexual abuse of women in the workplace is just another symptom of the inequality of women.
‘Would passing the ERA change the status of women?’
Would passing the Equal Rights Amendment change the status of women? I’m a realist, as well as a feminist, and I believe positive outcomes from adding the ERA to the U.S. Constitution would evolve through the courts, albeit slowly. However, passing the ERA would immediately raise hope, raise voices, and give power to women, and the men who support them, to secure their equal rights under the Constitution. The ERA would have a greater and more lasting effect on women’s lives than any single or multiple pieces of legislation, too often diluted by subsequent efforts to repeal, to revise, or to interpret differently from the original intent.
Passing the ERA into Constitutional law is long overdue. When women are securely equal to men under the Constitution, more of them will be empowered to advocate for themselves in the workplace and not just on the subject of salary.
May the chorus of #MeToo play on.
ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.