The change in dynamic has been palpable and unstoppable, ever since Harvey Weinstein was outed as a sexual predator. Sure, there’d been naming and shaming before that, with varying level of impacts—Cosby acquitted, Fox News gutted. But the Weinstein story opened the floodgates, with the accusations now coming at us in a fast and furious pace.
There’s enough of that in the public realm now that we can begin to categorize it—although doing so risks generalizing incidents that might represent the most objectively awful moments in some victims’ lives. Still, it seems to me, that the behavior reported falls into one of these tiers: criminality (i.e., you belong in jail, and hopefully that’s where you’re headed), dehumanization (you’re accustomed to treating men, women, and children as your personal playthings), disrespect (you’ve treated people with anything less than the dignity, professionalism, and respect that they deserve).
There seems to be a descending hierarchy of gravity there, but that’s nuance, and perhaps, legality. Some of that behavior will land you in jail, some won’t. But make no mistake, it’s all wrong. If you have the slightest moral compass, even if you’ve somehow convinced yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t need to control yourself, you know it’s wrong.
So men (because let us accept this fact: the overwhelming majority of perpetrators we’re talking about are men), if you’ve crossed any of those lines, at any point in your life, you know you did it, and you know it was wrong.
Those living the very public lives, celebrities and the like, who are guilty but not yet named-and-shamed, must be sweating bullets right about now. Because they also very well see that the floodgates are open, and that their time in the pillory is surely just around the bend.
But here’s the thing that implies this momentum can change all of society, not just Hollywood: You don’t have to be a celebrity to be a scumbag. There are a lot more faceless, everyday harassers and abusers among the general population, than there will ever be publicly shamed within the pages of The New Yorker.
That doesn’t mean the shame isn’t coming. The tide is turning—it has turned—and we won’t be getting away with neanderthal behavior much longer.
I said we. I am guilty of treating female colleagues with less than the level of dignity, professionalism, and respect that they deserve.
I’m not writing this to purge myself of culpability, or to make it about me in any way. So I won’t go into a lot of details, other than to say that the behavior I’m admitting to was decades ago—I’ve changed somewhat since becoming a husband and father. I also don’t think it ever rose to the levels of criminality.
None of that excuses anything, though. Because, just like every man who acts this way, I knew I was doing wrong. I did it anyway. How can there possibly be an excuse for that?
I say, therefore, that this is on us, we who act wrongly, have acted wrongly, who condone such acts, who stand idly by while it happens to others. If we’re guilty we’ll carry that load forever; we cannot change what we’ve done. But we can now begin to be agents of positive change.
Start with your own admission, to yourself if no one else. If you’ve done wrong, you know it; you need to dredge that guilt up to the light of day and examine it, probably for your very first time. Recognize what you’ve done, make amends, never do it again.
But don’t stop there, because this thing seems to have a generational life of its own. No male mentor ever told you not to act like a jackass? Well yes, you shouldn’t have needed to be told that, but don’t let that stop you from breaking the cycle. Tell your sons, tell the young men who admire and respect you: Do not act this way. Treat your co-workers, treat everyone, with dignity and respect.
No one deserves to be treated with anything less. Those of us who’ve crossed the line, we knew that, but somehow it wasn’t enough to stop us. But now we can be sure that real consequences are coming: unemployment, public disgrace, jail time. If we can’t change our ways, and we can’t make others change theirs, then this will be the very least that we deserve.