Yesterday the news of Matt Lauer came to me as a complete shock. Maybe I’ve been living under a rock, but I had not heard of his rumored affairs or sexually inappropriate behavior over the years.
Matt is not alone on this journey though. Over the past few years and more recently the past few months, we have seen and heard woman after woman come forward about being sexually harassed or assaulted in the work place. Calling out high-profile men and watching as they’re fired and stripped of their reputation. Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, Charlie Rose, U.S Senator Al Franken….the list goes on and on and on.
All of these instances have felt like huge wins for women. Women who have been torn down and stripped of their dignity at the expense of a man in power are getting justice and regaining their power. We are being heard and actions against our perpetrators are being taken in real ways. I’ve felt more bonded to women and empowered that real change is happening than I ever have. Women are really being seen and heard…AND will start to be represented as equally as our male counterparts.
I felt all of this—until yesterday.
Yesterday something flipped for me. I feel a little less empowered. A little less confident that women will continue to be heard. A little less connected to my tribe. But mostly, I feel scared.
Scared for women’s future in management and executive positions. Scared that all of this progress is actually going to have a reverse effect. Scared that with this step forward (women speaking out and justice being served), we are actually taking two huge steps back.
With each high profile man that has been fired or reprimanded for his behavior, I have heard comments from male colleagues, male friends and family that are very unsettling and which completely miss the point:
“Well geez, at this rate every guy is going to be accused of sexual harassment.”
“Guys can’t say anything right no matter what—we always lose.”
“A guy can’t even compliment a woman anymore without worrying he’ll be accused of harassment.”
“Wow, this man’s entire reputation and career have been ruined over this accusation.”
And the most troubling of all…
“Men aren’t even going to want to work with women anymore, let alone hire them. You can’t be around them.”
My innate response to these statements is, “Um, no. Show respect and don’t say or do inappropriate things to women. It’s actually that simple! Maybe… most men have sexually harassed a woman before. I think that’s maybe the point of all of this.”
Sexual harassment and assault is pretty cut and dry. Why is this so hard to understand?
My theory…it’s a behavior that is so ingrained in our society that a lot of men don’t even realize the things they say or have said to their women co-workers, sisters, girlfriends and wives is actually sexual harassment.
I also wonder about the breeding of sexual harassment and assault in our society from man to man.
How many young men feel pressured to engage in locker room talk with other male co-workers to fit in and prove they’re cool and can shoot the shit with the guys? This is how it starts out. Just a disrespectful comment here and there to “the guys”—you don’t actually mean it. This becomes the mentality though, and the lines become blurred. This is the work culture you’ve become accustomed to. Now we’ve gone from a 24-year-old boy trying to prove himself as one of the guys with some “harmless” comments, to a 65-year-old man in power, guilty of countless sexual assaults and rape. I am not a psychologist or professional in this field by any means, but I don’t think it takes a genius to see how this culture can snowball.
Everyone knows it goes on and as women, the comments, crude gestures and suggestive glances are just something you learn to deal with and take, and hope it doesn’t ever escalate to more.
“It’s a compliment, hun.”
It’s your responsibility as a woman to not put yourself in a situation where it could escalate. Or, decide if moving forward in your career is worth the risk. It sounds dramatic (to a lot of men), but it’s true—I’ve experienced it. If you say something snarky or sarcastic in response to their comment then it’s likely construed you’re asking for it—you liked it. Call them out for being rude and inappropriate—you’re a bitch, aggressive, a ball-buster, uptight, prude, etc.
It is a constant mine field of de-escalating, uncomfortable situations, picking your battles and on some level accepting that this is the shit you have to put up with and play the game if you want in the club. Which by the way, you’ll never actually be in. But you’ll keep trying and taking it.
Knowing all of this, I sit here…scared. That while we all know this culture is wrong, it plays a huge role in the hierarchy of American society. Scared that while more awareness and justice to this behavior has been served than ever before, men are still largely in power in this country. Scared that with every man in power taken down for assault, there are a dozen more really good men thinking, “I don’t even want to work with women anymore or hire them.” Because they too are scared.
I am so happy women are standing up for themselves and seeking justice. And I want to make clear that I encourage and support every woman to come forward about the men taking advantage of them in any capacity-now is not the time to be silent. But, in that same breath, I am scared it’s having a reverse effect on men and women are going to lose opportunities and the work place is about to become even more segregated by gender. I fear that men, just like women have, are going to come together to protect themselves, their reputation and career, and unfortunately it is still going to be at the expense of women.
How is that by speaking out for what is right and just, we have made ourselves a liability? I fear in the minds of a lot of men—they will be too scared to work or speak to us. The irony.
But truthfully, how can we really expect anything to change when the leaders of the country, the President of the United States and leader of the free world - openly degrades, sexually harasses and assaults women, and has for years?! It was just over a year ago that more than a dozen women came forward accusing him of sexual harassment or assault.
“Grab her by the pussy. You can do anything” -Donald Trump
And despite his complete candor about his disgusting demeanor towards women, we voted him in. This is the culture we live in. This is the society we belong to that accepts this behavior from our nation’s leaders. And yes, I am scared.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I do see the battle women face taking a turn in a direction no one could have ever expected. And I am fearful it will not be good.