In previous years, I compiled a yearly anthology of “horror stories about men without shame,” detailing sexual harassment stories that female associates had been willing to put in print. I will forgo publishing this year’s edition for one simple reason: it’s redundant.
I honestly expected that 2017 was going to be the Year of the Swine, and in many ways, it truly was. One of their own had become President, and he made it there with disturbing amounts of American women almost celebrating his aggression. Granted, the alternative in that election was a woman with a history of enabling alleged sexual predators (particularly, her husband), but still. Then Roy Moore said, “Hold my [whatever evangelical ephebophiles drink instead of beer],” and came within inches of showing that America had yet to hit rock bottom. Congrats on realizing the lowest common denominator isn’t that low. USA! USA!
But to paraphrase a hashtag that has recently become prominent, the time might be up for the swine. In October 2016, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of numerous acts of sexual assault and harassment. He denied the allegations, other actresses came forward and collectively called “bullshit,” he lazily feigned remorse, went into hiding, and might actually face criminal charges for raping his way through Los Angeles and New York. The system almost works!
And it didn’t just stop with one man getting thrown under the bus, as is often the case. Bill Cosby had similarly numerous and appalling accusations leveled at him, and while his career was eventually compromised several decades too late, it didn’t set off any sort of chain reaction. Sure, people finally stopped ignoring allegations circulating in hushed tones for ages, and to say he’s fallen from grace would be an understatement, but aside from the destruction of an already stagnant career, nothing else really came of it.
I suppose the Weinstein scandal represented a breaking point for what people were willing to endure. This is tragicomic in a sense, as people were willing to elect as President a man with similarly galling tendencies, but for some reason, such behavior was intolerable from the guy who produced Tarantino movies. Still, he fell, and others soon followed. Actors, politicians, sports commentators: if you were a person of power who abused your power for sex, you were vulnerable. And it was about damned time.
The fact of the matter is that this sort of thing has been a problem since time immemorial. My grandmother recently observed that, in her day, she was advised to stay away from men with WHS (Wandering Hands Syndrome), and it was something simultaneously avoided and endured in equal measure. “But of course, we didn’t have careers back then,” she added, and it disturbed her greatly to realize that men with WHS are often gatekeepers for career women, often demanding a grotesque toll for the privilege of getting that much closer to the glass ceiling. That such a dreadful reality was accepted as a mere fact of life for so long is shameful, and the fact that such behavior might no longer be tolerated is promising for at least some of humanity.
But of course, we still have a long way to go. It’s been barely three months since the Weinstein scandal broke, and we’re already back to people trivializing assault and harassment victims. Rosie DiManno penned a lengthy tantrum against #metoo after now-former Ontario Progressive Conservative party leader Patrick Brown was accused of inappropriate conduct with teenage staffers, because he was immediately pressured to resign and the accusers were anonymous. Dave Chapelle insulted women who were harassed and assaulted by Louis CK, stating that if his actions interrupted their career path, they had a brittle spirit. Never mind that the provincial PCs are in a state of disarray and would probably dismiss Brown for sneezing too loudly, or that Louis CK’s actions were perhaps indicative of what his victims would have to endure if they intended to pursue a career in comedy. I’ll admit that Brown was thrown under the bus awfully quickly, but it would have happened inevitably, and lashing out at people for being apprehensive of one more sexual predator getting into politics is ludicrous. Obviously, we’re erring on the side of caution, but it’s not like Brown was irreplaceable, and frankly, a half-eaten ham sandwich has a decent chance against Wynne. Even I’d consider voting for it.
As for us, it’s important to remember that as soon-to-be relative experts on the law, we have some duty to iterate that the court of public opinion is not a criminal court. Putting aside the issue of sexual-assault charges rarely leading to a conviction and being extraordinarily unpleasant for the victim, there’s just a difference in the burden of proof. In criminal court, you can only convict someone if they’re guilty without reasonable doubt. The court of public opinion operates more on a “balance of probabilities” standard, and while some people might be quick to condemn or exonerate, at least public opinion doesn’t land you in prison. Even assuming that Brown didn’t do anything untoward, the sad reality is that innocent people often do pay for things they never did, and Brown losing a privilege barely compares to a wrongly convicted person spending any time in prison. We can do worse. We do it all the time. If that grinds your gears, help out with the Innocence Project.
In any event, the Year, and perhaps even the Age of the Swine is over. We should engage in a little privilege and take that precious moment to look back, and realize with horror, what goes on behind our backs, or even under our noses. Men with power and without shame will always exist, and many will be smart to get away with it. But while creatures like Weinstein will always exist and never feel remorse, they can be ushered to the slaughterhouse of obscurity, if not sued into poverty or criminally convicted. Enough is enough.
Anyway, that’s my men without shame article for this year. Why write anonymous stories about anonymous people when public figures are paying for their lack of decency. I want to say I “called it,” but I don’t think I actually predicted a public repudiation of a grim reality people have endured for as long as there have been humans.
I, for one, hope it goes well.