Some thoughts on all the sexual harassment / abuse / shenanigans that have been in the news of late:
- This is not a partisan issue. What all of those accused have in common is that they are men, typically of a certain era.
- There are levels of abuse being lumped together, from the off-color jokes or outside the clothes gestures on the least end to true sexual harassment and abuse (i.e., abuse of power relationship), improprieties with those underage, predatory activities, and activities after consent was not given. There are also ranges from one-time incidents where the behavior was an anomaly, to repeated patterns of behavior with multiple accusers.
- The concern should be less with the one-time minor cases and more with repeated patterns of abuse that have continued over multiple years.
- The response to the accusations is also significant: there is a different between recognizing wrong behavior and apologizing for it, between admitting the behavior and indicating you viewed it as acceptable, and denying the behavior. On the correct end of the spectrum is recognition, apology, and acceptance of the apology, without a continuing pattern. On the wrong end of the spectrum is denial in the face of multiple accusations with evidence of continued behavior.
- All cases are worthy of investigation and appropriate action. Just as it is proper for the Senate to investigate Sen. Franken’s behavior from before he was elected Senator, they should equally investigate the claims regarding the President’s behavior before he was elected, and similar claims against other sitting officials and those nominated or running for office. Yes, I’m looking at you, Roy Moore. Remember: What these folks have in common is that they are men — this is not a partisan issue where this behavior is acceptable when it is done by your party, but not when done by their party.
- There is a tension, as I have noted before, between our notions of justice and presumed innocence, and wanting to believe those who have come forward with the claims because they deserve to be heard. Complicating this is the fact that many of these incidents are ages old, with little to no evidence other than he said/she said. We are far too aware of induced memory (such as the McMartin Pre-School case) or people making false claims for various less-than-honorable reasons. This is where looking for a continuing pattern of behavior and claims is important, and consideration of the nature of the behavior. I’m willing to give more benefit-of-the-doubt in the one time, less critical cases, and believe the accuser more when there is a pattern that emerges of more problematic behavior. This is independent of politics.
- For many of these cases, there must be the recognition that much of this problem is “a product of those times”. Men in the 50s, 60s, and above were raised in a less enlightened era. This may explain (but does not excuse) certain comments and jokes and attitudes, although those behaviors must not be occurring today. The past cannot be changed. However, it does not excuse abuse of power relationships, true harassment and abuse, or predatory behaviors. Those were wrong then, and they are wrong now.*
- In many cases, this new attitude will expose people who were once respected, and who now are off their pedestal. Bill Cosby is probably the best example of this — it is unclear how one views his humor and records today. Does his behavior make his stories any less funny? There are similar questions for folks like Woody Allen. How does one separate the art from the behavior of the artist? There are similar questions in the area of politics. How does one separate the political results and achievements of a politician (for example, Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr., John Kennedy) from their behavior? The answers will not be easy. As historians note: history is complicated, probably because it comes from humans. The founders of this country were often products of their time and owned slaves. Does that make their results any less admirable? We must recognize these people as men with strengths and weaknesses, not heroes like Superman.
Related: Actually, It’s Franken’s Monster. (The Nib)
*: In other words, at some points in time certain behaviors were acceptable, such as Rosemary pursuing her boss in How To Succeed In Business…, but are no longer acceptable today. Others, such as abuse of power relationship, predatory behavior towards minors, use of drugs to make people cooperative, non-consensual behavior — have always been wrong. In general, for those behaviors that were once accepted, our problems should be from the point of time something has been judged to be wrong in society, and there has been education that the old norms no longer are. In short, as they say with Kindergarten: “The first time you do it, it’s not a mistake.”. The corollary is: “Once you have been told it is wrong and to stop doing it, do it again and your ass is grass.”