BCK FILE--I’ve written my past few columns about what seems to be a floodgate of sexual harassment victims and each week, a few more men seem to be added to the list that is already bursting at the seams. Although pundits and social media commenters try to paint this as a partisan or “Hollywood” issue, harassment occurs in every industry and town.
There is still so much misunderstanding about harassment and the notion that we’re creating a culture where nothing is acceptable. I’ve heard retired men wonder if anything they had said while in the workforce could have constituted harassment. Behavior and language that were once acceptable are no longer tolerated.
Is it acceptable to massage someone’s shoulders or to tell a woman she looks nice? Is harassment only overt, making suggestive comments, threatening or promising a woman a movie role, contract, or promotion?
Harassment isn’t about sex. It’s about control and intimidation, an important distinction. When someone who holds the power uses that power to manipulate or control the situation, it’s harassment. In most if not every one of the harassment cases that have come to light, sex wasn’t the motivation.
Donald Trump, in a rare moment of clarity, actually summed this up in the Access Hollywood tapes when he told Billy Bush, “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything, Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Harassment is about feeling entitled. The world is yours. You’ve earned it. And that includes women.
Although there currently seems to be a zero tolerance trend, with numerous men losing movie deals, stepping down from office or being fired or suspended upon allegations, there are still many who point a finger at women who are seen as either spoil sports or liars.
Men and women question why it took decades for women to come forward and back this false narrative of false accusations. Men and women question whether a woman who went to a man’s hotel suite didn’t “know what she was in for,” which translates to absolving these men of all responsibility.
As long as we blame women for sexual harassment, we won’t see a lasting shift in this pervasive culture. As it stands, powerful men can pay for silence and continue their pattern until caught. Even then, some claim denial or that they believed the interest was mutual. Still others follow up a mea culpa with a stint in rehab for sex addiction.
The power balance between men and women paves the way for harassment. Certainly, not all employers or higher-ups harass women (or young men). But as long as this imbalance in leadership exists, so will predatory behavior.
In the meantime, what can men (and women) do to change this culture? One of the requisites is setting real limits, not just when the media is watching. Speak up when someone assumes all victims of rape and harassment are lying. False accusations are far more rare than those who never speak up.
A culture that promotes objectification of women for our body parts paves the way for men who have power and status to prey on women. There’s a nodding acceptance of harassment as “boys will be boys.” We need to set limits on boys early on and to teach children how to set personal boundaries.
We also need to stop conflating practicing safety measures with whether one was assaulted or harassed. If a woman does leave her drink unattended or goes to a guy’s apartment does not mean it’s open season for assault. No means no.
When Brock Turner was caught assaulting his victim, four students stepped up to intervene. Speak up, as difficult as it may be.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a CityWatch columnist.)