I’m about to make myself very unpopular—not that I was popular to begin with, so I guess I shouldn’t care, but still, I could just keep my opinion to myself, but there is no escaping the conversation. Sexual harassment is the topic of the day, and it is impossible to turn on a television, pick up a newspaper, magazine, or smartphone without news of someone being sexually harassed, molested, accosted and abused, by someone famous.
I get it. I was an actress once, a long, long time ago. I was subjected to sexual harassment, although I didn’t see it as harassment, more as an expected annoyance—men (and women) in positions of power seem to feel it is their right to impose themselves on those they deem in a position of lesser power. At the time I ascribed to the “it is what it is” philosophy, but I never allowed myself to be victim to the harassment.
So I have to wonder, why would any woman put herself in a position where sexual harassment becomes something more than just an annoyance? Take Harvey Weinstein—first, let’s be clear he’s a pig—a woman has an interview with him, she arrives at his hotel, and is told he is waiting in his room—maybe a little red flag begins to wave? But wanting to meet with the powerful, influential, possibly career-making Hollywood powerhouse she goes to his room. He opens the door wearing a bathrobe. At this point, a big red flag should be waving, but for whatever reason—oh yeah, that whole I want to be a famous actress thing—she enters the room. When he asks for a massage or asks if she wants a massage, wouldn’t that be a cue to get up and leave? But from many accounts, women stayed. Why? Oh, because it was Harvey Weinstein and he had the power to make a career, so they chose to stay, chose not to get up and leave, chose to suffer the indignities he forced upon them…because…he had the power—in their minds— to make or break their career. So it would seem, to me anyway, their career was more important than their self-respect and pride.
But they were young and vulnerable and afraid. So what? They still chose to stay in a room with a man who marginalized them, made them feel victimized and uncomfortable. They could have gotten up and left. They could have chosen not to meet a man in his hotel room for an interview, but the lure and hope for a break in the elusive, and rarified world of show business was too great to use common sense and have the nerve to stand up for themselves. There are allegations of rape, and those must be taken seriously and no woman should suffer so much as an unwanted hand on their person, but women who knowingly, willingly, allow themselves to be taken advantage of with the hope of furthering their career, I have no empathy or sympathy for. I was there. I had men of power attempt to assert themselves on me, and I chose to get up and walk away. Leave the conversation.
There are the politicians. The list of politicians accused of sexual misconduct is endless, and at the top of the list sitting in first place is the President of the United States. Once again it is men (and I have to believe women) of position and influence asserting power over those who have no power. I am quite certain there are cases when the sexual conduct is consensual, and times when it is not, and there are times when a woman placed in a position that is questionable could walk away but chooses not to. When the choice is made to tolerate abuse it should be seen as such—as a choice— and not something to complain about years down the line when guilt or shame override the truth that a choice was made.
Senator Al Franken recently became the focus of sexual misconduct. I was rather disappointed and bothered by what he did. I saw the photo, it was crass and rude, demeaning to the woman, who since she was asleep, had no say in it being taken. It was obviously meant as a joke, Al’s stupid grin made it obvious that it was a joke, a poor joke at best, and at worst stupid, but not criminal. And from what his accuser says, he also stuck his tongue down her throat when they were rehearsing the act they were doing together (and why exactly didn’t she slap the shit out of him)? Still, I have to wonder at the “victim” calling him out now—for something that happened in 2006. Leeann Tweeden is a radio show host, and in answering why she went public with Senator Franken’s misconduct now, she said it was to show solidarity with all the women who have been coming forward. Really? I have the feeling it was to get air time, get in front of cameras, what better way to get publicity than to publicly accuse a former comedian and now senator of sexual misconduct? He wrote her a letter of apology for the photo and says his account of the rehearsal is different from hers, but still apologized. So far, she is the only woman to claim Senator Franken of sexual misconduct. In my mind, it is the predators, the Moores, Spaceys, and Trumps, the men who have woman after woman (or men) coming forward, these are the true abusers we should be bringing down.
The media’s focus on sexual misconduct has been directed to politicians and the entertainment industry—the pretty, powerful, camera ready among us—but what about the secretary, the single mother working to provide for her kids who is marginalized by her boss who knows how much she needs that paycheck? Where is the outrage for these women? Where is the media coverage of the average, the frumpy, fat, unattractive victims? There isn’t any. No one wants to hear about ordinary people.
In the conversation that is going on, I never hear anyone give any responsibility to the women involved. But as feminists, we need to take responsibility for our actions. We need to accept culpability and learn to understand why we marginalize ourselves, why we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. And it is inexcusable to wait ten, twelve, fifteen years to bring our accusations to light. To say we were too embarrassed or ashamed or afraid is no excuse. We need to try and understand our own reluctance to stand up for ourselves. But we must also take responsibility when we are guilty of allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of. It is quite different to be a victim, someone powerless, without a choice, than it is to be someone—who for any reason—makes the choice to be marginalized and used.
Women’s disregard for themselves and other women is painfully obvious when you consider how many women voted for our President after hearing him say it is perfectly acceptable to grab a woman “by the pussy.” “When you’re a star they just let you do it. You can do anything.” So said our President, and apparently, he’s right.