Sexual Misconduct: Passing Phenomena Or Lasting Change?

Will the current spate of high-profile sexual harassment and sexual misconduct cases lead to lasting changes in American society? Or is it just a passing phenomenon that will run its course before the world returns to “business as usual?” That’s a question we will only be able to know in hindsight, however, it certainly feels at this moment in time that the world is changing.

Just a few years ago, claims of sexual misconduct caused barely a ripple in the media, with only a few, scattered high-profile cases breaking into the national consciousness, such as the 1990s claims against President Bill Clinton. Then again, politicians and sexual misconduct go way back to the dawn of the republic. America’s celebrity culture, long known for its festering underbelly, continued on glorifying sex with a wink and a nudge, while turning a blind eye to its powerful elite. Perhaps this began to change few years ago when the long-rumored accusations against comedian Bill Cosby finally came out into the open.

But in the past 13 months, starting with President Donald Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape, a deluge of notable members of Hollywood, the media and the United States political machine have been implicated in claims of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. It’s quite a “who’s who” list: Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, John Conyers, David Sweeney, Louis C.K., Richard Dreyfuss, Dustin Hoffman, Andrew Kreisberg, John Lasseter, Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Steven Seagal, Kevin Spacey, Jeffrey Tambor, George Takei, Mark Halperin, George H.W. Bush… and that’s just some of the names that have come out over the past two months! In many cases, the allegations will be career-ending; in some, depending upon the severity and the timeliness of the accusations, the accused may not pay the full price.

What we are seeing today is a live-action broadcast of Howard Beale’s famous meltdown in the satirical film Network: women today are mad as hell about being sexually harassed, and they’re not gonna take it anymore!

In large part, the recent turn of events can be seen as a backlash against President Trump, who has been accused at least 15 times since the 1980s of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and whose election on the heels of that Access Hollywood tape revelation led to concerns of women being marginalized in the workplace and society.

And what a backlash it has been, starting with the Women’s March last January, advocating legislation and policies regarding human rights, women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion and workers’ rights. Far from being marginalized, women have found a rallying cry and a voice. And the proverbial dam burst with the graphic, detailed allegations by multiple women against Hollywood mogul Weinstein.

Which leads us to wonder, are men really that naive about sexual harassment? It sure seems so. And that’s scary as hell.

But what is also scary is the real possibility that some of the already-accused and soon-to-be-accused may very well be innocent of the allegations. Some of those listed above deny the claims; others may be targeted by political opportunists. We’ve seen witch hunts before; just ask the good people of Salem, Mass. They aren’t for the faint of heart.

So, let’s keep our eye on the big picture. The only “good” Sexual Harassment in the Workplace is the smooth 1988 instrumental by Frank Zappa.

First of all, the punishment should fit the crime; there’s a world of difference between sexual harassment and an inappropriate relationship, and the last thing proponents of change need is for this movement to become today’s version of the McCarthy Red Scare.

Secondly, as the Washington Post did with a failed sting operation recently, the media needs to do serious fact-checking on allegations before publishing stories. For those who have been accused, unjustly, they will be unable to fully clear their names with the public. And that’s just wrong… just as sexual harassment is wrong.