When I lived in Russia in the late 1990’s, we had a Russian nanny who was about 18 years old. She became a dear member of our family during those years and once described to us how she was shamelessly groped by a much older physician when she was a 16-year-old nursing student. When she went home and told her mother about this incident, her mother simply told her, and I quote, “You are not a little girl anymore”. Every time I think of this it makes me violently angry. At that time, their society had become so steeped in sexual harassment and violence that women, including mothers, had absolutely no recourse against men of power. Thus, they found themselves telling their precious daughters that this is the way it is and there is no way around it. In recent years, our nation has gotten significantly worse in the realm of sexual violence and exploitation, much of which I would attribute to the societal insanity of proliferating pornography across all media outlets. Fortunately, though, something new has happened in the last few months to not only stem this tide, but perhaps to change the entire landscape.
I do not think it is an overstatement to say that during the last several months we have witnessed a national reckoning that is both historically unprecedented and culturally disruptive. For the very first time in the history of the world, victims of sexual harassment, molestation and all manner of manipulation have suddenly been given a platform whereby they can publicly call to account the men of power who have abused them. Throughout human history powerful men (yea, it is men 99% of the time) have used their authority to sexually exploit both girls and boys. And the most horrific part of this exploitation is that almost universally the victims have internalized these crimes with feelings of false guilt reinforced by society’s unwritten rules of “communal shame”. The combination of these two things have historically communicated to the victims that the best course of action was always to hide these crimes and seek to forget them rather than pursuing exposure and prosecution for the perpetrators. Yet now, in 2017, as a result of Gretchen Carlson’s courage, Bill Cosby’s scandal, the Weinstein saga, the #MeToo movement and the many brave victims now giving voice to this hidden crime, we are experiencing a complete paradigm shift in our culture and it is absolutely beautiful. It may actually be the one thing that our politically divided country can finally agree upon and rally towards.
As one who has lived in several different countries and travelled extensively in the study of cultures, the practice of rich and powerful men sexually preying upon the weak, the vulnerable and the naive is one of the most common threads found in most cultures. I was living in Russia in the 90’s when the Clinton – Lewinsky scandal broke and the Russians in my community were shocked that anyone even cared. It was just a given for them that powerful men would sexually manipulate younger ladies with impunity. Looking back, America was shocked at that time, but we were not outraged. Can you imagine if that happened today, post the #MeToo movement? It would be radically different for sure because we are experiencing a moment in time that has put every boss, every political leader, every producer, every executive on notice. From this point forward, if you choose to use your power to do anything on the continuum from sexual harassment to sexual molestation, you can no longer assume that your victim(s) will be silenced by your power, your threats or by society’s false sense of shame, as that is now being removed.
Yes, it is a great day in these United States of America. It is a day where young ladies can not only expect professionalism in their business relationships, they can demand it. It is a day where powerful men who have sexually harassed women for decades are now going to be exposed for their sexual predation and publicly shamed for the way they have abused their power. It is a day where our daughters can see many great examples of courageous ladies confronting men of great power and publicly exposing and destroying them for their perverse behaviors. It is a day which will provide our daughters with the confidence they need to demand proper respect in their own professional lives with real recourse when it is not granted. It is a day where finally, after millennia of inequality among the sexes, our culture is demanding common decency from all men, regardless of their wealth, status or position.
The day of reckoning has finally arrived and the playing field is beginning to level. As feelings of false guilt and shame are increasingly rejected by society at large, victims will be more empowered than ever to speak up and speak out against all forms of harassment and abuse. They will be silent no more.