As the news began to pour in over the allegations of sexual misconduct by Matt Lauer and then Garrison Keillor, social media just as quickly filled with questions of disbelief. I agree that we should all be innocent until proven guilty….but what I found to be most disturbing were the statements defending two “great men” who could not possibly have done what they were accused of. Comments like, “well, if this is something that happened 10 years ago and is just surfacing now….maybe it isn’t so bad…or “so what if it was just a little tap on the ass….boys will be boys…” I found myself dumbfounded by the comments seeming to defend or question the allegations brought forth against these men because 1) they seemed so nice, 2) everybody loves them, and 3) what we think of as wrong now wasn’t wrong then…..
Or was it?
What we think of as wrong now (sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, inappropriate touch, sexual assault, rape) was wrong then…..we were simply too afraid or too ashamed to say or do anything about it.
Like when I suffered sexual assault in college. I never told anyone because 1) I was sure it was my fault in some way (isn’t that what we’ve been taught), 2) I was afraid, 3) I was ashamed. 4) I knew that with the rape culture at the University of Iowa being what it was in 1983, no one would do anything about it anyway and 5) Because I certainly didn’t want to go on trial.
I suspect the reasons I chose not to speak are the same for every single woman, child and man who has been sexually harassed, assaulted or raped and chose not to tell. Or maybe they did and were told, “Shhhhh….that’s just how Uncle Larry is. Forget about it and move on.” Or “Boys will be boys.” Or, “We don’t tell the family secret.” Or “But Father Henry is such a nice man.” Or “It must have been something you were wearing.” Or “Maybe you shouldn’t have drunk so much death punch…..” Etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. Followed closely by….NOTHING BEING DONE… except more shame heaped upon the victim.
I will say it again: what we consider to be wrong now was wrong then and has been wrong throughout history. Unless we are a sociopath, our deep inner sense of right and wrong tells us this is true. It has never been right or appropriate for ANYONE to treat another human being as a sex object to be used for their own pleasure, most especially when the user is in a position of power or authority – no matter how much your parents, drill sergeant, football coach, boss or friends told you it was alright! NEVER! Yes, we can deny the truth away all we want, or try to justify it because of the culture we are/were living in, but abusing another human being has never, ever, ever been right. PERIOD!
And it certainly doesn’t’ matter how many years have passed since the incident happened. The victim is still suffering. It doesn’t matter how many years has passed since Father Henry made an altar boy perform fellatio on him, or when Matt Lauer acted in sexually inappropriate ways with female colleagues, assistants, fans; or when Donald Trump spoke in demeaning, sexual ways toward women……it was still wrong and it is appropriate that it should come to light and they be held accountable for what they have done. This is called justice. (Yes, there is a place for healing and forgiveness in all this….but for that to take place, the perpetrator needs to acknowledge their wrongdoing, make amends and do the hard work of healing whatever is unhealed within them that would cause them to inflict harm upon another in the first place.)
I also don’t buy the “but he seemed so nice” defense. What the hell do we know about media-made, so-called celebrities? THEY ARE ACTING! Not only that but as is true for all of us, we tend to put our best face forward. Just think of Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy…..men in the spotlight who everyone thought was “so nice” when in fact they were men in positions of power who used their power to manipulate and use women for their sexual pleasure. I don’t care how nice they are in every other circle of their life…if they have used women in this way, it is wrong. PERIOD.
Before we move toward defending those accused of sexual misconduct….think for a moment of what it is like for the women (men, children) who are the recipients of these unwanted sexual advances…..as one who has been there, this is what it is like…..
Every time a man (or it could just as likely be a woman) makes an inappropriate gesture, touches us without our consent in a sexual or sexually suggestive way, uses sexual or demeaning words to describe us or speak to us, pats our butt, grabs our breast, thrusts their pelvis toward us, grinds up on our leg, grabs our hand and places it on his sexual area, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. a tiny little part of us shrivels up and dies. A part of our soul recoils in disgust and then shame. Because of the way in which our culture has normalized these behaviors we think we can’t say or do anything about it….and if we do say or do something about it, it is likely someone will roll their eyes at us or accuse us of “being too sensitive” or “not taking a joke.” But every time we remain silent, we lose a little more of our power until eventually there is nothing left.
This is why we can no longer remain silent and why we must call for zero tolerance in matters of sexual misconduct or violence….and this goes as much for the women as it goes for the men. Sadly women are not innocent in this. For every man who uses a woman as a sex object there is a woman who uses her sexuality to manipulate and control men. This also is wrong. And that my friends, is a topic for another blog….