The #MeToo Movement Needs to Grow a Pair
I admit that I crafted today’s headline to get your attention. It’s clear that rapid change is occurring in industries, businesses, clubs, organizations and governments, and we must brace ourselves for the backlash that occurs after transformation because, damn it, people just cannot adjust to quick, jerky orders. We ascended from the dark ages of the 1950s when it was okay to make fun of gay people, while trans and transvestites were viewed as freaks or aliens. Back in those days, violence against someone because of their sexual orientation was commonplace.
The depiction of the ad agency in the TV series Mad Men was not only aptly named but accurately showed the true-life reality of men who were on top and women were expected to put out in order to climb the ladder. Once we got into the late 1960s and early 1970s, women started to burn their bras and demand fair treatment. It was cool to be a feminist and the free love delivered by birth control pills was just a short deterrent for machismo and domination. As the saying goes, boys will be boys.
I spent countless hours in boardrooms during my career where it was unusual to see even one woman at the table. Men continued to hold power, while women worked overtime to gain parity in sports, business, government and society. Even in churches, it was difficult for a woman to hold any position to promote and create change. I agree with many anthropologists, psychologists and scientists that women process information in a different way than men, and in many situations, they are better problem solvers than men.
Many women were able to gain traction in their chosen fields by educating themselves and pushing harder. Over time, we have become more dependent on technologies and the idea of physical strength as a job requirement has been washed away. I cannot think of a single work position a woman cannot do provided training, tools and good timing are in place. Yes, timing is just as important in the #MeToo era as it ever was.
I think back to Al Franken, the junior Senator from Minnesota, and recall how he was shamed out of his elected position. I liked Al as a Senator and enjoyed his comedic talent on Saturday Night Live and on stage. To remind you, after decades as a comedic actor and writer, Franken became a prominent liberal political activist, hosting The Al Franken Show on Air America Radio. He was elected to the Senate by the slimmest of margins and served on several committees until allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him. After being told he should resign by several highly respected female members of his own party, he took the not-so-subtle hint and left his seat and job on January 2, 2018.
I know some people who worked with Al at several steps along his career path and, yes, it’s all true. He was grabby, inappropriate, both physically and verbally, and some of his co-workers complained. One might be tempted to say that’s just who Al was, but harassment lies in the eye of the person being abused, not the harasser. Should Al Franken have fought harder to keep his job in Congress? Probably not, because of the bad press he would probably have been voted out, especially if a woman ran against him. The sad reality, however, is that hundreds of Republican men continue to hold office even though they are male chauvinist pigs.
But today I’m not here to point a finger. I would like to demonstrate how we are moving in a new direction in dealing with men who overstep boundaries. Here is a redemption story, of sorts, highlighted by this headline from the New York Post (a Rupert Murdoch paper), “Jeffrey Toobin back on CNN after masturbation scandal, admits it was ‘moronic’” In case you don’t know, Mr. Toobin was on a Zoom conference call with his colleagues at the New Yorker when they took a pause for the cause. Mr. Toobin forgot to turn off his camera and when people came back to the call, the live video stream showed Toobin pleasing himself. While this might have been good for his “little Jeffy,” it got him canned from the magazine and suspended by CNN, where he was a legal expert and commentator.
Anchor Alisyn Camerota hosted an embarrassing and painful to watch (for me) CNN Newsroom interview with Toobin. Her opening question was, “To quote Jay Leno, ‘What the hell were you thinking?’” Toobin replied by describing himself as a “flawed human being who makes mistakes” and said his conduct was “deeply moronic and indefensible.” So, after being in timeout for eight months he’s free to move about the media cabin. Okay, let’s define some terms.
A “Toobin” is action so humiliating and embarrassing that there’s nothing you can do other than apologize. It’s like the 1995 incident when Hugh Grant was arrested with a prostitute in a car, and it looked like his movie career would be over. Instead, Grant went on the Tonight Show, as scheduled, and was asked by host Jay Leno, “What the hell were you thinking?”
A “Franken” occurs when there is proof you have done something bad, a few people criticize the depth of your foolishness, and all you can do is walk away in shame. I don’t believe Al Franken would still be in Congress even if he had offered a Grant-like apology, and here’s why. It used to be that TV and movie stars could do bad things, but almost immediately jump up and start over. Those days are gone.
Let’s remember Charlie Chaplin, one of the biggest motion picture stars in the early days of film. According to many authors and other sources, Chaplin was a ”Class-A Womanizer” who claimed to have slept with over two thousand women. He also dated a 15-year-old girl who, allegedly, became pregnant with his child. That’s just one of many Hollywood stories of debauchery and deviant behavior, but I don’t have time to apologize.
It took decades for Fox News to finally deal with Roger Ailes’ incessant sexual harassment and abuse of the beautiful women he hired to adorn his news sets. Complaints went unanswered and eventually cost the News Corporation millions of dollars to settle lawsuits. Fox News continues to rake in tons of money, and it’s clear that their viewership has no ill will toward the people who allowed such atrocities to happen, but politics is a different animal.
Because politicians can say whatever they want in their ads, any slightly disgraced political figure can easily be vilified by the liars and mad men behind another candidate’s political campaign. Hugh Grant goes on — Al Franken goes home — and it’s yet to be seen what will become of Toobin. I can easily imagine some CNN correspondents not wanting to interact with him.
Here’s what I mean when I say the #MeToo movement needs to “grow a pair.” Yes, a great artist or a lofty legal expert can be human and make and admit mistakes. All should be treated fairly and equally, but there are times the snowball becomes so large as it rolls down the hill that a blowtorch is needed to melt it.
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