My biggest flex of 2021 was calling out a former boss for blaming me when I reported my sexual harassment to him. The incident happened years ago, early in my career, when I still worked in public relations and marketing. It’s stayed with me nonetheless as proof that I would always need to protect myself in Corporate America because the working world doesn’t care about women, especially not ones with dark skin and kinky hair. This former boss was easy to locate because he’s been promoted to executive director of the organization where I once worked for him. To his credit, he took his L like a man: I mailed him a card calling him out, he apologized, took accountability, expressed his regret, and respectfully let it be.
…and that’s all that will be.
If I speak up again about this issue, or if I decide to name him publicly, he and his wife and kids will perceive it as disrespect. His colleagues and hordes of powerful supporters will roll their eyes and groan because they don’t want to hear about his wrongdoings, only his victories securing donations and endowments. The conflict between us is done but hardly “resolved” because ultimately, I was made to feel publicly uncomfortable with no equal follow up. He got to look into my eyes when he told me that a man who was several years older than me and a veteran of the military was likely only bothering me because I somehow wanted it. My boss’s offenses were public and out in the open for everyone else to see and hear, yet the expectation is that my healing will happen in private, like a secret.
Men everywhere are afforded the gift of privacy even when their actions significantly impact the public. Coupled with this is the unfortunate populous of women who will readily gaslight or scapegoat any woman whose story contradicts the reality they feel most comfortable with. Could you imagine if Josh Groban was a serial rapist? For all we know, he could be – his face is gorgeous, voice even more adored, and there’s a giant mob of women who will happily cut you if you shatter their fantasies of him being the perfect gentleman – all of which make the perfect cover for any rapist, murderer, pathological liar, or narcissist.
I challenge us all to embrace accountability further by eliminating men’s opportunities to hide behind respectability politics and influence.
If you wouldn’t be okay with a woman doing or saying it, stop being okay with a man doing or saying it. It doesn’t matter how things have “always been,” we live in the now.
Speak up for the people who can’t or are afraid to.
Stop choosing to “stay out of it,” and calling it appropriate when all you’re doing is enabling – enabling bad behavior is never appropriate.
Even though it makes us uncomfortable to acknowledge that many of the “great” men we’ve dubbed as such are horribly fallible, none of that makes their detestable actions more tolerable. Dissociation from these men is a poignant way to send the message, as is withholding of advancements, recognition, awards, wage increases, and seats at the coveted table. Don’t buy their albums. Don’t watch their shows. Stop laughing at their jokes. Stop sponsoring their podcasts. I propose we treat disrespectful men the same way we treat all women: with conditions, i.e. “We like you as long as we can get what we want from you. Once that stops, you’ll be swiftly disposed of.”
And yes, I know women are nefarious too. But they’re not the subject of my writing this time.