On Sexual Harassment


Americans are uniquely drawn to celebrity, perceiving relationships and developing strong feelings for the people we watch, read, and listen to. "I've watched 'Today' every morning for 20 years", and "I remember turning on the TV every Sunday to watch fascinating interviews with Charlie Rose". I'm sure you can tell where this is headed.

As innumerable allegations of sexual harassment and assault come to light, our first instinct is to mourn the loss of the people we thought we knew and loved. Though we always knew, somewhere, that their personas were a well-crafted act they felt so genuine and real. We thought we knew Matt Lauer, or Louis CK, or Charlie Rose, and losing our perception of these artists is, in it's way, a kind of death in the family. "No, don't take Savannah from me too!" my mom cries, hearing rumors that Savannah had an affair with Lauer.

Frankly, I don't understand this. Each time the gross sexual misconduct of a celebrity is brought to light, the women in my life act as if something has been lost, because for them it has been. But they always fail to acknowledge the incredible gain that these stories have: that we will live in a safer, more just world. Their daughters won't have to spread their legs to get the starring role, or ignore come-ons and grabs at an office party as if they aren't happening. Their sisters won't live in fear of being alone in a room with their boss, or have the powerful take advantage of them. And if they do experience any of that? They can tell someone, and know someone will listen and care. They'll know that it isn't OK, that this isn't the world we want to live in, and that their perpetrator will be brought to justice.

I'm not advocating we give up our love of celebrity and fame here (though I do think considering it's magnitude and taking a step back could benefit everyone). You can still love an artist's work, and condemn the actions of the artist. But I want the women in my life to stop letting nostalgia and "it's how we were raised" cloud their responses to these allegations. I want us to acknowledge how incredible it is that stories are not just being told, but heard and acted upon. It's OK to mourn the loss of artists we love, but we also need to add "How disgusting. I'm so glad that she spoke up.". We need to celebrate that even the most powerful among us must face consequences for hurting others, and that our culture is shifting to empower victims of sexual harassment and assault.

When you reminisce about Kevin Spacey, or Al Franken, what I hear you saying is "Their career is more important than hers anyway. If that happened to someone I knew, I hope she'd reason about whether it was really worth it to destroy a person's career and future just because she was uncomfortable". I know, that's not what you mean. But it's what you're saying. And it sucks knowing that that's what the people I love think. I hope we can do better.