Friday, December 8, 2017

Why Now? Why the Ousting of Sexual Harassers Now?

A veritable tsunami has been released against sexual assaulters and harassers by women, and sometimes men, against powerful figures in America, most often in the entertainment and media industries. The question is why now? What caused the dam to break? The answer is that this is the next step towards full equality by women. Religions and societies historically treated women as second class citizens. Even today Saudi women are just receiving the right to drive. Step by step women achieved equality in much of the world. The change started with higher education in the United States. Oberlin College admitted women from its founding in 1833. Mount Holyoke opened its doors in 1837 as a woman’s college. The University of Iowa in 1855 became both the first coed university and the first public university to admit women. Michigan followed in 1870 and Berkeley in 1871. Many Catholic universities and Ivy League institutions went coed in the 1960’s. Women today comprise over half of the college students in the United States. British colonies led the way in granting the suffrage to women. The Isle of Man granted the vote in 1881, followed by New Zealand in 1893, all of Australia in 1902, and Canada in 1917. Great Britain gave women the vote in 1918. The United States ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920 granting the right to vote to women, following the lead of a few territories, Wyoming in 1869 and Utah in 1870, and the state of Colorado in 1883. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbad sex discrimination in employment while Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 mandated equal protection of women in higher education. One immediate effect was the growth of women athletics in the nation’s colleges. Statutes though are not self-executing. Scores of lawsuits gave legal power to victims seeking compensation for the violations of their rights Women increasingly entered the nation’s professional schools in the late 1960’s. They realized they could become doctors as well as nurses, lawyers rather than paralegals, executives instead of secretaries, pilots and not flight attendants. The doors were open. Women are often over half of the student’s in the nation’s law schools. “Old Boy’s Networks” are breaking down in the Academy and professions. Women entered politics. Twenty-one women currently serve as United States Senators, 84 as representatives, and 6 as state governors. However, despite all the advances women have made in society and the workplace, sexual assaults and harassment remain a problem. The fabled Hollywood Casting Couch goes back to the beginnings of the industry. The problem is pervasive throughout employment and education. Conduct and talk that was common among males became unreasonable when women joined the workforce. Women were scared of losing their jobs or careers if they complained. Their reputations could be shattered, while the alleged perpetrators went unscathed. Justice Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Woody Allen continued making movies. Roman Polanski received a standing ovation upon winning the Oscar. Instances of reaction against sexual harassment arose over the years. The Tailhook Convention of Navy and Marine aviators at the Las Vegas Hilton September 8-12, 1991 saw 83 women and 7 men assaulted by over 100 Navy and Marine officers. 14 Admirals and over 300 sailors and Navy personnel were cashiered or otherwise punished. The Pentagon initiated a strong anti-sexual harassment policy. Yet the problem persists in the military. Businesses have spent hundreds of millions of dollars settling sexual harassment claims, but the cases rarely received widespread publicity. Cracks appeared in the dam in 2014. The comedian Hannibal Buress in a Philadelphia comedy routine on October 16, 2014 talked about Bill Cosby’s rape history. The routine went viral online. Bill Cosby fell from grace, been criminally prosecuted, and served with scores of lawsuits. The Board of Directors of the American Apparel Company suspended Dov Charney on June 18, 2014 for a history of sexual misconduct in the workplace. They fired him in December. The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace was building like the magma before a volcanic eruption, but it had not yet blown. Women remained scared of publicly complaining of, or often even rejecting, sexual harassment and advances. Gretchen Carlson, formerly of Fox News, filed a sexual harassment suit on July 6, 2016 against Roger Ailes of Fox News and Fox. Other women came forward with allegations against Roger Ailes. Roger Ailes resigned on July 21, 2016. The case was settled in September by Fox for $20 million and an apology. Victims of harassment began to realize that they could seek justice. The mainstream media and liberal politicians had a field day castigating the conservative Fox News. Other stalwarts of Fox fell: Bill O’Reilly and Eric Bolling while two female stars, Greta Van Susteren and Megyn Kelly left Fox News. However, the cheering on of the sexual harassment suits against Fox coupled with large settlements by Fox opened a Pandora’s Box of claims throughout Hollywood, the media, politics, academics and business. The New York Times and New Yorker articles on Harvey Weinstein showed prominent actresses stepping forward against one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood. The dam burst as victims, mostly women realized they could survive. The account #MeToo prompted tens of thousands of responses. Social media spreads the word. Women found a voice to fight one of the most invidious forms of discrimination. It is the next step in women’s rights of equality.

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