Sexual Harassment's Overlooked Truth
by Steven Keyl
As these men rightfully face the social, professional, and legal consequences of their actions, it seems to me that, collectively, we are missing the bigger picture.
The upshot of nearly every article, conversation and TV commentary on this issue boils down to some variation of the idea that once they are taken care of, then we will be better off--but this is not true. If, by the wave of a magic wand, we could "vanish" all the guilty, we will have done nothing to lessen the prevalence of sexual harassment.
Why not? Because the real problem isn't those particular individuals, the problem is the nature of mankind. Our entire history as a species is a never-ending story of how one group of people imposed its will on some other group, or attempted to do so.
Individually, we are no different. We are all capable of falling prey to our darkest impulses. If someone can exert power over another in a consequence-free environment, they typically do. This power doesn't always manifest as sexual misconduct, but often takes other forms like: emotional abuse, physical abuse, discrimination, psychological manipulation, etc.
This pattern is seen in politics and entertainment, in part because these cases are more media-worthy and so are more widely reported. But there is another factor at play. These are industries where there tends to be less oversight of the principle players. They are able to speak and act without any apparent limits.
They become guilty of these offenses, not because they are sicker, more depraved, or more evil than the rest of us, but simply because they can get away with it.
This idea is better conveyed by Pogo, who said:
"I have seen the enemy, and they are us."
Abuse of power can happen anytime someone is in a position to exercise influence over another. It doesn't need to be in a CEO's board room or on a movie set, it can happen at the workplace, in our social circles, or even at home.
If we don't create processes that enforce accountability for those in power then nothing changes. Before that can happen we must force ourselves not to turn a blind eye when we see an abuse of power--that will keep us far safer than any sanctions against specific individuals.