It’s been over three weeks since Harvey Weinstein was publicly outed as a sexual harasser and violent bully, a rapist of numerous women and at least one potted plant, and the hits just keep on coming: Director James Toback, chef John Besh, former New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier, best-selling author and ubiquitous talking head Mark Halperin, Amazon Studios head Roy Price, and Artforum co-publisher Knight Landesman have all been exposed by multiple women as creeps and predators of many years’ standing. (And don’t forget the prequels: Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Bill Cosby.) Even as I was writing this column, former Nation publisher and Nation Institute head Hamilton Fish, the New Republic’s publisher, has been placed on leave following sexual-harassment allegations. Who’s next?
For the moment, it really does feel like something is changing in the culture, and not just in the United States. Six and a half years ago, in France, a poll found that 57 percent of French people believed that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then-head of the International Monetary Fund, was the victim of a plot after he was charged with sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper in Manhattan; today, catcalling may soon be subject to a fine. In the United Kingdom, women MPs are protesting “sex pests”—international trade minister Mark Garnier has admitted to calling his secretary “sugar tits” and asking her to buy him sex toys, but he says it was all a joke, ha ha ha—and women presenters at the BBC are banding together to expose harassers at that venerable institution.
We’re winning! In numbers, there is strength. Sisterhood is finally showing some power. So why do I feel anxious? Partly, it’s the sheer weight of so many awful revelations of so much terrible behavior over so long a time. Halperin was at ABC for 19 years; Landesman’s tenure lasted for more than 35. Partly, it’s the grossness and ease with which they got away with it, and the way people in a position to do something about it turned away. Marty Peretz, Wieseltier’s boss at the New Republic for over three decades, is still in denial: “I could see how he sometimes overpowered me and overpowered other people on the staff. But that was because of his cerebral capacity.” Oh, so that’s what they’re calling it now.
But it’s also because I wonder whether this moment can last. The men who’ve been toppled lately have all been accused by multiple women—82 and counting in the case of Weinstein; a possible 300-plus for Toback. But what about men with only one victim—or only one willing to come forward? Are we more likely to believe her than we were before? Or are we still following our own version of sharia, where a woman’s testimony is worth only half a man’s? I worry, too, that the whole thing will explode in women’s faces: All it would take is one false charge, one innocent compliment or awkward remark blown up into an international incident. That was why I didn’t publicize the “Shitty Media Men” list going around on e-mail: Anonymous charges with no attempt at verification just seem like a recipe for disaster.