Correction, February 13, 2018: This article, “Are Sexual Predators in the Workplace Finally Facing Justice?” contained a statement about Matt Taibbi that was inaccurate. The Nation has reached a settlement with Mr. Taibbi pursuant to which the inaccurate statement, as well as the rest of the passage regarding Mr. Taibbi, have been removed from the online version. We apologize for the error.
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.
It’s not as if we haven’t had large numbers of women claiming abuse before. Think of the military, where rape and harassment seem to be endemic and are repeatedly exposed, only to fade back into the woodwork: Thank you for your service, sir! This is America, after all, where Donald Trump was accused of crimes from harassment to rape by 16 women, boasted of bursting into the dressing rooms of young beauty contestants, uttered and tweeted vile sexist insults at a wide range of women, and almost 63 million people— including a majority of all men, a slender majority of white women, and 80 percent of white evangelical Protestants—voted for him anyway. (Then again, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claims that all of Trump’s accusers—yes, all of them—are lying.) It’s just hard to believe that a country that elected Trump is going to take a permanent no-tolerance attitude toward the mini-Trumps all around us.
What troubles me the most, though, is what this episode says about who has been shaping our politics and culture. As Rebecca Traister argues brilliantly, Halperin, the co-author of best-selling books about the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, did much to craft the popular image of Hillary Clinton as a screechy bitch. (He also made poor Elizabeth Edwards, betrayed by her husband and dying of cancer while raising two small children, sound like… a screechy bitch.) Wieseltier, like his bestie Maureen Dowd, who frequently channeled him in her columns, was another Hillary-hater. Wieseltier’s book-review section was notoriously short on women reviewers and reviews of books by women. At Amazon, Price canceled Good Girls Revolt, a well-received miniseries about the women who broke the gender barrier at Newsweek back in the late 1960s, when only men could be reporters, and reportedly passed on a TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies. What you read and what you see, on TV or in the movies or on the walls of a museum; how much your words or art are worth; how the world sees female candidates—men decide these things, the same way they decide how much control you’ll have over your childbearing, or how safe you’ll be coming home late, or whether your rape claim will be taken seriously by the police, who are, after all, mostly men.
For all their bravery, the victims who speak out can’t fix the institutions and whole industries that harbored these wrongdoers by themselves. We can all fight for clear sexual-harassment policies and protocols, functioning HR departments, and sanctions on the bullying behaviors that can hide harassment. Men casting about for some way to make themselves useful now that they know how much women put up with every day—please, be our guests.