When Matt Lauer was fired from his perch of more than two decades at the Today show last week after allegations of sexual harassment and rape, among those who celebrated were those who fondly remembered Ann Curry, a former host on the show. “I hope @AnnCurry is drinking Dom today because she sure as fuck earned it,” tweeted Roxane Gay, expressing a typical sentiment.
Curry, promoted to the co-anchor seat in 2011, quickly fell afoul of what was described as “the boys club” that runs the popular morning show. Senior staff made a blooper reel of her on-air screw-ups. Others made fun of her wardrobe choices. Lauer was obviously uncomfortable with her on the air, and it was reported that he was behind her ultimate ouster.
As far as we know, what Curry did not experience was sexual harassment. The same is true for Adaora Udoji, Farai Chideya, and Celeste Headlee, three short-lived co-hosts with John Hockenberry, the former lead voice of the public-radio news show The Takeaway. They too experienced severe bullying and either left or lost their on-air perches, a story recounted in the initial New York magazine piece detailing Hockenberry’s alleged sexual preying on younger, less powerful staffers.
More than a few have wondered why sexual harassment suddenly is taking center stage at this moment. Masha Gessen, for instance, in The New Yorker pointed to other sexual panics that occurred during troubled eras, and suggested that the attention suddenly paid to the issue is “the fear of a world careening out of control.” Meanwhile, David Dayen at the New Republic suggested that the ongoing scandal stood in for “the long, slow abandonment of the rule of law in America,” most recently the lack of punishment for powerful malefactors of the housing and financial crisis. Others suspect it’s the ongoing insult that Donald Trump, dogged by allegations of sexual harassment, was still elected president.
But the experiences of Curry, Udoji, Chideya, and Headlee—again, none were sexually harassed, but they were most certainly harassed and mistreated—offers another answer to the question of why now. Sexual harassment is a rallying cry, standing in for all the frustrations, insults, and second-class treatment women experience at work—an all-too-common experience for all too many women.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Great Recession was going to usher in a period of great feminist triumph. Any number of pundits and behavioral psychologists stepped forward to claim that the economic crash was a testosterone-fueled catastrophe. Men initially took the brunt of the layoffs as male dominated fields like construction all but came to a halt. The new jobs, we were told, would favor women’s touchy-feely skills, our (supposedly) more collaborative, less combative natures. This was so our moment that Hanna Rosin published a book proclaiming The End of Men.