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Commentary & Opinion

Judith Enck: The Harvey Weinstein Effect

It has been 26 years since Law School Professor Anita Hill shocked the nation with her detailed testimony in Congress about how Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her.

Despite her courageous testimony, the Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas to serve on the Supreme Court.

Long after the Anita Hill testimony, we are now hearing about other high- profile cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault. 

Let me acknowledge that there are situations when women harass, and situations when men harass other men,  but the vast majority of the time, sexual harassment involves men in positions of power, harassing women.

Sexual harassers are everywhere.

Bill Cosby.

Bill O’Reilly of Fox

Michael Oreskes of NPR

Comedian Louis CK

President Trump

Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore

And Hollywood mogul and Democratic Party funder Harvey Weinstein.

Sexual harassment has been a problem for a long time, but in the Harvey Weinstein situation, we now see accusations from women we recognize from movies and tv, making the issue more visible.

Will the public scrutiny last, or will it fade as our short  attention spans move on?

Will the opportunity for real change, fade with it?

One  problem with the Harvey Weinstein effect is that it allows  some people to minimize the damage of offenses less egregious than those committed by  Weinstein.

I have noticed this creeping in to some media discussions.

Horrific deeds are revealed about powerful men, often with the caveat “well, he didn’t rape her.  He’s not like Harvey Weinstein.”

Gee, Michael Oreskes of NPR ONLY put his tongue in the mouth and kissed female subordinates.   He is no Harvey Weinstein.

Gee, journalist Mark Halperin did masturbate in his office in front of a female staffer and he did physically press against women when he had erections, but, he sought counselling and has not done it in years. He is no Harvey Weinstein.

Hearing these descriptions on the radio, may make you uncomfortable. 

But think about what it was like to live through these experiences,  and re-living them in your mind over and over again,  if you were one of the women who were targeted.

These are physical and emotional violations which o scar people for life.  There is nothing minor about these experiences, even if they don’t reach the level of a Harvey Weinstein offense.

Another troubling aspect of the Weinstein effect arises when women are publicly asked to tell their personal stories of sexual harassment.

Many women have been sexually harassed or assaulted and have chosen not to tell anyone.

It may have occurred when the women were children and they did not tell their parents.

As adults, they often have not told their spouses or partners.

Why ask them to reveal their pain and re traumatize them?

It is up to them to decide if they want to publicly share their pain.

I have a suggestion:  rather than asking women if they have been sexually harassed, why not ask men if they have witnessed harassment and what have they done about it.

It is not enough for good men not to be harassers themselves.

Good men need to proactively get involved and stop harassment from happening wherever they suspect it because sexual harassers are everywhere.

They are at our workplaces, our schools, and our places of worship.

A  study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that 87% of women, aged 18 to 25, have been sexually harassed.

Think about the waitress who relies on tips and has to put up with crude remarks and physical contacts from customers.

Think about the nanny or farmworker who is in the country  illegally, and fears deportation if she tells her story.

Nurses, secretaries, soldiers, women in male dominated fields like truckers and plumbers and electricians.  Many women don’t fight back because of their economic status.

The Harvey Weinstein revelations have brought us to a tipping point.

More people are understanding that sexual harassment is widespread and the victimization of women by powerful men has been happening throughout our lives.

Yes, we need to talk to and protect our daughters.

But we especially need to talk to our sons, and husbands, and brothers and fathers and grandfathers if there is any hope of driving cultural change.  

Judith Enck is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. She recently served as Regional Administrator For The Environmental Protection Agency, appointed by President Obama.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.