All the recent news about sexual harassment and assault at the hands of powerful men in government, entertainment, and the media is making me think about my own history with this issue.
I can remember clearly when the extent of the accusations against Bill Cosby came to light a few years ago. I didn’t believe it at first. I loved Cosby’s humor and his track record of charitable giving. But as more facts came out and more women came forward, I couldn’t deny what they were saying. I had to believe the truth about the man I had admired for so many decades.
It’s nearly impossible to keep up with the latest news. Roy Moore; John Conyers; Matt Lauer; Garrison Keillor. Since then, several more have been accused. Lauer’s fall from grace brought back memories of Cosby. When I first heard about it, I faltered, once again in denial. His TV persona has been that of a kind family man who reports on people and places he cares about.
This got me thinking about two things.
The first was that these men are not all black and white. Yes, they’ve done terrible things. Yes, the women alleging abuse were right to come forward. Yes, these women are innocent victims of their abusers. These men should lose their jobs. They should be made to pay for their crimes — and these are crimes. But to me, it’s ok to have mixed feelings about them.
All their good deeds should not get thrown out the window. We can still appreciate the humor of Bill Cosby. We can still watch the films produced by Harvey Weinstein. We can still remember Matt Lauer’s warmth and candor. And we can feel a loss for the respect we once had for them, and many other men who have behaved similarly deplorably.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote:
“A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: ‘Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.’ When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, ‘The one I feed the most.’”
Perhaps we’ve been feeding these men too much power and position for one human being to handle. Perhaps they were hungry and simply took the power and position when they could. Then they abused that power and position.
Of course I don’t believe that all men in power abuse women. That would be black-and-white thinking, and it would not be true. This is why I believe Shaw’s anecdote is true. We all have good and evil within us. When we allow evil to be fed more, we deserve to fall from grace, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still good within. We can still find the good dog and appreciate its softness and warmth. And we must live with both: the evil and the good.
The news has also got me thinking about how fortunate I am that I’ve never experienced anything like the sexual harassment the women of the #metoo movement have been describing.
I am a woman of the Baby Boomer generation. I was having a conversation with my Millennial daughter about this very topic. I told her there was only one minor incident I can recall. A male boss used to call me “babe” all the time. It annoyed me, but I never said anything about it.
But my daughter reminded me of at least two other times in my life when I told her about other similar occurrences. I once received a letter of rejection for a job I had applied for. The letter stated that I was the No. 1 pick for the job, but that they chose to hire the second-place candidate because I was pregnant! She also reminded me about the time I went for a college interview, and the male interviewer asked “why a little Southern girl like you would want to go all the way across the country to a hard school like ours.”
I hadn’t thought about either of those instances in years. Although I still believe I’m one of the fortunate women who has barely been touched by this issue, I have been touched, even if only slightly emotionally. But this is one of those times when it doesn’t feel good to be touched. I can only imagine the severe emotionally and physically traumatizing touch that has been experienced by so many others against their will.