An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Sorting Out Your Feelings About Men You Otherwise Like Who Are Now Accused of Sexually Harassing or Assaulting Women

An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Sorting Out Your Feelings About Men You Otherwise Like Who Are Now Accused of Sexually Harassing or Assaulting Women
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I know you’re hurting, America. These are confusing and painful times. On the one hand, America’s “Me, too” moment has ushered in a new era when it comes to how allegations of sexual assault and harassment are treated. Many of those who have been subjected to harassment and assault no longer feel that they have to keep quiet or else risk losing their jobs, being personally attacked, or both. While there is certainly still progress to be made, the climate for coming forward with allegations has never felt safer—and the likelihood that allegations will be treated seriously has never been higher.

It’s easy when allegations are made against people we already thought were terrible, like Donald Trump, Roy Moore or Travis Kalanick (formerly of Uber). Most of us didn’t like these people to begin with, so finding out more offensive things about them is not only unsurprising, it actually serves to validate our previously held opinions. Yay, us! They are uber creepy! We were right all along!

But what about when it’s someone we love, like Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Louis C.K. or (I’m still wrapping my head around this one) Matt Lauer (?!)? Suddenly, we are in a tailspin of confusion. We love them! But they did creepy things! But they also did great things! But they hurt people! But they also helped people! What do we do? How should we feel?? What do we say???

America, I’m here to help. This is not nearly as difficult as you are making it out to be. Let me walk you through how to size this up in two easy steps:

Step One: Put your preexisting feelings about the person in question aside, and assess whether there is a credible allegation that he sexually harassed or assaulted someone.

If the answer is no, then congrats! You can skip the next step because no action or reaction is required. If the answer is yes, however, please proceed.

Step Two: Ask yourself whether the person has been held accountable for his actions yet.

If the answer is no, then the person must be held accountable—yes, even if the incident happened a long time ago and/or even if the person is awesome in lots of other ways. Being held accountable usually involves something like getting fired, having his television and film projects canceled, resigning from public office, or sometimes even going to jail.

Being held accountable doesn’t mean paying hush money, nor does it mean simply apologizing. (Although apologizing is definitely a good first step when it comes to being accountable.) Not sure how to tell whether the person has been held accountable? Start by listening to what the person making the allegations has to say about this. Does she feel he’s been held accountable? Her opinion on the topic is worth a lot.

If the answer is yes, then life goes on. Will the bad act in his past affect his personal and/or professional life in the future even though he was already held accountable? Maybe—and that kind of goes with the territory. Let’s not forget that the person who was subjected to the harassment or assault may well suffer after effects of the incident, too. So, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for “That’s not fair” arguments in this department.

Now that we’ve cleared up how to handle assessing accountability, let’s move on to another confusing topic. If the person in question has engaged in some form of sexual harassment or assault, do you now have a moral obligation to hate the person as a result of his bad act? The answer is no.

How you feel about the person as a result of the bad act is an entirely separate issue from whether that person should be held accountable for it. Maybe the act will totally change your feelings about the person; then again, maybe you will continue to like this person for many other legitimate reasons. You can recognize that the act was wrong or even objectively terrible, but still like or even love him. Otherwise good people can do bad things. But the fact that he is otherwise a good person doesn’t mean he should get a hall pass for his bad action.

People who have friends or loved ones in jail know this all too well. Take my friend Mandy, for example. Her brother is serving a prison sentence for robbing a convenience store. Mandy loves her brother very much, and drives two hours each way to visit him in prison at least once a month. She knows he has many great qualities. But she also understands that all those great qualities do not somehow mean he should not be held accountable for the armed robbery he committed.

We lefties accuse conservatives of being hypocritical when it comes to average working class Americans. We claim they pretend to care about them in order to gain their vote, but then fail to support them in meaningful ways. We open ourselves up to the exact same criticism when we are wishy washy on holding people accountable for sexual harassment or assault. If we are going to walk our talk about supporting women, we cannot have a strict policy on the issue of sexual harassment and assault for people whose politics, beliefs and personalities we don’t like, and a watered down one for those we do.

And while we’re talking about this, it’s worth mentioning that it’s never okay to take the position that just because a particular person has never sexually harassed or assaulted you personally, you cannot size up allegations against that person made by someone else. This may require you to employ those critical thinking skills that you hopefully developed during your formative years. If the allegations are credible, you have a moral obligation to be support the person being held accountable for his acts. Not only would it be cowardly of you not to, it would also add insult to injury to the person who has already been wronged.

Make no mistake, how we respond to theses allegations is directly linked to gender equality across the board. This moment offers real promise when it comes to helping to balance the scales of power for women, and advancing gender equality in the process—but only if we consistently hold people accountable for their behavior, without making excuses or turning a blind eye when it hits close to home.

When we selectively shelter men in positions of power from the consequences of their actions just because we otherwise either like them or believe they have used their power for good in other ways, we reinforce the imbalance of power that creates fertile ground for harassment and assault to begin with; we prevent the recalibration of a system desperately in need of not just a tune-up, but a major overhaul; and we ensure that women will continue to be underpaid, under-promoted, harassed, assaulted and objectified.

So, whether we’re talking about someone we love or someone we hate, insist that those who have committed sexual harassment and/or sexual assault be held accountable for their actions. Even if it happened a long time ago. Even if you really, really like their shows/work/jokes/art/politics/personality. And even if they never personally did anything like that to you. I know it’s hard, but equality and justice demand it. And you can take comfort in the knowledge that you’re doing your part to help make the world a better place.

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