Thoughts on the “Weinstein Effect”

What will be the ultimate outcome of the “Weinstein effect”? The topic comes up wherever I go. I have had, and heard, lots of different thoughts. Here are some of mine.

Thousands of women have come forth with reports of unwanted sexual advances, touching and assault. Let’s not muddle the issue. The issue is unwanted sexual behavior – not consensual relationships, including workplace affairs. The issue is a person with power taking advantage of someone without power. Usually, but not always, the person with power is male.

Men who have objectified women for eons. In the past five decades, women have become, or sought to become, peers with men in professions and workplaces formerly dominated by men. Women have, in large numbers for the first time, achieved positions of power. Much of the attention to the issue of harassment is in these professional and business relations between men and women.

Many public figures have been accused of mistreating one or more women. Some men (Senator Franken) have acknowledged their behavior and apologized. Some of those (like Charlie Rose) have lost their jobs and faced public shame. Others (do I need to name names?) have simply denied it, calling their accusers liars and the accusations “fake news.” In a situation involving one man and one woman, we must decide which to believe. When one man denies the claims of multiple women, it is distressing to see people choose to believe the man and discount what several women report! That compounds the insult to women!

The number of women reporting abuse is so large that some will charge accusers of “jumping on the bandwagon.” Even if some percentage on the claims are “jumping aboard,” the point is, the problem is real and widespread. There is the inevitable backlash, and we may end up with (more) tensions and distrust between the sexes. Men who have mistreated a women or women in the past are surely worried their victim or victims will come forward – and that they could face penalties and shame (like Roger Ailes and Charlie Rose). Men who have never mistreated a woman may fear they’ll be accused and so avoid being in any situation where an accusation is possible. This could deprive women of important collegial relationships, mentorship and information.

I am more than curious to see where this goes. Like similar scandals in the past, this could simply evaporate and change nothing. It could do as much harm as good to the advancement and equality of women. Or it could be a turning point. The size and depth of the problem is now on the table. We see it. So now we can commit to change it. Men can commit (using the words of Al Franken), “to be much more careful and sensitive.” Women can commit to speak up and be sure it’s clear that “no” means “no.”

What are your thoughts?

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