Whac-a-Mole

In 2017, multitudes of women and men who had suffered the desolation and the shame of sexual harassment or sexual assault found encouragement in a moment that turned into a movement — the #MeToo movement.  It gave them a voice they never had.  It was a societal tsunami where women and men long silenced spoke truth to power and the powerful men in media, government, and entertainment had no choice but to listen, an ironic swapping of roles as they experienced the powerlessness they had exploited in their victims.  In 2018 we need to widen the spotlight to include perps at every level of society and victims from every walk of life.

But, here’s the thing.  Shaming people won't stop sexual harassment or assault.  The men committing these acts know they shouldn't; but predators in positions of power continue anyway, because they think they will get away with it.  And they are almost always correct.

Harvey Weinstein was stopped.  Great!  But I guarantee you that on the day the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences revoked his lifetime membership, dozens more men sexually harassed or assaulted a subordinate for the first time and got away with it.  Kevin Spacey was stopped.  Great!  But I guarantee you that on the day Netflix fired him from his starring role on House of Cards, dozens more men sexually harassed or assaulted a starstruck or impressionable youth for the first time and got away with it.  In the world of on-air television personalities, big names like Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, and Mario Batali were exposed and lost their jobs, while sitting members of Congress like Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers could not survive the current climate and resigned.

Great!  But tomorrow, new predators will just pop-up to take over for them, because the issue at hand is not the bad men involved but the imbalance of power and how those predisposed to exploit it will continue to do so unless structurally that is made impossible.   The Whac-a-Mole strategy of outing then ousting predators in our midst will, unfortunately, not end sexual harassment and assault.  Take Harvey Weinstein — every one of his victims told a variation of the same story with one common element:  he was a powerful movie producer who could stall or end their careers.  So even with him out of the picture (no pun intended), he is not the only man in a position to make or break careers in Hollywood.

The only way that people get the protection they need against the powerful is to find a way to stand together and change the balance of power.

People who have suffered because of the words or actions of a sexual victimizer, and then were re-victimized because the industry or institution writ large was “more important” than any “single” aberration, however horrible, committed by one of its members or because that member wielded sufficient power to cover up his wrongdoing, have lived in an alternate reality where power was used to create a public façade that hid a truth they knew to be quite different. 

The Power of MeToo

2017 and the #MeToo movement pulled the curtain back.  Those who felt doomed to live in this alternate reality suddenly felt empowered because the man behind the curtain was exposed; reality was shown to be exactly what they knew all along to be true but power had tried to convince the world was false.  Alone, individual victims were powerless; but joining together — by declaring #MeToo — their number gave them the power to rewrite the narrative.  Each solitary voice crescendoed into a chorus.

That having been said, and the positive, healing nature of telling one’s story notwithstanding, no survivor of sexual harassment or assault should have to rip the scabs off their scars in order to reach those responsible for them.  The onus should not be on those who have been harmed to expose themselves to further pain just to demonstrate the scale and the depth of the depravity all around us, because if the #MeToo hashtag taught us anything last year, it is the sheer magnitude of the problem.  And a problem this pervasive cannot persist without the cooperation of scores of enablers.  Every one of us is fully complicit in these #MeToo stories, whether we overtly acted, or encouraged this behavior by looking away in cowardly silence.

#MeToo won't shame the predators in our midst into stopping.  But it can serve as a wake-up call for the rest of us to unite against them, tipping the scales in favor of the powerless.

Copyright © 2021 matthewwilkinson.net — all rights reserved.