Why Time’s ‘Silence Breaker’ Person(s) of the Year Changes Nothing
Time Magazine named the “silence-breakers” its 2017 People of the Year, the magazine announced on Dec. 6. That designation refers to women who spoke up against men who stand accused of sexual misconduct, including the founder of the #MeToo movement. While many championed the move as a sea change in society, not everyone is cheering. Here’s why.
Consequences do happen — but not the ones you think
The Time cover story writes, “The reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and coworkers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist.” While this certainly rings true for many, consequences have not come down universally. Many men now grapple with how to respond to the issue. A recent New York Times commentary mulled the vast variance in responses to that “reckoning.” Some appear positive, but institutionally, results look far murkier.
Next: For everyday women, increased awareness might actually hurt.
Men are afraid to meet with women
Nearly two-thirds of men and women say people should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work and about a quarter call private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex inappropriate, according to a poll conducted by Morning Consult for The New York Times. At every level, more men than women say they interact with senior leaders at least once a week, according to research by McKinsey. This imbalance marks a major reason women stall at lower levels of companies, according to a variety of research.
If men won’t meet with women, that means women can’t advance. Similarly, if women fear powerful men at the top, they miss out on career opportunities, as well. While a select few men have lost their careers because of sexual misconduct, a much larger number of women have missed out on theirs altogether.
Next: We need to talk about men as gatekeepers.
What art has sexual harassment prevented?
As the New York Times’ Amanda Hess puts it, “Men like Louis C.K. may be creators of art, but they are also destroyers of it. They have crushed the ambition of women and, in some cases, young men — boys — in the industry, robbing them of their own opportunities.” Many accusers either left the industries in which their accusers worked, or in some cases, got outright blackballed.
Annabella Sciorra, who says Weinstein raped her in the early 1990s couldn’t find work for years afterward. “I just kept getting this pushback of ‘We heard you were difficult; we heard this or that,’’ she told journalist Ronan Farrow. In many cases, assistants quit rather than weather workplace harassment. Writers have given up their passions and moved to different industries. Meanwhile, powerful abusers rise to the highest ranks. Getting rid of those abusers is a great first step, but in this light, we see all of the work we have left to do.
Next: Some women fear the backlash will arrive swiftly and hard.
As quickly as the floodgates opened, sexism may slam them shut
The Guardian commentator Jessica Valenti points out that one need only look at some men’s responses to see how the #MeToo movement will end. “As #MeToo outs more men, we will see a doubling down on misogynist norms and excuses for male violence,” she writes. “I’m fairly certain that’s why we’re seeing so many women come out with their stories all at once now — many of them know that a few weeks from now, they may not be believed.”
One woman has already launched a high-profile fake scandal that sought to bring down The Washington Post. More of those will cast doubt on the credibility of all accusers. The ramifications might soon reach even further. “I have already heard the rumblings of a backlash: ‘This is why you shouldn’t hire women.’ Actually, this is why you should,” wrote Facebook executive Cheryl Sandberg on that platform. “And you shouldn’t just hire women — you should mentor, advise, and promote them.”
Next: Some women seem bitter about what the movement didn’t do for them.
Should women just ‘let it go’?
Newsweek reports that Trump special counselor Kellyanne Conway belittled the #MeToo movement because it didn’t help her. She said that when she shared her #MeToo story “nobody cared about it” because she was managing Republican Donald Trump’s campaign. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told a crowd at the Women Rule Summit that she also had a #MeToo moment. She advised women to “Let it go. Because otherwise it’s too corrosive, it’s too negative and it does you a double injury because it holds you back. Things change, times change and it’s not worth my while to go back and revisit those negative moments,” said Chao.
Some women find the movement’s structure itself problematic. Vice writer Megan Nolan rejects the responsibility placed on victims. “The problem, really, with all of it is how violently present the victim is forced to be in the narrative, and how utterly passive the perpetrator,” she writes. “The problem is not that women have trouble considering themselves victims of sexual violence, but that men have trouble considering themselves the aggressor.” Until we address that, #MeToo changes nothing.
Next: Are all of the firings and resignations a reckoning, really?
Many men lost their jobs, but not all of them
The story reads, “In the past two months alone, [women’s] collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: Nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.” The operative words here are “in some cases.”
As Vox reports, many in entertainment, publishing, and news did lose their jobs after sexual misconduct allegations came out. That list continues growing by the day. But on Capitol Hill, results look much more mixed. Ruben Kihuen of Nevada made unwanted advances during his 2016 campaign, Buzzfeed writes. Nancy Pelosi called for John Conyers’ resignation, after multiple claims of harassment. He did step down, but did not admit wrongdoing. And Blake Farenthold of Texas allegedly used $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a harassment claim in 2014. While he continually denies misconduct, Sen. Al Franken also stepped down on Dec. 7, The Atlantic reports. Many of these men have one thing in common.
Next: Democrats called for Franken’s seat, but one group remained quiet.
Franken’s actions earned mixed responses across the aisle
“It is not hard to see what‘s going on here,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board explains. “The Democrats are eliminating their stains, while the Republicans are endorsing theirs. You have to believe in magic to think this is going to end well for Republicans.” Democrats cleaning house looks like a challenge to Republicans to do the same, and some conservative pundits cried foul.
Fox News’ Laura Ingraham called the outcry a “political calculation” by Democrats. “I’ll tell you this tonight, be wary of the lynch mob you join today,” she said. “Because tomorrow, it could be coming for your husband, your brother, your son, and yes, even your president.” That parallel is not lost on anyone, although she misinterprets the left’s intentions. While Democrats called the effort uncoordinated, it speaks volumes. “I hope that members of both political parties will be guided by sound principles and even when it’s painful,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin said. “And this is painful. Al Franken is my friend.”
Next: While Democrats call for their friends’ jobs, Republicans stand by abusers.
Among Republicans, ramifications look very different
In his resignation speech, Franken himself drew attention to allegations against President Donald Trump and Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore. “I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of the sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.”
If two facts can point to the impact the Time “silence breakers” have — or have not — made, we can look at those two examples. Trump, at press time, stands accused of sexual misconduct by 19 women, according to The Atlantic. Trump continuously denies any wrongdoing. “Is the official White House position that all of these women are lying?” a reporter asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, in late October. “Yeah, we’ve been clear on that from the beginning, and the president’s spoken on it,” she replied. Let’s also not forget the infamous “Grab ‘em by the p***y” Access Hollywood tape, which Trump now calls into question.
Next: Moore, despite allegations, continues to rise.
Republicans might elect a pedophile to the Senate
On Nov. 9, four women told the Washington Post that Moore “pursued them” when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s. Since then, that number has risen to nine accusers who accuse the Alabama Senate candidate of sexual misconduct. According to Quartz, pollster FiveThirtyEight lists Moore as “at least a modest favorite” in the Dec. 12 special election race against Democrat Doug Jones. The polling site suggests that the passage of time, Trump’s support, and Alabama’s conservative makeup will all help Moore win.
In a written statement to the Post, Moore called the allegations “completely false.” He characterizes them as “a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign.”
Next: Whether Republicans believe him or not marks an important moment.
If we elect Moore and keep Trump, #MeToo fails
While Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, and Jeff Flake have voiced opposition to the candidate, many will choose party over country. For that matter, electing Moore will demonstrate that we have a long way to go in respecting women. As The Nation puts it, Trump’s endorsement places partisanship above principles—aggressively and unapologetically. The president clearly told Republicans what to do: “Democrats [sic] refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama. We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more. No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!”
#MeToo might have started something. Time’s person of the year continued it. But if we let Moore into the Senate and let Trump remain president, the movement is dead on arrival.
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