In the days and weeks after the Harvey Weinstein story broke and new wrinkles were continually added, there was growing commentary that maybe some kind of milestone had been reached, that maybe the tide was turning when it came to sexual harassment in the workplace.
This commentary was generally greeted with large amounts of skepticism, in the same way that there was skepticism with thoughts, and hopes, that the latest mass shooting would be the one to finally stimulate action (in whatever form it could possibly take) to make sure this was the last such tragedy.
And that skepticism is warranted, because, like gun violence, sexual harassment has longed seemed like a problem we just couldn’t solve, something that people, and especially women, would just to have to live with. There is a ‘that’s just how it is’ sentiment about it.
But increasingly, it seems that, while there is still ample room for skepticism on this topic, there is also space for some optimism, some hope that maybe a sea change is in the offing. Some promise that people may soon be saying ‘that’s how it was’ instead of ‘that’s how it is’ or ‘that’s how it will always be.’
Why? Well, there are several reasons. Let’s start with the manner in which the Weinstein case has shed light on the subject and shown that, when people come forward — even if it’s years or decades after the fact — offenders can be brought to justice (in whatever form it takes), and a situation might change.
As just one example, the Massachusetts Legislature has come under scrutiny in recent weeks in the form of allegations that people in positions of power (most all of them men) wielded that power in ways that created a truly hostile workplace, where women became convinced that saying ‘no,’ or not putting up with harassment, could derail everything from specific pieces of legislation to their careers.
In a statement given to the Boston Globe, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he was “infuriated and deeply disturbed” to hear that women had described being harassed in the State House. It doesn’t say he was surprised, because he was probably wasn’t. But something else he said is quite telling.
“While I understand and support their desire to remain anonymous, the fact that victims fear the consequences to their careers of reporting the harassment is as upsetting as the harassment itself.” Upsetting, but hardly surprising.
But it’s here where the sea change might lie. There is sentiment that, increasingly, women (and, in some cases, men) are becoming less fearful about reporting harassment, and this willingness to come forward is changing the landscape and bringing the careers of formerly powerful men to an abrupt end.
Harvey Weinstein. Bill O’Reilly. Mark Halperin. Kevin Spacey. The list is growing longer, and that’s a very positive thing. As is the outrage concerning those who protected what have come to be known in some circles as “superstar harassers” and put people in harm’s way because of their actions. In some cases, their careers are being destroyed as well; Bob Weinstein might just be every bit as radioactive as his brother.
Make no mistake, society in general and the business world in particular still have a long way to go when it comes to being able to refer to the Weinstein case and others in anything approaching the past tense — as in ‘that’s how it used to be.’
But there is now much more than hope that some kind of corner has been turned. There is emerging evidence that this is, indeed, the case. And hopefully, we’ll see much more progress in the years to come.