As I turned on the television, the same narrative but a new face appeared on my screen. Another powerful man had been accused of sexual misconduct, and the numerous claims waged against him were credible. Watching the story unfold, I wondered how society had gotten to this place. Each story had the same starring figure, a man in a position of power. The stories, shockingly, were not about politics or race or sexual orientation but about what this man had done. Each time a man in a position of power had taken advantage of someone, or a number of someones, who were subordinate to him, and he had managed to keep them silent.
What caused these men to believe that their actions were not despicable? How could they possibly, even at the time, justify their actions? As I pondered this, I came to three realizations. The first came to me as I read Peggy Noonan’s latest piece in the Wall Street Journal. Many of these men did not view women with dignity. I believe it comes down to this reason, which Pope John Paul II said in his 1995 Letter to Women, “women have contributed to history as much as men have…[yet] women have been ‘underestimated, ignored, and not given credit…’.” Many of these powerful men valued women more for their appearances than for their contributions to history, and, in doing, it created an atmosphere of disrespect and disregard for women, as Noonan wrote. When men stop viewing women as human and as worthy of respect, they do not view their actions as what they are, deplorable.
The second observation I noted was that these men did not believe there would be consequences for their actions. These were all powerful men who were able to keep their accusers quiet through fear of blackmail or career failure or, simply, through their position of power. However, there has been a reckoning. As journalists continue their investigations into the lives of these men, they find countless credible accounts from accusers. As more come forward, and as their claims are determined credible, these men should face the full force of the law. There should be no payouts. There should be no apology letters and moving on. What these men did, ruining the lives of these people (men and women both), should mean that they face the full legal consequences for their actions. These are not stories that should be overlooked following these men being removed from their jobs; there need to be real consequences for their actions.
The third, and final, observation is similar to the second but more specific. For men who are in industries that have ethics committees, particularly the political space, these committees should be employed. It is no good to have ethics committees unless they are used to uphold the ethical codes of an industry. For example, any sitting member of Congress who faces credible accounts of sexual misconduct, should be sent before the House Committee on Ethics. Then, following review from the Ethics Committee, that man should take whatever punishment is handed down to him. If that means resignation, he should resign. Without hesitation.
For too long, sexual harassment allegations have been swept under the rug, ignored, or, worst of all, hidden. A culture of fear created by powerful men silenced too many, but now, finally, society is reaching a watershed moment. I hope that men will continue to hold other men accountable for their actions. I hope that women will continue to fight for the respect and dignity that they inherently deserve. I hope that we all will move forward to create a society where we know that the good men and women are more numerous than the bad and that the bad will know that they will be held accountable. Only time will tell, however, what comes next.