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As the #MeToo tsunami flows over the nation leaving the culprits of abusive culpability in its wake, I’ve been left wondering about the destroyed careers, but more importantly the “banished” achievements. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a male defending his lecherous counterparts regarding all the victims coming forth in accusing them of having taken unconsentual and unwanted sexual liberties. I am not one bit attempting to defend the power mongers and control freaks who abused their career positions and/or influence to affect some measure of duress upon their victims. But this is, after all, a very complex issue that goes way beyond the workplace. If you truly want to get serious in understanding problems of this nature as it relates to a social situation you have to understand human sexuality and gender behavior going back to Adam and Eve. If you’re simply looking for a cultural “band-aid” solution to address workplace behavior, well, that will be a more realistic goal for contemporary society, I must admit.
As these abusers were being revealed I took pause with two important aspects of this.
The First….. there are indeed many women with stories to tell of men having gone too far in general society, men having used their positions to assure their abuse is hidden or to assure their victim complies… or else. But this is all hardly a 21st century problem… or even some modern times problem. But strangely, it’s our current “modern society” that just happens to provide women (and abused men as well) with immediate exposure at the speed of light with wide-sweeping world communications, which is resulting in immediate public outcry, and subsequently, immediate punitive action outside the law, right where it hurts.. terminating the offender’s job and career. I have no issue with that. With adequate review and evaluation an employer should fire the abuser. With adequate evidence of a crime the abuser should go to jail once convicted.
The Second aspect… the public outcry and the removal of these abusers from their sources of power and income has been so effective that I couldn’t help but wonder… ok, fine, the bastards have been banished… but what about their accomplishments and/or achievements in life that set them apart, that made them respected in the first place? A number of these abusers have indeed had accomplished careers, many within the entertainment industry… but most, if not all, are high profile public figures for a reason.
Bill Cosby is an example. Up until all his victims came forward he was highly respected even beyond his acting ability, having a doctorate in education, squeaky clean stand-up comedy (I saw him perform once in the 70’s), and a great actor that represented the moral family father figure, and special sensitivity toward children. The man was the epitome of morality and contributed this throughout his career… even so far as contributing to black awareness and that urban struggle beginning at home with the family. A family values guy for sure. Then the victims came forward and all that changed. At the time he was exposed I believe he was well into his retirement, so I am not aware of any employer terminating his job anywhere. But publicly he fell from grace rapidly, with a lot of public shock & awe that he was alleged to have done what they accused him of.. sadly. I don’t believe to date that he’s been formerly accused of any crime, although there might be some statute of limitations on some of his accusers.
Anyway.. here’s my point… did his alleged accusations against him.. and I have little doubt they are, in fact, true… completely negate his former accomplishments? Do we admonish the person and their past claim to glory? The man still did what he did as a positive influence in society in spite of his (alleged) crimes or unconsentual sexual activity. His sexual exploitation of those women… does it change his social contributions that were once respected? Do I have to not quote Cosby’s famous speech that brought him the ire of the black community when he stated that many of the problems of black urban youths have begun at home with their lack of attention toward education, poor use of grammar and phonetics, and one parent households because the father leaves? Does that mean absolutely nothing now because Cosby created sexual victims?
Let’s try Kevin Spacey (figuretively, of course). A widely acclaimed actor in many roles with a wide public following. All that means nothing now because of a sexual power-grab on his victims? Don’t misconstrue what I am comparing here. I have no argument that he’s guilty of what he’s accused of… and that his “punishment” is not only termination of his acting career but public scorn and ridicule. But honestly… does that remove him from having been a talented and popular and admired actor? He’s still a good actor… but lousy in abusing his power and influence to get laid.
My observations here are all rhetorical as I have no answers.. just various feelings as what motivates humans to do the things they do.. right or wrong. In George Orwell’s “1984”, declaring a person an “unperson” meant the person was exterminated, erased, and all reference of their existence was destroyed or eliminated. In Germany and the Soviet Union being declared a “nonperson” was common as you were sent to concentration or labor camps. Socially we are removing all acknowledgement of a famous and respected person because of sexual abuse (much of it unproven in a court of law… but is a court of law necessary?). Does that mean we, the public, in effect, remove also all evidence of their past accomplishment in our attempt to shun them? Does it become more expedient… socially acceptable… now to make sure we side with the accusers and castigate the abusers for even existing in life because if we don’t then we risk being accused ourselves as abusers-after-the-fact.. co-abuser-enablers… or “your just a man defending men”?
Now conversely, one could argue that up until the recent revelations by women and other victims, that many companies and employers tolerated the rumors of such reports of sexual abuse out of an expediency of avoiding the issue, hence the issue never existed, to simply retain the abusive employee. But withholding a measure of justice for expediency is not new by any means. Political expediency abounds like crazy around the world; allowing certain things to go unnoticed or unanswered in order to retain a status quo. My personal fave example of political expediency is Werner Von Braun. The man was directly responsible for developing the weapons of mass destruction.. the V-1 and V-2, as a Nazi, and for the Nazis, that killed thousands of Londoners during WW2. He even directed the use of slave labor to build the things. After the war we grabbed him and some fellow rocket scientists so the Soviet Russians wouldn’t get them, tossed him into the NASA program where we gave him awards and accolades.. and even promoted him to direct one of the NASA research centers. It didn’t matter if he was a Nazi or that he killed thousands with his weapons. All that mattered is that we beat the Soviets to the moon with his help… per Kennedy. Werner died an American hero. But.. that’s an extreme example of the pitfalls of sticking to expediency rather than pursuing justice. But… Von Braun did achieve a measure of greatness leading NASA to the moon.. the question remains, was it worth the lives he took?
In the #MeToo movement each victim is asking themselves.. was this person’s personal achievements worth his abusing me like he did? Likely the resounding response would be that their abuser should burn in hell for eternity for what they did… and all evidence of him be destroyed. I cannot address that as I’ve not walked a mile in their shoes… and very likely I’d feel the same if I were such a victim. But for the rest of us… do we dismiss a person’s public achievements because of private sexual abuse? As I said.. it’s rhetorical… but worth kicking around.
If Columbus was lauded for discovering America, and some document popped up in some European archive telling of sexual abuse with young boys, do we then dismiss his accomplishment from ever happening? On the other hand… if we had a sitting president who was accused by a number of women of sexual abuse, and even admitted it publicly of his past of doing just that, would we let him off the hook for the expediency of him staying President?