It’s spreading like wildfire with more women rightly fanning the flames with increasing allegations of sexual harassment and assault. The industries may vary – entertainment, news media, politics – but the playbook is the same: Women allegedly violated by men in a position of power over them, happening in a past climate of threatened careers and hush money payoffs. Welcome to 2017 and change.
What has changed exactly? How and why now? Several factors are in play here but the most important can be described in a word: empowerment. There is always strength in numbers and, bolstered by a continuing and steady stream of allegations, more and more women have become empowered to come forward and tell their stories. Call it the snowball effect. Call it a runaway train. Call it Karma. Put simply, there are too many instances and accusations by too many different women to be ignored or written off as spite or blackmail. And many but not all of the men are even, in turn, admitting their wrongdoing and actually apologizing. Oh, there are denials but that is the topic for another blog.
Social media has, of course, played an incalculable role in elevating the dialogue by providing a high profile platform. Played out on Facebook and Twitter, what used to be a minority of women due to fear of reprisals and black listings has become a majority of concerned citizens calling for truth, responsibility and redemption. This is not Anita Hill testifying alone and doubted on Capitol Hill before an all white, male Senate Judiciary Committee. These are women – actors, models, political aides and others – who are now united, bolstered and supported by the masses. Unified with the countless women who have suffered similar degrading experiences and had enough.
It is also a bit ironic yet not surprising that traditional national media outlets have been caught in the fray. Charlie Rose. Bill O’Reilly. Roger Ailes. For decades, bad behavior by media colleagues, athletes, politicians and others have all too often been swept under the rug. Good old boy’s network? Absolutely. It has also been a byproduct of the media decision makers being too close and connected to the celebrities and business stalwarts they cover. Going way back, bad behavior by yesteryear athletes such as Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle would never have been considered a news story at that time – certainly not by the sports reporters who befriended them on long train rides across the country. These sports stars, idolized by millions, were also a journalist’s bread and butter. Better to sweep the dirt under the rug than lose your meal ticket. 24-hour news cycles and increasing web competition have thrown all of that on its ear. A story is a story no matter who may be involved. If your outlet won’t cover it, your rivals will and you’ll be called out on why you didn’t.
Looking back and now forward at this issue and the timing of it all, many are simply saying: It’s about time. In reality, it’s long, long overdue. Perhaps singer Helen Reddy put it best in her 70s hit “I am Woman” a bestselling record out at a time when activist Gloria Steinem and others were leading the woman’s movement and its call for greater equality between the sexes. I am women hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore. Exactly. Why now? Why not.