Today (ironically) I woke up to the news that Matt Lauer, co-anchor of NBC’s “Today Show” for 20 years, was fired by NBC News because of inappropriate sexual behavior. Then I read that the venerated writer and ex-host of “Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor, was fired by Minnesota Public Radio for “allegations of his inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him.” We’ll no longer hear “The Writer’s Almanac” or any “Best of Prairie Home Companion” featuring Keillor.
Lauer was reportedly kind of a jerk (he apparently edged out long-time reporter Ann Curry from a co-host spot, for those of you who care about this sort of thing), and he had his ups and downs over the years journalistically.
But in both cases, the accusations are allegations, and haven’t been proven to be true yet. This is seriously problematic. I know that many people reading my blog may not remember the horror of McCarthyism in the 1950s. It was a witch hunt against “Communists,” many of whom were in the entertainment field. Senator Joe McCarthy created an atmosphere of accusations and downright lies that ruined the lives of many people with little or no proof. The fury and brouhaha that are taking over news headlines about thus-and-so being fired or castigated for sexual harassment is taking on McCarthy-like overtones.
It’s starting to appear that there’s a witch hunt for many men who may be wondering if something they said or did would have been misconstrued wrongly by someone they knew or with whom they worked.
It’s surely a rush to judgment.
For example, I would question the woman who alleged that Senator Al Franken touched her buttocks with sexual intent when she stood next to him to have her photo taken. Did he really mean to grope her? Was he really thinking about her sexually? Or did he just happen to accidentally brush her butt with his hand during the photo session? Franken says he didn’t mean anything (He doesn’t even remember the incident); the woman says he did it with clear intent. Who’s telling the real truth?
I’m certainly not for any behavior that disrespects women at any time or any place, sexually or otherwise (women take a whole lot of verbal harassment and disrespect too). It’s bad enough to be objectified sexually, groped or assaulted in a non-work situation (verbally or physically); but it’s quite worse when someone (female or male) is subjected to the same type of reprehensible behavior when there are threats and power abuse attached (like Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose).
It’s just not the same thing at all to feel uncomfortable with someone’s behavior and being harassed or assaulted (what specifically do those two terms mean anyway?). Where do you draw the line? What actually constitutes “harassment”? Where do you cross the line from having to listen to stupid frat-boy jokes to actual harassment? There’s a pretty broad spectrum of behavior between inappropriate and criminal.
Example: Louis CK. Oh lord. Here’s a twerp who felt it was okay to masturbate in front of women on a regular basis, sans their consent. Seems like he has a sex fetish to me. What an idiot—but these women should have gotten up and left the room when he started his pervy antics, IMHO (I would have, if it made me uncomfortable). Was that harassment? Or just being a stupid moron?
I would venture to say that every woman has had many, many moments of feeling uncomfortable with certain men’s behavior, verbal and physical. Does that mean they were “harassed”?
I think that 99% of all men in this culture might be considered guilty of some sort of behavior that might be considered harassment. We all know that this behavior has been tolerated for hundreds, thousands of years. All of a sudden, it’s not acceptable and the men involved are dropping like flies. It’s good that women are speaking out. But it’s gotten to the point that harassment charges are becoming a deadly weapon against alleged perpetrators who don’t necessarily deserve to be ostracized, fired, have their reputations ruined, etc. We have to figure out where that line is, and be reasonable about it with some clearer criteria.
This is a really complicated issue. We all need to step back, take a deep breath and not be so quick to judge, and/or destroy someone else’s career and livelihood. We need a period of transition; both men and women have to do a lot of soul-searching to reach an accord on our behavior. We don’t need another McCarthy era.