by Errington C. Thompson, MD –
In some headlines, Donald J. Trump and his minions are slowly lining up and admitting to wrongdoing in front of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
In other news, Republicans are betting that Americans will not remember that they voted for you to give a large portion of your hard-earned paycheck to the rich. It is a little concerning that Democrats haven’t been yelling foul at the top of their lungs. Sure, Elizabeth Warren has been honestly pointing out the unfairness of this tax giveaway to the ultra-rich, but where is the chorus? Where is the outrage?
I would like to discuss something else in this space this month.
The hashtag #MeToo has swept the world. It started with the exposure of Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood movie producer as a sexual predator. Weinstein produced Sex, Lies and Videotape, The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction and more. The New York Times published a huge story in which Ashley Judd, Emily Nestor, and Rose McGowan accuse Weinstein of sexual assault. There was some uncertainty in those early days of just what to think about this story. Weinstein stated that he was going to sue the Times. Then the floodgates opened.
Almost every woman in Hollywood came out with a story about Weinstein giving a young starlet the casting couch treatment. The whole Hollywood problem was summed up by Academy Award-winning actress, Emma Thompson, who stated that she spent her twenties trying to keep old men’s tongues out of her mouth. Now, many other women have some forward accusing many dozens of men of being sexual predators.
Swept up in the backlash have been Democratic Representative John Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House, and Sen. Al Franken, liberal hero from Minnesota. Conyers had several accusers, and his office had paid off at least one of them; he retired on Dec. 5 after 53 years in Congress. Then there is Al Franken.
Franken is one of the leaders of liberalism. In 2008 he had won a hard-fought Senate seat against a powerful incumbent, Norm Coleman. He has written extensively about progressive ideas. As a clear voice of liberalism in the Senate, he has not been afraid to take on Jeff Sessions, the attorney general and former Senator from Alabama, about lying to Congress. But, after being accused by a radio talk-show host of groping and unwanted kissing, seven other accusers came forward (some were anonymous).
Was the groping part of some comedy skit; a joke in bad taste, or real? In the end, it didn’t matter; facing severe pressure from fellow Democrats, Franken announced he would soon resign his seat.
Since then, Republicans Trent Franks of Arizona and Blake Farenthold of Texas have also been exposed as sexual predators; Franks resigned, but Farenthold—at press time—is refusing to do so.
We have a choice as progressives. We can blame the media for printing these tales—but only at the expense of our professed dedication to the First Amendment. Or we can blame the women for stepping forward—at the cost of our liberalism itself. I’m sorry, but I think that, for the most part, women do not want to step forward. Why would they? Our society shames a woman who does, calls her a liar, questions her motives, her past relationships, her sex life. The media often blames a woman for “allowing herself” to be put in that situation. Others blame women for wearing clothes that invite assault and rape. Still others ask why she didn’t step forward earlier—while blaming and shaming the ones who do.
Or … we can blame the men for being jerks, grope artists, and rapists. We can start to understand, and admit, that in our society rape is described by some people as nothing more than “boys being boys.” As progressives, though, we have to preach that rape is wrong all of the time. We need to aggressively arrest, try, and jail rapists. We need to pursue these criminals in a timely manner. (Did you see that story of a woman whose rape kit is still sitting in the police lab, one year after she was raped, unprocessed? There are over 70,000 unprocessed rape kits nationwide. Where are our priorities as a nation?)
I do not know much about Holly-wood or Washington. As a surgeon, I live in the hospital. I can tell you that female nurses get felt, groped, grabbed, and molested all of the time. These women are taking care of “sick” patients who one would figure would not be thinking of sex. Yet, these ill patients manage to grab a nurse as she is fixing the IV or doing a dressing change.
Now, what can a nurse do if a patient sexually assaults her? Not much. She can try to approach hospital administration—but as you can imagine, hospitals are not in the business of throwing out or punishing patients. So nothing much happens. The authorities are simply not interested in getting into a situation between some guy who was “sick” in the hospital groping a nurse. The nurse has no one to turn to.
Gretchen versus Greta
One of the best examples of the confusion that exists surrounding sexual misconduct is the controversy between Gretchen Carlson and Greta Van Susteren. Both were on Fox News. Carlson accused Fox president Roger Ailes of not only being sexually inappropriate but also of punishing her for not sleeping with him—by, basically, demoting her and putting her in a less desirable time slot. Van Susteren initially accused Ms. Carlson of lying.
This is our nation’s problem in a nutshell. With regard to sexual misconduct, we blame the victim first and ask questions later. The twitter war between Van Susteren and Carlson lasted until overwhelming evidence caused Greta to apologize.
The moment of truth
Do we as progressives believe that women can and should wear anything that they want without men groping them? If a woman asserts that she has been violated, then we need to start believing her. If we circle the wagons, it must be to protect her, not the accused men. We need better laws to empower women to speak out without retaliation, without fear of being shamed.
On the other hand, I do believe in forgiveness; I do believe men can learn, and change, if they truly want to, and if society expects and demands it of them—and stops making excuses for their bad behavior. I just don’t believe in rich men checking themselves into some celebrity rehab center for a couple of weeks then emerging as free of sin as a newborn baby.
I believe our current president is a grope artist—he has not just admitted it, but bragged about it on videotape—who needs the same media attention and legal repercussions as Clinton got for his sexual misconduct.
I also believe that Alabama’s U.S. Senate candidate, Roy Moore, is different from both those men. He doesn’t seem to assault women: he assaults girls! Teenagers, when he was 32 years old. This is pedophilia, isn’t it? As for people who use the Bible to justify Moore’s misdeeds, they, too, should be ashamed of themselves. Comparing Joseph and Mary to Moore and teenagers is just wrong. As a Christian, I’m offended.
It seems to me that this is our time as progressives to stand up and say that this kind of behavior is wrong, and it will not, cannot be tolerated in our society.