Why do my dogs lick their genitals all day long? The answer to these and so many other questions is simple: Because they can. And to a large extent, so many men harass women in the workplace, out in the streets and behind closed doors…because they can.
Of course, that’s not the only reason. They do it because it makes them feel good. It makes them feel not just better, but more specifically, better than.
Judging women, instructing them, groping, intimidating, bullying them, telling them they’re “looking good”, need to smile, lose weight or keep quiet – it either puts men in or reinforces a position of power.
Think about it, ladies: You and I don’t walk around calling out suggestions, kudos or critiques regarding various passing strangers’ appearance.
Personally, it’s not that I don’t have the occasional opinion about folks’ man-buns, neon leggings, acid-wash shorts or “Make America Great Again” caps. (Because I do. I really, really do.) But I keep them to myself; I don’t go around appointing myself critic, teacher, cheerleader, judge and jury.
But I grew up female in America. Since puberty I’ve experienced an onslaught of opinions, critiques, rude invitations, salacious suggestions, unwelcome instructions and unwanted judgments masquerading as compliments from co-workers, customers, drivers, pedestrians, fellow passengers and Federal employees. (And that doesn’t even include teachers, doctors, service professionals, plumbers, electricians, security guards, men in uniform, or relatives.)
I’m old enough to remember when men’s comments, demands and assaults weren’t called harassment, they were just called “Life”. Once I worked as a waitress at a hotel chain. If you wanted the line cooks to give you your orders you had to show them a breast. (Joke was on them, I never flashed “the good one”.) There was no one to whom I could have ‘reported’ this. There was no one who would have cared. If I wanted to keep my job, if I wanted to serve customers their food and get tips, I had no choice. I suppose I could have quit, but there was always a frying pan/fire possibility. The other waitresses and I, we never complained more than a wordless eye roll.
But the message was clear: I was an Ivy League student and they were monosyllabic numbskulls. But they had the upper hand and my life and thoughts and talent would always be irrelevant.
I would always be the less-than “Other”. My whole existence reduced to a boob with an irritating line of patter.
Which brings us to that famed harasshole, Mr. Bill O’Reilly.
As anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave and humming loudly with their fingers stuck in their ears knows, the antediluvian hothead has a history of harassing women in the workplace. (Am I the only one who remembers the infamous “falafel” incident? Google it. And spoiler alert: EWWW.) But here’s a little timeline of his most recent sexual harassment headline.
Fox News’ pre-eminent pontificating primate Bill O’Reilly is a windbag, dirtbag, douchebag, sleazebag, gasbag and all kinds of other disgusting bags all rolled into one. For years, women who worked with the man President Trump salutes as a “really good guy” said he did things like:
- verbally abuse them
- call them at home and detail supremely icky sex stuff he wanted to do to them
- and offered promotions in exchange for sex.
To add another disgusting layer, he’d ignore an African-American co-worker except to
- call her “Hot Chocolate”
- make remarks about her body
- and say things like “Mmm-hmm, looking good, girl!” (Oh no he di-n’t!)
I don’t find the fact that Mr. O’Reilly has been a lewd, racist, insulting and pervy bully to be particularly shocking. (I mean, if I looked up ‘sexual harassment’ in the dictionary I’d expect to see no text, just a picture of a smirking Bill.)
What I DO find upsetting is that this is 2017 and even now companies are protecting the predators, victims are vilified, and a lot of the public STILL DON’T GET IT.
Or, more accurately, and this is the upsetting part, just don’t care.
Now, here’s where I don’t get it.
Why should I be surprised? After all, a man who brags about assaulting women’s genitals and spews misogyny in public and private was handed leadership of the Free World. Last time I looked, the world was chock-full of women, over 50 percent in fact, but it’s a good bet their needs, rights and value will not only be ignored but under siege. I do get that many men are total amoral asshats. What I don’t understand is why so many men (and women) support them in their hostile asshattery.
I do get that many men are total amoral asshats. What I don’t understand is why so many men (and women) support them in their hostile asshattery.
What especially galls me is the spin that makes the harassers the victims. I guess we should expect no less from a man who believes Christmas – all three months of it – is beleaguered by intellectual meanies who went and read the Constitution. In interviews Bill O’Reilly talks about women somehow being both humorless, fragile killjoys and ruthless vixens who flay poor he-men like him wielding their malevolent mix of being all attractive and vagina-y. “Women, that’s a big power source for them and I think some women use it ruthlessly,” he remarked in an interview about women being, well, women.
But (I hear you saying), aren’t I buoyed by the fact that Mr. Popular Pontificator got the sack? Won’t now men behave better, companies be more cautious, and women now feel less afraid to report sexual harassment now that the longtime accusations and hushed-up settlements have led to O’Reilly’s big “Bye Felicia” moment?
Uh…no. I’m not. Fox News didn’t fire O’Reilly to send a message, support women, or because it was the right thing to do. They didn’t blink when the guy was recorded telling his associate producer he wanted to fondle her with a falafel (I’m telling you, Google it) and when court records had his teen daughter describing him “choking her mom” as he “dragged her down the stairs”.
No, Fox was literally dragged into action not because of one dick but because of lots of ‘Benjamins’. They made a financial calculus that Bill’s monetary value wasn’t worth the reputational damage, loss of advertisers, thwarting of 21st Century Fox’s global expansion, and the reluctance of those Christmas-hating, Hollywood types to work for the company’s TV and movie brands.
Moving forward, women who endure harassment at their jobs still have reason to fear they won’t be heard or protected if they come forward. Men’s impunity, power and privilege are strong deterrents. Research shows that most women who experience sexual harassment fear retaliation and don’t report it. But, though women are still too-often largely powerless in the workplace, we may have reason to be optimistic about the power we can leverage in other arenas. <Cue the pink pussy hats!>
What finally got O’Reilly knocked off his pundit perch was not feminism, ethics, morality or values. It was value. The price of “business as usual “ finally got too expensive.
This is an important lesson and guidepost for those of us men and women who want to see change. To get employers to get with it, there needs to be a substantial — and unsustainable — financial, social and political cost to tolerating sexual harassment.
- When you can, report harassment.
- And when and wherever you can, speak up and speak out.
- Vote with your ballots, your bucks, your butts in seats.
- Write to sponsors.
- Boycott. Protest.
- Don’t buy the products, don’t see the movies, don’t support those who support the abusers.
- They want to grab our pussies? Punch them in their pocketbook.
Because yes, when it comes to ditching dicks, apparently it is all about the Benjamins, baby.
But that’s just the beginning. It’s equally important we use our experiences and our voices to change not just companies but the country. Bill O’Reilly’s platform and power were atypical but his misogyny is not. Less than a quarter of the viewers who watched his show thought he should be held accountable. We won’t address the ignorance and sexism if we limit our focus to “Fox News’ culture.” Women and men who want to make the world a fairer, better, more just – and way less icky – place have to address the millions of viewers who made “The O’Reilly Factor” the top cable news show for the past 14 years. We have to make it untenable for people to feel good about supporting a sexual predator. We have to make it uncomfortable to make his book touting “Old School” family values the New York Times #1 non-fiction (ha!) best-seller the same week that paper broke the story of Bill and Fox silencing his victims with $13 million in payoffs, er, I mean payouts. We must make it unthinkable for these same people to make a man who boasts about busting into teen beauty pageant dressing rooms and about sexual assaulting women to become President.
We CAN do it. When I was a girl growing up in the South, people used the N-word, people were openly hostile to gays and Jews. Don’t get me wrong, these problems are not solved. But our cultural mainstream has shifted. You can’t scream fire in a crowded theater, and all but the most extreme supremacists know better than to use the N-word anywhere.
Bill and Donald and Roger didn’t invent abusing women. They didn’t create our culture that tolerates and sustains sexism. But their crime hasn’t just been in their embodying disdain for half of humanity, but in their platforms’ powerful perpetuation of misogyny. These lauded men positively bask in women’s subjugation, and they promote and most dangerously normalize treating women like crap. Bill may be out, but his viewers and supporters remain. Donald is in the Oval Office, but what’s even scarier is that America put him there.
Yes, let’s do all we can to get bullies off their pulpits – and let’s also fight against sexism and fight for decency down here in the pews. We can affect change. We do have power in our pocketbooks. But perhaps our biggest impact can be felt when we leverage our values and voices in our everyday lives.
Yes, let’s do all we can to get bullies off their pulpits – and let’s also fight against sexism and fight for decency down here in the pews.
(OK, now go Google the whole Bill O’Reilly/falafel/loofah thing. You know you want to.)
THIS GOT YOU WORKED UP TO DO SOMETHING? ADD THESE TO YOUR ARSENAL THEN:
*photo credit: Eric Angelo | Flickr
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