Commentary: When Anita Hill testified in the Clarence Thomas senate hearings that Thomas had sexually harassed her, I was working in a big law firm. Almost all male lawyers thought she was making it up. The secretaries, 98% women, thought she was probably testifying accurately. As did I.
Later three women working there each told me that the same lawyer had sexually harassed her with obscene come-ons obviously aimed not at starting an affair but solely at embarrassing a vulnerable female. That lawyer wasn't amorous. He was a bully.
Tuesday a friend asked what I thought about Charlie Rose's situation. He expressed concern that reputations are being destroyed by innuendo. He reflected that people are supposedly innocent until proven guilty. The law must and does hold you innocent until proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases; but in deciding what we each believe happened, we can apply our best judgment to the evidence.
Yes, occasionally a reputation gets unfairly destroyed. I wrote two columns defending a teacher after the school fired him and the authorities very publicly filed and eventually dropped a bundle of horrible charges.
But if we lined up on one side all those tragic cases, in which someone made something up or misremembered facts, and we lined up on the other side cases where it's clear that a powerful male did bad things to a junior or subordinate female, one side would be nearly empty and the other filled with people like Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Roy Moore, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein, the New York Times writer, and countless others. Many people – mostly men – abuse their power, either for sex or simply to feel strong. (To overcompensate for self-doubts?) Women (and sometimes young boys) often don't speak up, for obvious reasons.
We shouldn't pre-judge anyone. Closer to home, if (as seems likely as I write this) DASO Undersheriff Ken Roberts, is placed on administrative leave while investigators look into alleged sexual misconduct by him, he deserves a fair and impartial investigation.
Have we turned a corner? Will women continue to be believed more readily and feel freer to speak up about abuses? Or is the current receptivity temporary? Will some combination of male power, and abuses of the new receptivity (by some women and/or lawyers) swing the pendulum back some?
I hope forcibly silencing the abused is over. Forever. And I hope anyone tempted to fabricate some story to attack some guy who's never done anything inappropriate realizes that doing so would not only be wrong, but would contribute to renewed skepticism about such claims.
Throughout human history women have silently suffered silently men's abuse in homes, workplaces, and elsewhere. Our culture has winked at it, even encouraged it. “Boys will be boys.” “Locker room talk.” “She asked for it.” Showbiz and Madison Avenue, using cleavage and a sexy voice to sell everything from skin cream to cars, teach young men that it's all on offer.
Now is a great time for each of us men to scan our past. When I was very young I did and said things that I'd hate to be judged on now. Thoughts and words I regret. Just as most who grow up in the U.S. have some degree of racism in us, we men have vestigial feelings that conquest is right and natural, and that that's what women are for.
Let's face that and grow up.