John Conyers was at first defiant, and remained so even as the 88-year-old congressman from a “safe seat” in Michigan resigned his position of 52 years on Tuesday. He was one of the latest men to face claims of sexual harassment and to pay a monumental price.
On Wednesday, eight Senate Democratic women called for Senator Al Franken (D-Minn) to resign after a sixth woman came forward to accuse hims of groping.
“The allegations against Sen. Franken describe behavior that cannot be tolerated,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said on Facebook.
That line of the accused, the fired and resigned is long and getting longer, and includes icons of the entertainment business – Harvey Weinstein, the powerful Hollywood producer accused by actress Ashley Judd of harassment, with others, many others, now coming forward; Charlie Rose, the respected CBS anchor; NBC’s Matt Lauer; comedian Louis C.K.; and from politics, Roy Moore, U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama.
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Some deny accusations, others have seemed to acknowledge them, though they’ve been cautious, doubtless due to legal concerns.
But now, the “movement” has gained even more momentum, with Time magazine awarding its notable “Person of the Year” recognition to Judd and other women – some but not all famous – who have come forward against powerful individuals such as Weinstein to say, enough is enough. Time calls them “the silence breakers,” and indeed, many have displayed courage in risking their careers to speak out and say: No more.
Time’s editor, Edward Felsenthal, called the phenomenon the “fastest-moving social change we’ve seen in decades, and it began with individual acts of courage by women and some men, too.”
That seems a reasonable conclusion, not just a breathless promotion.
In Hollywood, the power of men like Weinstein to make and break careers with a single phone call has created an atmosphere for abuse of power for almost a century, if not more. But that kind of power is seen in the rulers of all industries. In most cases, the vast majority it’s hoped, that power is not abused in a form of sexual harassment – but in some ways, this story is just now breaking.
Women have long faced a “glass ceiling.” But it’s clear they’ve also faced oppression of an even more nefarious nature, a form of abuse behind closed doors, in which powerful people used their power to instill fear in subordinates, fear that they had no choice but to tolerate sexual abuse.
To the degree that this movement, gaining speed and volume, helps to change the world of entertainment, that will be a positive contribution. But will it also have an effect of raising awareness of harassment and stopping it, in all the other workplaces where supervisors and their subordinates are not famous? Certainly that is what should happen.
Whether it will or not really depends on those in positions of authority taking seriously not just the price paid by people like Weinstein and Rose and Lauer, but the issue itself, and endeavoring to listen to those who may have complaints and to take them seriously. For the silence has indeed been broken.