Every day seems to see a new sexual offender added to the list of prominent male malefactors—like today, with the firing of longtime Today show host Matt Lauer over allegations of harassment. He joins a roster that includes, in greater or lesser degrees of notoriety: Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein, NPR’s Michael Oreskes, Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, director James Toback, former President George H. W. Bush, journalist Mark Halperin, Kevin Spacey, Ohio State Representative Wes Goodman (R.), Dustin Hoffman, Steven Seagal, Jeffrey Tambor, Leon Wieseltier, Louis C.K., Pixar head John Lasseter, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D.), and Charlie Rose. Not to mention Bill Clinton revisited.
For decades, a woman who’d been offended against could light bonfires of outrage, and no one saw or smelled even a wisp of smoke. Now, all she has to do is hold up a tiny match. Obviously, the viral nature of social media plays a role in spurring these revelations and shamings. It is satisfying to contemplate just how many powerful men are trembling in their Guccis. Yet things can’t continue at this fever pitch indefinitely; inevitably life reverts to some version of business as usual. Once this fire dies down, will a new normal be in place?
Many of my female friends are skeptical, and fear a backlash. But I do think that the behavior of powerful men will be altered—that in the future, all but the most hardened predators will remember how these guys have been toasted, and will step back. The de facto norm will change.
At least, that is, among the visible powerful. But does #metoo work at the local and anonymous level? All these high-flying guys are being brought down, but what about the merely local sleazebag—the manager at Chick Fil-A, say, who grabs his employee’s butt as it if is his right? If you are that guy, and if Mario Lopez isn’t going to be mentioning your name on Entertainment Tonight, disgracing you on national TV, are you still going to change your sleazebag m.o.?
Regarding Bill Clinton, liberals are belatedly agonizing over having so readily dismissed the claims women made against him in the 1990s. My own recollection is that I simply didn’t believe the worst stories about him. As Joe Klein pointed out on NPR the other day, those stories arose in the context of a new hyperpartisanship, driven by intemperate Clinton-hating and expressed in the Whitewater investigation, a fishing expedition sponsored by his enemies with the obvious goal of toppling him. Back then the Clintons were accused of being drug mafiosi, of murdering Vince Foster, and on and on. Amid such lurid accounts—fake news!—was it surprising that rumors of Bill as a rapist would be discounted as fabrications put forth by that “vast right-wing conspiracy” Hillary famously referred to?