On sexual harassment, let’s take away your microphone, too

What we have learned from the spate of sexual allegations this week is this: they do not make us introspective.

Perhaps it will take time for the shock of them to dissipate and take the worthlessness of visceral reactions with it. The problem is it’s the shock that provides the opportunity for progress via self examination.

But it’s hard to speak and listen at the same time, so it’s been difficult for men, in particular, to learn what women have been trying to teach them for generations. How can they when they won’t stop talking?

Take this comments section: it is predominantly men providing perspective on sexual harassment.

On the radio Thursday, MPR News host Tom Weber opened the phone lines and, if anyone listened closely, they heard two distinct perspectives, each linked to their reproductive organs.

“Listen to the women,” Sen. Al Franken said in his attempt at apologies. Good advice unheeded.

So listen to Nora McInerny, host of APM’s “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” whose commentary on Time.com last evening was the whack over the head too many men still need.

The day before his firing, Keillor published an op-ed in the Washington Post titled “Al Franken Should Resign? That’s Absurd.” I’ll tell you what’s absurd: Garrison Keillor.

The editorial is an article about not judging past actions by current moral standards. In other words, it’s about himself. But he can’t just say that, so he starts with a few examples.

One, is the displeasure he finds in a popular Minneapolis lake being renamed from Calhoun — a name that honors a slavery enthusiast and an author of the Indian Removal Act, which stole land west of the Mississippi from Native Americans — to the Dakota name Bde Maka Ska. His argument is that renaming it won’t change history, that “the effect of this on the slave trade in Minneapolis will be slight.”

Well, duh, dude. We know how time machines work, and we know how words work. Changing a name on a lake doesn’t change the past. It changes our present. It’s a course correction that says, “Hey, hmmm, this is pretty messed up to use the name of a terrible person on a beautiful lake we stole from the Dakota people!”

No woman who speaks up gets to change her past. And in many cases, speaking up doesn’t exactly change her world for the better. Again, I refer you to Internet comments.

Calling out an offender for who he is and changing the name of a lake are not pointless just because they inconvenience the status quo. Neither of these actions change the past, but they have the potential to change the world we live in now.

One of Weber’s callers/guests of some authority declared yesterday there’s been an “overcorrection” in sexual harassment firings.

Is there? Let’s do the math.

Louis CK? Admitted to masturbating in front of women. Charlie Rose? Copped to inviting a co-worker into his shower and when she didn’t, approached her wrapped in a towel. Michael Oreskes? Apologized and accepted full responsibility for his behavior, which included deep kissing women in the workplace who didn’t want to taste his tongue. Kevin Spacey? Checked himself in for “treatment.” Mark Halperin? Acknowledged mistreating women.

The latest additions to the list of men being charged brings the total number of famous men being held accountable for their actions to 37. Thirty-seven. In a country of 323 million.

An overcorrection? Please.

“If a new era is upon us in which previously complacent men (mostly) start monitoring their every interaction with paranoia, better that than the landscape of repression and damage that is only now coming into focus for roughly half the population. (The other half knew about it already, remember.),” the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr writes today.

For some of us, this feels like comeuppance. Personally, I’ve always thought of Lauer as a fatuous morning-show idiot, especially after his absurdly lightweight and lopsided handling of last year’s presidential debate. All you have to do is watch his 2012 interview with Anne Hathaway, in which he dwells disgustingly on a paparazzi photo that exposed the actress’s crotch, to realize the man has issues with women.

Others we may be less gleeful to see yanked off the stage. But it’s not going to stop, and it shouldn’t. As I write this, I’ve just finished reading screenwriter Jenny Lumet’s precise, moment-by-moment account of being sexually assaulted by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons in 1991, when she was 24, and felt my heart break at this passage: “You didn’t punch me, drag me or verbally threaten me. You used your size to maneuver me, quickly, into the elevator. I said ‘Wait. Wait.’ I felt dread. I was very, very sad.”

Right there is the damage done to one person by another, and it never goes away. Lumet went on to have a career in her chosen field; other women walk away from what might have been, forcibly reminded that they’re not wanted in a man’s arena, or wanted for only one thing. These incidents don’t just break a person, they break a life.

We’re under no illusion that McInerny’s or Burr’s advice will be heeded or even considered. Given a microphone, too many men will — as one humorist did once — warn against a world without sexual harassment.

So let’s take their microphone away too.

If you believe there’s an overcorrection, let’s start with yours.

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