The mes­sage for those who dare to share their sto­ries is that their voices don’t mat­ter

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - NEWS - ELIZABETH RENZETTI

We should worry less about how men will re­coup from al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, and worry more about the women com­ing for­ward. The mes­sage again and again for those with the courage to share their sto­ries is that their voices don’t mat­ter

Watch­ing The Clin­ton Af­fair, A&E’s new documentary se­ries, see­ing who cries is in­struc­tive. Spoiler alert: It’s not Bill Clin­ton. In­stead, it’s a woman who ac­cused him of rape, Juanita Broad­drick, and one who ac­cused him of ha­rass­ment, Paula Jones. Even decades later, the emo­tional toll is clear as they re­mem­ber, and cry.

Kath­leen Wil­ley, a for­mer friend of Mr. Clin­ton’s who says he groped her when she came to ask him for a job, also be­comes emo­tional in front of the cam­era when she talks about the con­se­quences of speak­ing out: “We got ham­mered for it,” she said. “Ru­ined.”

Then, fi­nally, there is Mon­ica Lewin­sky, who has emerged from the smok­ing rub­ble as a cham­pion of em­pa­thy and vic­tims’ rights. Ms. Lewin­sky was in­volved in a con­sen­sual sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with the then-pres­i­dent, but it was also one with a great power im­bal­ance at its heart. One of the par­tic­i­pants got hung out to dry, and again, it wasn’t Bill Clin­ton. Get­ting to this place of bal­ance has taken Ms. Lewin­sky 20 years, decades that have been filled with more pain and ther­a­pists’ bills than most of us could imag­ine.

“It’s a very long pe­riod of floun­der­ing,” she said, “and feel­ing un­be­liev­ably stuck in the old nar­ra­tive of Mon­ica Lewin­sky that was cre­ated.”

No­tice that she used the present tense to speak of some­thing that hap­pened 20 years be­fore. The cost of be­ing the vic­tim of sex­ual ha­rass­ment (or, in Ms. Lewin­sky’s case, be­ing solely blamed for a pub­lic scan­dal) never leaves; it lives in the mind and the body. This is what is so mad­den­ing about the cur­rent nar­ra­tives around pun­ish­ment and re­demp­tion in sex­ual-ha­rass­ment cases. What’s go­ing to hap­pen to the poor men who’ve done wrong? Will they, as co­me­dian Louis C.K. joked in a pre­lim­i­nary come­back standup set, for­ever be lament­ing the US$35-mil­lion lost in an hour? Louis’s tragic loss of in­come, by the way, fol­lowed his se­rial pat­tern of mas­tur­bat­ing in front of fe­male col­leagues.

When one of those col­leagues, co­me­dian Re­becca Corry, fi­nally came for­ward and talked about his be­hav­iour, she lost some­thing worse: “Since speak­ing out, I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced vi­cious and swift back­lash from women and men, in and out of the com­edy com­mu­nity. I’ve re­ceived death threats, been ber­ated, judged, ridiculed, dis­missed, shamed, and at­tacked,” she wrote in Vul­ture.

And yet, oddly, there has been no hand-wring­ing about how Ms. Corry might re­gain the spot­light.

I was think­ing about this as the news broke that On­tario’s liquor stores would re­sume sales of wine made by Nor­man Hardie, whose al­leged sex­ual mis­con­duct was out­lined in a se­ries of Globe and Mail sto­ries this sum­mer. Three women said Mr. Hardie had groped or kissed them against their will, and, ac­cord­ing to the Globe story, “18 oth­ers de­scribed re­quests for sex by Mr. Hardie, and de­lib­er­ately be­ing ex­posed to pornog­ra­phy.”

Mr. Hardie is­sued a pub­lic apol­ogy on the com- pany web­site, say­ing that “some of the al­le­ga­tions made against me are not true, but many are.”

Restau­rants and liquor-control out­lets across the coun­try sus­pended sales of Mr. Hardie’s wines. Only On­tario’s liquor board has plans to re­sumes sales, and to make mat­ters worse, it has in­structed its em­ploy­ees not to talk about the de­ci­sion. One of the women who made the claims against Mr. Hardie told The Globe that the On­tario de­ci­sion was “heartbreaking.” Heather Bruce, a for­mer em­ployee of Mr. Hardie’s, said: “It just makes you feel so small. It makes you feel like you don’t mat­ter.”

This is the mes­sage again and again from women who’ve found the courage to come for­ward: You feel like you don’t mat­ter. In­stead, what we’ve de­cided to fixate on is the tremen­dous suf­fer­ing of men who have be­haved like preda­tors (at best) or crim­i­nals (at worst). Is this be­cause we’re hooked on re­demp­tion sto­ries? Is it be­cause we can­not fathom a world in which men’s ma­te­rial wealth and sta­tus might be stripped away as a con­se­quence of their ter­ri­ble ac­tions? I have no idea. But I do know that we sel­dom give as much thought to what women have lost, through no fault of their own – phys­i­cal and mental health, job se­cu­rity, pro­fes­sional ad­vance­ment. There’s a hole in the world where their ac­com­plish­ments should be, but we’ll never see it.

“I don’t know that any­one who comes for­ward and makes a charge of sex­ual mis­con­duct, ha­rass­ment, can have an easy time in a sys­tem that of­ten as­sumes that they are not be­ing truth­ful,” Anita Hill said this week when she came to Toronto to speak be­fore the Cana­dian Women’s Foun­da­tion. Ms. Hill would know, hav­ing lived for the past 27 years with the con­se­quences of com­ing for­ward with al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment against Clarence Thomas, dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ms. Hill re­cently told The New York Times that she is in con­tact with Chris­tine Blasey Ford, who came for­ward with her own al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct against Brett Ka­vanaugh, dur­ing Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh’s Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion. Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh is now on the Supreme Court along­side Jus­tice Thomas, and re­ceives stand­ing ova­tions at din­ners; Dr. Ford still can’t re­turn to her home be­cause of death threats she’s re­ceived, and trav­els ev­ery­where with a se­cu­rity de­tail. Yes, it’s a ter­ri­ble price that men pay.

Iron­i­cally, some of the best re­port­ing on the con­se­quences of work­place ha­rass­ment comes from the U.S. Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion, where Ms. Hill and Jus­tice Thomas worked to­gether in the 1980s, and where she says the ha­rass­ment oc­curred.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 re­port from the EEOC, work­place sex­ual ha­rass­ment is hugely un­der­re­ported – 70 per cent of vic­tims say they never make a for­mal com­plaint – and has pro­found con­se­quences for those af­fected. As many as three-quar­ters of vic­tims re­port some form of re­tal­i­a­tion at their work­place. Many ex­pe­ri­ence pro­found phys­i­cal and mental-health con­se­quences; some leave their jobs.

These con­se­quences are all com­plex and dispir­it­ing. They defy neat solutions, and don’t lend them­selves to up­lift­ing re­demp­tion arcs.

If there’s no sto­ry­book end­ing, who wants to read?

The cost of be­ing the vic­tim of sex­ual ha­rass­ment never leaves; it lives in the mind and the body.


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