Responsibilities of the Oppressed
I was pleased to receive this otherwise-complimentary email today from Jane:
I’m sure you’ve heard from many women on your section [in this week’s column] about Arnold S. “Sexual harassment is serious business, but evidently not to the 16 women involved–none filed charges.” Good lord, man, it’s obvious you’ve never been a woman. File charges? Basic, on-the-job harassment charges, perhaps? And how do you think Jane Doe, Production Assistant, would fare against Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the richest men in Hollywood? Assuming it ever got to trial (instead of settled out of court), would you really give odds on a conviction once Arnold said he was simply joking, it was all very European, he has great respect for women, his wife & her family women blah blah blah? And of course, if Jane had planned to have any sort of career in Hollywood at all, what odds would you give on her being able to continue it? A production set isn’t like a corporate job. A few weeks on the set and you might never have to see that person again, you might be told if you complain. So you ride it out. I’m not making excuses per se — but it is how almost everything goes in that town.
The point is that, for economic and professional reasons, women everyday choose to overlook sexual harassment in the workplace. (Not only could I tell you a story or two about the film industry, but I could tell you the same stories about the State Dept. when I worked there many years ago — the one time I saw someone get popped on sexual harassment charges was due to a leaked report, and not because the system worked.) Don’t worry, I haven’t dedicated a voodoo doll in your honor; I just think your perspective isn’t all that realistic on what a woman would be up against in a situation like that. (In terms of power relations, think of it as young female production assistant = Afghanistan, Arnold Schwarzenegger = US and you’ll begin to understand it better, perhaps.)
Jane is right. A woman who has been sexually harrassed by a powerful, wealthy actor would face an uphill battle being taken seriously by her boss, the police and other authorities. Of course the odds of said actor facing punishment are extremely long. This is a function of basic power politics, as Jane points out.
It is, however, your moral duty as a member of society to do whatever you can to prevent predators from victimizing other people. If someone rapes you, and you’re too freaked out/terrified/traumatized to go to the cops, then that rapist goes on to rape again. Your refusal to file charges emboldens him. Even if you yourself stand to gain nothing–quite to the contrary, to face untold humiliation–you become part of the evil unless you take any and all possible actions against the person who hurt you.
Back in the 1970s or 1980s, the women who claim that Gov.-Elect Arnold groped them might never have gotten anywhere with their complaints against him. But, had they filed them, they would have been on the record, and might have prevented his rise to the governorship. Assuming that these women are telling the truth, these women decided to let the evil pass on to someone else.
It’s sort of like The Club, the anti-car theft device you lock on your steering wheel if you live in a big city. The idea isn’t to stop a thief, the idea is to hope that he moves on to someone else’s car. “Victimize her, not me” is not a good prescription for a civilized society…something the Afghans, by the way, understand. Their resistance against the US occupation will eventually cause us to pull out, as it did the Russians and the British before.