Bill Cosby. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Al Franken. Roy Moore. George H.W. Bush. Donald Trump … the list goes on.
The past few weeks have brought out another dark side in our society — one that is bipartisan and does not discriminate to one demographic. Sexual assault has sadly proven to be prevalent in all forms: white, black, gay, straight, conservative, liberal, Hollywood and Capitol Hill.
On the bright side, these actions haven’t gone without the appropriate condemnation. Cosby was taken off the air, Weinstein and Spacey lost their jobs, and Franken is under an ethics investigation.
Immediately after Leeann Tweeden shared how then-comedian, now U.S. Sen. Al Franken groped and “forcibly kissed” her, leaders and publications criticized and denounced the senator’s actions and first response.
Eric Lach of The New Yorker criticized Franken’s first response, in which the senator insisted that the groping was “intended to be funny.” While Franken has since sincerely apologized and welcomed an investigation against his actions, Lach says it perfectly: “The art of the male apology is still being perfected. … The damage was already done.”
On the other hand, we’ve elected a womanizer with a proven history of misogyny and sexism to the White House. Voters in Alabama may make this situation even worse if they elect Roy Moore — who is rejecting claims that are obvious to anyone who reads the news — to the Senate. This disgusting pattern that is sweeping the nation leaves many questions for us to answer.
What constitutes assault? Where do we draw the line between careless flirting and harassment? Where do we draw the line between harassment and assault? Should we treat allegations that happened years, sometimes decades, ago the same as stories that happened two days ago? Should we demonize leaders like Franken and Trump, or do we simply look at them differently?
Above all, society needs to answer this question: What do we do about this?
Regardless of how you want to answer, something has to change. In order for America to truly embrace equality and live out the values of the Constitution, we need to look at things differently.
For starters, men need to rethink how we approach the workplace. Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Madison Avenue seem to be the centers of the male-dominated, “Mad Men” culture that needs to be thrown out the window. Statistically speaking, women are far less likely to hold executive positions, especially within STEM industries. That is not OK.
What we need is a complete overhaul of how we hire, promote, recruit and interact with employees. This obviously will not happen overnight and requires decision-making on a smaller scale, but it can certainly be done.
Luckily, students at Virginia Tech can see firsthand how women are changing this disproportionate culture. Alumnae like Lynne Doughtie are leading the charge in the fight for equality in the workplace. Doughtie, who is the U.S. chairman and CEO of KPMG, explained in an interview with Time magazine that there have been improvements in corporate America, and that there is still a lot to be optimistic about.
“I’m finding more and more that businesses recognize they have to have an inclusive culture,” Doughtie told Time earlier this summer. “I find that the barriers are not as strong as they once were, that the opportunities are there if you go for it.”
Society must listen to the advice and concerns from leaders like Doughtie in order to make progress toward equality. Additionally, we need to ask and answer these overarching questions in order to stop the sexual harassment culture. These stories shouldn’t be common headlines on Google News. Men in particular need to figure out how they can join in the fight against sexism and discrimination.
Whatever it is that society ultimately decides to change, one thing is certain: That change needs to be a drastic one.