With a Clear Voice

Less than two months ago, multiple women exposed movie mogul Harvey Weinstein as the man who had cruelly harassed, abused and assaulted them over the course of 30 years, laying bare the weeping wound of influential men and the sexualized power they wield. The watershed articles in The New York Times and The New Yorker were so uncomfortable in detail that it was easy to imagine Weinstein’s systemic mistreatment of women as anomaly.

What followed defies definition. It’s as if we are watching a cultural fireworks show; loud and bright and heart stopping, each round of combustion increasing in pace and volume until you secretly start waiting for it to end. But there is no foreseeable end, only more names and more revelations until all the structures that treated this abuse as an unspoken shame are left to decide what comes next.

That is when this will get really hard.

It will get hard because the extent of the abuse will become known, the regularity with which women have had to downplay it to survive will be seen and the casualness of our acceptance of sexualized power will be understood. It will get hard because we’ll move beyond the clear-cut borders of right and wrong to the grey areas of work environment and human sexuality. And it will get hard because there will be people, mostly men, who get caught in the reckoning as formerly borderline behaviors or singular events are re-examined through a shifting social lens.

The movie “Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri” seems like a strange place for me to veer toward right now, but hear me out. I saw the film today and thought it would be the simple story of a lone woman putting up billboards to draw attention to her daughter’s unsolved murder, ensuing tension between said woman and local police, the eventual solving of the murder and a happy ending of justice realized. It was not so simple. The film starts with the main character’s clear voice demanding attention. It then moves to a larger space, one where the search for justice complicates and expands everyone it touches.

The current ugly, necessary reckoning of sexualized power is the same. Today’s torrent of stories will evolve into an entity that breathes aloud, waiting for us to discuss, debate and reconcile the history and practice of sexual abuse in professional environments. The process will complicate and expand everyone involved, forcing topics once taboo into the open and requiring a kind of flexible faith that accompanies the birth of a new way of being. How long this takes is beyond me. Years maybe, with countless errors and tweaks to come. There is no way to predict where we will all end up, how workplaces will function, and how men and women will discover a new rhythm of relating. It’s just that big, and that long overdue.

But through this ugly, necessary reckoning, we will learn painful and embarrassing lessons. We’ll find ourselves questioning what we once thought was unshakable, only to find ourselves in entirely new territory. We will realize that all the stories and experiences that brought us to this point become a living, breathing thing to reconcile. There will be no predetermined happy ending, but if we do it bravely enough, there will be the right answers.

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