Two months ago, a wave of allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein opened the door to a reckoning. In recent weeks, victims have spoken candidly about their abuse at the hands of powerful men, including Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), and Roy Moore, just to name a few.
When one woman used the hashtag #MeToo to share her own experience, there were more than 12 million Facebook posts and comments with the same tag within just 24 hours.
For the first time, some (though certainly not all) abusers are facing consequences, being fired from jobs, having their shows pulled off the air, being removed from films. Women, newly assured they are not alone, are telling their stories more often and more publicly than ever before.
On Tuesday, Slate published another example of a powerful person abusing that power and thus endangering women in the workplace.
âWhen I was 23 years old, my boss would look down the gap at the waistband of my jeans when he walked past my desk,â Slateâs executive editor Allison Benedikt wrote. âI was an entry-level fact-checker at my first magazine job, and he was an older and more powerful editor. My career, at the time, was in his hands.â
The essay, at its start, reads like a lot of the personal stories women have bravely shared in recent weeks. Benedikt, one suspects, is adding her voice to that chorus. Instead, she goes on to describe how her boss asked her out for a drink one night at a âdark bar,â which led to more dates, a kiss, and, eventually, a marriage and three children.
Benedikt, understandably, writes that she has been thinking back about the origins of her marriage in recent weeks. But she goes on to use her personal experience to diminish the experiences of women bravely coming forward and pushing us, as a culture, to address the tight grip of rape culture on all facets of our lives, including and especially the workplace.
Benedikt writes that she has heard how horrific allegations of sexual assault and harassment have piled up alongside what she calls âmurkier stories of older men âforcibly kissingâ younger women who didnât want to be kissed, men planting âunexpectedâ kisses on female colleagues, [and] men being âcreepy AFâ in Twitter DMs.â
That Benedikt is so quick to write off the experiences of other women, to think that only horrific assaults are the problem, is dangerous.Â By writing it, Benedikt â and Slate, by choosing to publish it â is endangering the women in her workplace.
As the executive editor of a large publication, sheâs signaling, from a powerful position in a large newsroom, that sheâs comfortable writing off reports of unwanted advances as âmurky.â
And her only justification for doing so is her own experience. Benedikt wonders in the essay, had she not been interested in her husbandâs advances, would that have been harassment? Was it harassment even though she was, because he was her boss?
She answers those questions, writing, âToday, many people seem to think the answer is yes.â Because it is.
It was all okay, in her eyes, because she was attracted to her then-boss and future husband.Â But âattractionâ is not the currency of harassment. Power is.
Last week, NBC fired Today Show host Matt Lauer following sexual harassment complaints from women at the network. Former talk show host, Celebrity Apprentice contestant, and current Fox News contributor Geraldo Rivera defended Lauer on Twitter, tweeting, âNews is a flirty business.â
The tweet â rightfully â set off a firestorm of criticism and Rivera eventually apologized. But on Tuesday, when Benedikt made the same argument, dressed up by a âliberalâ outlet, she was showered with praise. Her essay was ripe with the same incredulous tone as an Associated Press story from Monday headlined, âIn wake of Weinstein, men wonder if hugging women still OK.â How, the men and Benedikt ask, can we find love now? How can we find sex now? Will we be reprimanded, even fired, for workplace interactions that used to seem okay?
Benedikt is asking the wrong questions. She ought to ask: What about women who donât reject advances from their boss out of fear of retribution â a desire to please their boss to keep their job?
Many people, in the midst of the reckoning, have looked back at previous interactions in a new light, perhaps reconsidering whether both parties consented or whether it crossed a line. But Benediktâs essay reads as a justification for the origins of her marriage and a public declaration that, despite holding a prominent role in a prominent newsroom, she is sympathetic to powerful men crossing lines with young women whom they supervise.
Itâs a public declaration of how Benedikt may handle a report of sexual harassment in the workplace. She may say, as she wrote in her column, â[W]e all make each other uncomfortable sometimes, particularly when sex and attraction are involved.â
The reckoning is bringing with it new standards: Donât look down the gap at the waistband of your employeeâs jeans when you walk past. Donât abuse positions of power. Treat women like theyâre people.
The new rules are not complicated, but for so many people, even âliberalsâ and women, those standardsâunbelievablyâseem too high. Choosing to declare as much from a position of power isnât adding anything to the conversation. Itâs dangerous.
This piece was originally published at ThinkProgress on December 6, 2017. Reprinted with permission.Â
About the Author: Addy Baird is a reporter for ThinkProgress on the news cycle team. Previously, she covered local politics and health policy at POLITICO New York and worked for The Charlie Rose Show digital team.