Can we talk?
Many men (and some women) worry that the #metoo movement has morphed into a man-hating witch hunt where innocent men will be publicly humiliated and deprived of their livelihoods by vindictive women spreading unfounded accusations.
They point to the fate of three Canadian politicians, Ont PC leader, Patrick Brown and NS PC leader Jamie Bailie, both of whom resigned following allegations of sexual harassment and Liberal MP, Kent Hehr, who resigned from cabinet pending an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.
They ask why the women who made the allegations of sexual misconduct took so long to come forward; they wonder whether the women are lying or making a big deal out of nothing; and they’re concerned that suspending or firing politicians in these circumstances is a violation of due process.
Let’s examine these concerns.
Why did the women wait so long?
Political parties and political institutions were woefully behind when it came to formally recognizing the existence of sexual harassment and developing a policy and process to address it. The House of Commons didn’t formalize its harassment policy until Dec 2014, decades later than the private sector.
In the past, women who were harassed by powerful politicians were loath to complain lest they torpedo their careers, or heaven forbid, be ostracized for being disloyal. If they decided to complain it wasn’t clear who they should complain to (the party leader, a sympathetic female colleague, the party whip?). And if they did complain there was no guarantee things would change.
So, they kept their stories to themselves…until the #metoo movement gave them an opportunity to speak out.
Bottom line: the women didn’t speak up earlier because the cost of speaking up was too great and the reward for speaking up was practically non-existent.
Mountains, molehills and lies
Fine, the women had a good excuse for not speaking up sooner, but is it right for them to hang a fellow out to dry because he made a stupid remark 10 years ago?
Context is important here. What passed for acceptable (if somewhat risqué) conduct in the 1970s and 80s does not cut it today. But we can’t assume just because something happened years ago it was okay by the standards of the time. We need to focus on what was actually said or done.
A comment may seem stupid, thoughtless and relatively innocuous when compared to outright sexual assault, but when such comments form a pattern of predatory behavior they’re corrosive. No one has the right to erode the dignity of another with the constant drip, drip, drip of comments laced with sexual innuendo, “accidental” pats on the butt, or “friendly” shoulder rubs. The burden of figuring this out falls on the politician not the woman he’s making miserable.
And lest we forget, even in the Mad Men days men were not allowed to force themselves on women, particularly if they were inebriated or underage.
This gets us to lies (although I must admit I’m puzzled at the number of men who think there’s a heartless vixen ready to pop out of their past to destroy them with false accusations).
It is never okay to destroy someone’s career and reputation with a lie. But know this, no woman embarks on this path lightly. They’ve seen their peers viciously attacked for speaking up. They need the courage of Joan of Arc to come forward…and they do so anyway.
All we know at this point is the tsunami of false #metoo allegations has failed to materialize. And truth be told, the concern that good men will be brought to their knees by lying scheming women feels a lot like the allegations of voter fraud–unsubstantiated and greatly exaggerated.
Due process and the media
Sharing a story on #metoo won’t topple a politician unless it’s picked up and amplified by the mainstream media.
Andrew Coyne and Sylvia Stead point out that journalists takes their responsibilities with respect to such stories very seriously–with good reason, failure to do so would land them and their papers in the middle of a defamation suit.
Coyne and Stead don’t run with the initial allegation. They look for corroboration from others. How detailed is the allegation, is it confirmed with contemporaneous evidence, is there a reason the accuser would lie, is the allegation a simple misunderstanding or did it really cross the line. They check back with the politician accused of misconduct. They test for credibility. (Incidentally the “whisper network” is real, MPP Lisa MacLeod says she flagged unpleasant rumours about Patrick Brown for three years and was rebuffed…right up to the day Brown was dumped by his party.)
Some people are concerned that printing such stories, even if they’ve been exhaustively researched, deprives the accused politician of due process.
Lawyers do not agree. Law professor Alice Woolley recently tweeted: “I believe in the presumption of innocence in criminal trials and the right to a zealous defence. But it’s not salient to the public’s response to credible allegations of sexual misconduct vetted by reputable journalists.”
It’s not fair
Some people argue that it’s unfair that a harassment complaint or a #metoo post should cost a politician his job. They act as if the woman who made the allegation had him fired.
This interpretation ignores the fact that it was the politician’s “boss” (his party or his prime minister) who reviewed the complaint and decided the politician’s behavior was sufficiently egregious to merit sanction.
Kent Hehr is under suspension pending the outcome of an investigation into a sexual harassment complaint. Patrick Brown and Jamie Bailie resigned as party leaders at the behest of their parties due to sexual harassment complaints . That’s fair treatment.
While we’re on the topic of fairness we shouldn’t forget the impact of sexual harassment on women who are its target. Harassment makes life extremely difficult for women in politics and deters others from entering politics. That’s not good for democracy.
Can I still hug you?
Of course, if you hugged us before #metoo you can hug us again…assuming your hug doesn’t go on forever or involve mashing your body into ours.
You’re adults, use your judgment. And when in doubt, ask. That’s not too hard, is it?