The Fall of Male Privilege

male-privilegeIt feels like a watershed moment. Beginning with Weinstein, or maybe farther back with Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, powerful men are being brought down because of a pattern of behavior as old as time, but not to be tolerated any longer, I hope. Ailes’s and O’Reilly’s departures did not open the floodgates though. It was Weinstein’s disgusting drama that pushed women in Hollywood, in Washington, in New York, famous women, women in industries with power to finally come out in droves to say that men had been groping and harassing and sexually assaulting them and that they were not going to stay quiet any more! [The Spacey story demonstrated that powerful men are equal opportunity predators.]

The #MeToo moment has shown a lot of unwoke men the pervasive disrespect women have put up with and the dystopian world we all navigate, whether it’s as an A-list actress or a fast food worker, on the job or just in our everyday lives. We all have our stories.

It has reminded me of early in my career when I was still in NY and still very naive. I went for a “job interview” with a very famous director (Wax on, Wax off). He answered the door wearing only a towel and then handed me a glass of wine and a joint, and told me to make myself comfortable while he got dressed. He pretended he’d just lost track of time, but then said he wanted me to accompany him to a screening so he could see how conversant I was about movies. It turned out to be a private, just the two of us, screening and an extremely uncomfortable couple of hours with him in the semi-darkness.

After the movie, there was no discussion of the film or the job. And when I did not agree to continue on into the evening with him, since he’d already taken up half my day and I had plans with friends for dinner, he got truly pissed off, as if he never considered that I could want to be anywhere but in his company. Needless to say, I did not get the job. And when I told another industry friend all about it, she said, “He does that all the time. Everyone knows that.” I didn’t.

All these powerful men are resigning or being forced out and yet we still have an admitted sexual predator in the White House and another running successfully for the Senate. And no doubt thousands (millions?) more who are probably hoping they can just ride it out and continue their misogynist ways.

And then there is the way Charlie Rose “apologized”: “I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.” Really? If that’s not the pathology of male privilege, I don’t know what is. Or Jeffrey Tambor’s: “I’ve already made clear my deep regret if any action of mine was ever misinterpreted by anyone as being aggressive, but the idea that I would deliberately harass anyone is simply and utterly untrue.” Two words stand out here: misinterpreted and deliberately. The implication is that he did not understand that his actions were wrong. Again, male privilege pathology.

It seems that men cannot fathom that a) women probably don’t want to see you masturbate, b) we don’t appreciate being groped or kissed by people we don’t feel close to, even if you are famous or powerful, c) we may put up with your disgusting behavior if we think that reporting it will get us in trouble, and d) the days of Don Draper behavior being acceptable were over a long time ago.

I’ve heard some men (and women) referring to the current climate as “a witch hunt,” with the implication that women are coming out of the woodwork to unfairly take good men down. I’ll admit, that that could be happening in a few instances, but I doubt it’s pervasive. Also I’ve heard, “It’s sad that men have to watch what they say and do, because they might get called out for sexual misconduct.” Well, women have been watching what they say or do for a very long time because they might get raped or groped because they were being too friendly. See how that works?

I think this may be a great moment when men start to be a more aware of their actions towards women in general and that’s a great thing. They won’t be changing overnight, but it is an opportunity to move towards that ERA utopian future we’ve been dreaming about. Baby steps.


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