Putting Survivors First: No Man Is Indispensable

It’s challenging for us progressives when one of our politicians or cultural leaders is credibly accused of sexual misconduct. In recent days, the #MeToo speak-out against workplace sexual harassment and assault has swept up Democratic Senator Al Franken, venerable PBS talk show host Charlie Rose, and actor Jeffrey Tambor, currently starring in the Amazon Studios hit show “Transparent” as a trans woman undergoing a late-in-life gender transition. We’re tempted to give these men a pass because resistance to the Trump regime seems paramount.

One of my radical Left friends is afraid we’re playing into the hands of pro-Trump Russian operatives who would love to see a purge of liberal media figures and LGBTQ-supportive programming. Many others are anxious about ending the political career of a potential 2020 presidential candidate. Minnesota’s governor would appoint another Democrat to the Senate seat, but he or she probably wouldn’t have Franken’s nationwide popularity and name recognition.

But you know what? Nobody is indispensable. For every male mogul we “can’t afford” to remove, there are probably dozens of equally qualified women in his field who never made it to a key leadership position because of pervasive sexism and harassment. Why can’t we give some of them a chance to fill that guy’s shoes?

Not to dismiss my fellow progressives’ fear and disappointment, but I’m tired of women and survivors being told to take one for the team. You do what you want, but I’m going to make my own liberation a priority.

Progressives’ damage control calculation is uncomfortably reminiscent of incest family dynamics. We can’t send Daddy to jail, he’s the breadwinner. Father So-and-So has done so much good in this parish. Do you want the church to close? There are always persuasive reasons to silence survivors–and that’s no accident. Abusive men are able to maneuver themselves into positions where many people admire and depend on them, by systematically using sexual boundary violations to squeeze out female competitors on their path to the top. Instead of asking whether it’s fair to ruin a man’s career over one inappropriate remark or grope, understand that we’ll never know how many women’s careers were aborted by the behavior of men like him.

(A note on gender terms in this post: On an individual level, not all perpetrators are men, and not all victims are or are perceived to be women. However, on a structural level, the culture of workplace harassment is primarily maintained by powerful men and predominantly affects women and femmes, so this post is more binary than my usual writing. Your friendly neighborhood enby says, please don’t derail.)

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