The toppling of media moguls Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and now Harvey Weinstein is being viewed as a collective victory in the fight against workplace harassment. Strong, courageous women banded together to overcome threats of retribution, legal obstacles and power imbalances to unseat these individuals from their positions of influence. Unfortunately, the narratives are sometimes absent central characters: men.
Individuals do not have to be culpable in harassment to be complicit in enabling it. The eradication of sexual harassment, in all forms, will only be achieved once men and women actively work together to create a standard of no tolerance for that kind of behavior.
In the case of Roger Ailes, more than two dozen women rallied around Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson as she filed a lawsuit against her former boss. This resulted in subsequent revelations, also by women at Fox, about Bill O’Reilly, a staggering blow to the network. Now, months later, women still working at the Weinstein Company disclosed a cyclical pattern of abuse from their boss, catalyzing a public conversation that resulted in the firing of Weinstein from his own company.
In all of these instances, it was largely women who courageously overcame obstacles to create a critical mass that could not be dismissed. In every case, the media also played a role — shining a light on the misdeeds of those in positions of corporate influence, forcing boardrooms to acknowledge harassment and comply with the removal of repeat offenders. While the media is useful insofar as it can spotlight injustice, women shouldn’t have to subject themselves to the court of public opinion, risking their professional and personal livelihoods to end workplace harassment.
What is frustrating about these cases is that those who had the influence to speak out sooner chose not to. It was only after the Weinstein story broke, thanks to nearly 20 women speaking both on and off the record, that other well-known stars came forth to share their experiences about Weinstein’s behavior.
Their reticence to speak out sooner seems to affirm the imbalance of power in work settings that extend to the highest echelons of influence. That powerful Hollywood icons carried this burden of silence for so long underscores the reality faced by those who feel safer remaining taciturn despite grave injustice. Appropriate treatment will not be realized until men and women actively work together to become allies and become cognizant of how complacency only enables harassment.