The news of high-profile men outed for sexual harassment and worse shows no sign of abating soon.
It’s an overdue reckoning, though we won’t know for some time if it produces lasting and meaningful change in men’s behavior.
Meanwhile, some important points are being overlooked.
State Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) observed on Twitter Sunday: “Do be aware high profile sexual harassment reports are just part of the problem. It’s just as sickeningly widespread in low profile settings.”
Yes and abusers in low-profile settings have less to fear. What newspaper will undertake an investigation of the unwanted touching of, say, a cashier by an assistant supermarket manager?
Then there’s the broader question of male privilege. Consider:
No member of Congress from Arkansas is a woman. Two of seven statewide elected officials are women. Slightly less than 20 percent of members of the Arkansas General Assembly are women. Women chief executives of Arkansas corporations are few and far between. Where you find women on the boards of publicly held corporations in Arkansas they often owe the position to a family connection.
I’ve encountered a few, but only a few, women in recent days who say they have no Me Too stories about gaping bathrobes, groping and physical assault by men. But I’ve yet to find a working woman who hasn’t felt demeaned or patronized or discriminated against in the workplace. Equality simply has not arrived. Calculate the gender percentage for teachers, then calculate it for superintendents, for example.
The recent athletic turmoil at the University of Arkansas illustrates, too. After Athletic Director Jeff Long was fired, a search committee was appointed to help Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz choose a successor. It is understood that UA System President Donald Bobbitt and the 10-member University of Arkansas Board of Trustees will have some input in the process. Together, you are talking 19 people – seven-member search committee, chancellor, president and 10 trustees. Two of the 19 are women. (Exactly two happen to be African-American, a worthy subject, too.)
Yes, Chancellor Steinmetz named a woman athletic department administrator, Julie Cromer Peoples, to be interim athletic director. She’s nominally a candidate for the full-time job. To her was left the task of finishing the mission set out by the Board of Trustees. That meant firing the football coach, Bret Bielema. She did so by pulling Bielema into an office immediately after a tough loss to Missouri and before he talked with players. The explanation was that she wanted him to be able to give the news to the players, assembled together one last time.
At a news conference later, she also defended the lack of a formal search committee for a new coach and said the search need not wait for an athletic director because, after all, the UA has one. Her. And she’ll draw on advice from others.
The outcry to her self-assurance was furious. Bielema, who most wanted fired, suddenly was a heroic victim of thoughtless cruelty (and he IS a good guy who handled his expected termination gracefully). Also, said the critics, where did Cromer Peoples get off saying SHE was in charge and without need of a formal committee?
I believe the reaction would have been different had a man fired Bielema in the same fashion and uttered the same words. We’ll never know. But we do know radio talk-show types made great sport of her use of two last names (like that you-know-what Rodham Clinton). Democrat-Gazette sports editor Wally Hall assured readers his savaging of Cromer Peoples wasn’t about gender, but about her inexperience, lack of understanding of Arkansas ways and so forth. It is never good to start a diatribe by saying it isn’t about gender/race/sexual orientation. Why else would the category come to mind?
Cromer Peoples isn’t favored to be the next UA athletic director. The world is full of women, perhaps including her, with the big business acumen necessary to run a $120 million department and the good judgment to hire people to lead its many divisions, including football. But I doubt the Arkansas world — including many of its women — is ready for a hard-charging woman in a business where the money sport is exclusively a male domain and the skyboxes are also controlled by men. From politics to the business world, a confident man is a leader. A confident, aggressive woman too often is viewed as a, well, you pick the sexist adjective.
The numbers don’t lie about the impact of such attitudes. Women are underrepresented in leadership in virtually every field and paid less than men in comparable jobs. It would be a good thing if butt-grabbing stops because of the lessons of Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose and Roy Moore and Bill O’Reilly and all the rest. But it won’t solve the larger problem, of which sexual predation is but an ugly byproduct.