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Set aside the revulsion or shock over what Weinstein did. Set aside too the anger over the hypocrisy of those who knew of what he did and let him get away with it anyway. Instead, spare a thought for those whom Weinstein damaged without ever meeting them. I speak of the very youth of America who will ultimately bear the brunt of the punishment for the fools and power brokers who ever have covered for the creeps among the powerful.
The system that allowed Weinstein to flourish will likely remain unchanged, as the powerful will ever and always be protected and shielded until the dam breaks, while the national outrage instead ever further confuses and separates the relations between men and women, leaving honest and decent young men confused and afraid, and honest and decent young women even more unprotected against offense.
Why is this likely? Because it keeps happening. I came of age in the wake of the Clarence Thomas nonsense and public hysteria over sexual harassment. Set aside the question of whether Anita Hill was honest in her accusations, the fact was that her accusations were national news and endlessly discussed. Schools, colleges, and businesses nationwide, seeing the damage wrought merely by an unproven and ultimately unprovable accusation, reacted rapidly to create and enforce sweeping new policies governing the interactions between men and women in order to mitigate against charges directed their own way. In many respects this reaction went entirely too far.
I do not in any way mean to downplay the fact that sexual harassment has always been a problem (the world is full of rotten people), but the form the reactions took was positively militant, and especially so against men. Entirely normal relations between the sexes, such as complimenting another’s appearance or asking someone out on a date, were declared improper. The new prohibitions and their enforcement were aimed almost entirely at male behavior, as the news media effectively declared that only men were guilty. And the rules, worded as they were in vague terms like “unwanted advances,” placed the judgment of what was improper onto the alleged victim. In other words, to be charged was to be guilty.
To prevent the new rules from going too far, administrative procedures were also established, requiring significant documentation of every alleged offense. And an unspoken prohibition emerged on victims attempting to settle things in conventional ways. Better, it was thought, to grind everything through procedure and thus avoid lawsuits than to allow or encourage people to handle things themselves. For genuine victims, this unfortunately twisted matters as they would not want to go through the bureaucratic wringer and “make trouble,” especially if they could produce no evidence. That others could and did abuse the system with false or exaggerated charges only further harmed the real victims.
This very much trickled into the schools of the time, and people my age had a fear of sexual harassment charges drummed into us from an early age. My school, formerly all boys, went coed for my 10th grade year. The year before this change was a curious one for all of us. We knew the girls were on their way, and there was a certain frisson of excitement about them (not to mention cold sweats from us more awkward types), but this was quickly dampened by a series of seminars, workshops, and harangues by various teachers and guest speakers.We all well remembered especially the one where we spent nearly an hour being effectively told that all men were potential rapists (as in, “any of you could turn out to be a rapist”). We spent the entire year being browbeaten with how bad men are, and how uncontrollable our impulses are. Of course, the school had a “zero tolerance” policy in place too. Far from being taught respect for women, we were taught to fear ourselves, and to fear that any wrong move would find us drummed out of the place.
For us, on the cusp of adulthood and desiring to date women, this was socially debilitating. Could we ask the girls out or would that be too offensive? Could we compliment them on their appearances or would that land us in the klink? Those of us inclined to be generally law-abiding (and of an easily guilty conscience) rather took the lectures to heart, and spent the remaining three years avoiding even attempting to ask the girls out. It took being free of the place to see how the real world interacted.
Today’s youth, 25 years on from that time, have yet more miserable confusion tossed upon them: the bane of tolerance and “understanding.” Many of us have tales of dealing with bullies. In my case, I slugged the guy and was done with it. The school knew what happened and why, and wisely said nothing. They knew that they would never catch the bully in question, and that a quick and decisive application of force would be the only thing to stop him, and that was that.
Today, schools cannot let such matters go. For one, there is the omnipresent risk of parental wrath and lawsuits. (How dare you let my innocent baby get hurt?) But the Tolerance creed dictates that they have to now treat the bullies as somehow also victims. Thus, they have to engage in ridiculous tolerance exercises, counseling, and emotional sharing between bullies and victims — a system easily perverted into treating the victims as being to blame for getting bullied in the first place and punishing those who stand up for themselves, or for others.
This is made worse by the current national hysteria over bullying, cyberbullying, and so forth. You cannot easily punish the real offender without mountains of evidence, you cannot allow a victim to defend themselves because violence is bad, and tolerance dictates that you treat both parties as somehow in the wrong. For the lazy and jaded, it is therefore all too easy to blame the victim for “making trouble,” and let the matter slide. For the overzealous or overly fearful administrators, it is all too easy to convict the accused without any due process.
This itself has ultimately twisted the very systems set up 25 years ago, ostensibly for the protection of women against harassment, into punishing women for being harassed (or far worse), encouraging certain women to wield the threat of a harassment or rape charge against men, confusing young men to the point where they seem to be afraid of women, and failing entirely to prosecute the actual thugs. For the powerful and connected, like Weinstein, their protections are amplified.
Yet the pressure to “do something” about people like Weinstein will likely lead to yet more agonized layers of administrative procedures, more proscribing of any interactions between the sexes, and more harm to the millions of young men and women who have done nothing wrong, and likely never will. For the powerless majority in America, better to avoid taking any risks at all, and if you are hurt, better to stay silent than endure being blamed for letting it happen, or for failing to show “tolerance and understanding” for your persecutor. Weinstein will be punished, other predators like him will skate free, but everyone else will bear the brunt of yet more anti-harassment measures and worthless administrative procedure.
I leave you with the following picture. It illustrates what is known as the “Hover Hand.” For millions of regular people, this is what we’ve come to — a fear of even innocuous physical contact. Better to play it safe, as young men, than to risk the wrath of a false charge. And for the women who have been hurt? Better to stay silent and not bring trouble or humiliation on themselves.
[edited to fix duplicate sentence]