Have you noticed all the new female anchor teams and news directors? Sure you have. The last time women in the American workplace made such a sudden and visible leap, our boys had just shipped out to fight the Nazis.
And this time, just think, all that had to happen was for a bunch of the alpha men in media and entertainment to be caught strutting around naked, literally and figuratively, on the morning that grabbing colleagues was suddenly no longer OK.
We don’t know yet what will follow the battlefield appointments of the newly manless morning team of Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell at “CBS This Morning,” following the ouster of renowned hound Charlie Rose. Or Wednesday morning’s emergency pairing of Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb on NBC’s “Today Show” after the network pushed Matt Lauer out a window at Rockefeller Center in the middle of the night. Or the changes at NPR, where Edith Chapin was just named executive editor after two top news executives were fired for the same reason.
We do know, though, that it would be a mistake to see this protracted day of reckoning as a professional war of the sexes. In part because the thing about any Truth and Reconciliation commission, which is what this process feels like, is that for lasting good to come of it, it must implicate not only the guilty, like Rose, but the complicit, like his longtime executive producer, Yvette Vega. In the Washington Post story detailing the gory parade of accusations against him, Vega comes across as a kind of faux maternal procurer, hinting that she has been where the fresh meat is now and yet ushering new female hires into a life of ducking, enduring and looking down whenever he danced out of the shower in all his glory.
Not even every victim comes out looking perfect, which is not to say that any is to blame for her own suffering, but that pig-wrestling is filthy work.
There were elements of both admirable honesty and toxic ambition in the accounts of Rose subordinates who felt they had no choice but to let him misuse them. (“There are so few jobs,” one of the women who said Rose groped her said. “You know if you don’t behave a certain way, there’s someone else behind you.”) And in those who insisted that suspended New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush “just by his stature, put women in a position of feeling they had to suck up and move on from an uncomfortable encounter.” One young woman who felt beholden to Thrush, who was in no position to hire anyone, told Vox that she felt “like I have to be nice to this person just because he knows people.”
Not surprisingly, the political world still lags behind other whole fields of dawdlers in dealing with the recent flood of reports of assault and harassment. So after decades of willful looking the other way, a series of high-flying newsmen — old-school in the worst way — have lately been dispatched faster than you could say, “Sweetheart, get me rewrite.” Yet in politics, the reaction has been far more mixed and far less defensible.
Much as Gloria Steinem dismissed Bill Clinton’s accusers way back when, here comes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calling Democratic Rep. John Conyers an “icon” whose alleged victims she knows nothing about. You know it’s opposite day when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan come across as better feminists than she does. But though the GOP can’t afford to lose Jeff Sessions’ old seat, they still said that Alabama’s Republican Senate nominee, alleged teen molester Roy Moore, is not fit to serve. Maybe they’re signaling that when the rules that should apply to all are finally imposed on Donald Trump, they’ll make no unhappy sound. But whatever their motivations, they happen to be right. And Pelosi so far from it that she’s made it impossible to argue that electing more women would automatically solve the problem in a field sorely in need of them.