Prominent business writer Emily Peck recently claimed: “Men run everything, and it’s enough already. Want to stop sexual harassment? Fix this now.” By “this,” she meant having more women leaders in the U.S. — from businesses to politics to education to media and entertainment.
There have been a flood of horrific stories about male predatory behavior in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal last month, but one comment has stood out above many others. In an incriminating memo about her boss, a Weinstein Co. employee named Lauren O’Connor succinctly explained how the Hollywood producer could get away with sexually harassing such a large number of women.
“The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10,” she reportedly wrote.
That one line summarizes more than the Weinstein situation, with the Hollywood mogul now accused of sexual harassing or assaulting over 50 women. The same power imbalance characterizes every aspect of our country, from the White House and Congress to the media, police departments, universities, large legal firms, and nearly every major corporate boardroom, corner office and C-suite.
“Weinstein is the embodiment of the power differential that plays out all over the workplace in the United States,” said Teresa Boyer, director of the Anne Welsh McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership at Villanova University.
The power differential is extreme: Men occupy nearly 81% of Congressional seats. Three-quarters of state legislators are men. Men also make up the vast majority of mayors and governors. And 83% of elected prosecutors and 88% of police officers are guys.
Things are just as bad in the private sector: of the 500 chief executives at Fortune 500 companies, only 32 are women. Many know that conservative institutions like Fox News and the White House are overwhelmingly run by men, but so are more “liberal” industries and companies ― the entertainment world is largely ruled by men, as is the news media and the tech world.
Women do comprise the majority of school teachers and principals, but fewer than 25 percent of school superintendents are female. Who runs the banks? Men. Who flies the planes? Men.
Even when they have the best of intentions, male-dominated institutions are broadcasting a clear message: Men are leaders, and women, if they’re lucky, might get a seat or two at the table.
The consequences are pervasive, both harming women on an individual level and infecting our culture, politics and history. Just this last week, we learned that political journalist Mark Halperin, former New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier and the publisher of Artforum magazine, Knight Landesman, have sexually harassed and demeaned their female co-workers. More scandalous revelations about powerful men surface by the day.
But it’s not just about their individual transgressions. These men, like Harvey Weinstein, had powerful platforms from which they disseminated their views on culture and politics.
Halperin, in particular, authored one of the most authoritative books on the 2008 presidential election, the first time a woman came close to landing the nomination. “This guy, whose young female colleagues accuse of rubbing his dick against … shaped (& profited handsomely from) the story of Clinton,” Rebecca Traister, one of New York Magazine’s political columnists. tweeted Thursday. Halperin has also appeared on television to discuss accusations of sexual harassment against President Trump.
If men like this are responsible for scrutinizing the actions of other men accused of sexual transgressions, is it any surprise that Trump was elected? That women feel afraid to speak out? That known ass-grabbers ― a list which now includes a former president ― are dismissed as just boys being boys or as sad old men?
The consequences of male supremacy are ingrained in U.S. law and policy. Why is it so hard to prove rape or sexual harassment in a court of law? Well, men make and enforce the law. They’re more likely to sympathize with male offenders than female victims. This is suggested in the language common in such cases: Women are cast not as victims but as temptresses. They’ve dressed too seductively, so men run wild with desire. They can’t help themselves.
Yes, lots of men have been speaking up in recent days about the horror of what Weinstein did and of sexual assault and harassment. Of course, there are male allies. But, in Emily Peck’s view, generally speaking, men aren’t overhauling our institutions to correct the power imbalance.