Not an example of moral fortitude

Not an example of moral fortitude

It's funny, you know, looking at all those Republicans dancing around the obvious fact that their president is manifestly unfit for office and not actually coming out and saying it in so many words. Why are they covering for him so?

There is a cost to looking the other way, to ignoring things that can't be ignored. To pretend that it's not as bad as you think. That there's nothing you can do. (Oh, and this by the way takes the cake.)

There is such a thing as unacceptable behaviour. And if you're on the wrong side of it, if you're caught having purposefully ignored it while it was happening, you'll get lumped in with the ones doing the behaviour. Complicity, is what it’s called.

It's like the serial sexual predators and abusers in our midst, especially the ones everybody knew about. Like Harvey Weinstein, whose predatory behaviour was openly joked about in Hollywood.

Now that he's finally where he belongs - in trouble not in power - everybody who knew and didn't say anything feels some guilt. As they should. In some cases, of course, there was nothing much to be done; if a woman you knew has been harassed by a powerful icon of your industry, and the woman herself refused to talk about it publicly, it's not easy to figure out what you personally could have done that might have mattered. But still, looking back, you know you knew and did nothing. Others know it, too. And think much less of you for that reason.

There are always people who know, and who could do something. Even if all they can do is distance themselves from someone they know to be terrible and say so publicly. Sure, that usually means consequences. You can't publicly denounce a powerful person and then expect that powerful person to give you a raise. But there are costs to being a coward, too. And not just material ones. Pretending everything's la-di-dah, and hoping someone else has the guts to do something is not a great way to build your own character.

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Ignoring obvious problems leads to more bad behaviour, not less. We seem finally to have realized that when it comes to sexual misdeeds. We'll never know why, suddenly with the Harvey Weinstein story, society turned around. Because before him, allegations of sexual harassment (or worse) were usually not enough to trigger real consequences. But since him, they are. Not everywhere and not in every case, but they are more than they were six months ago.

Some people call it a national reckoning, a tipping point. And I agree. I'm old enough to remember serious advice from my elders to keep my knees together if I wanted to avoid becoming one of those women who wind up in trouble. Also never wear mini-skirts or short shorts, because they show the knees and then some. The knees are apparently very important in this business. If they're slightly apart, naked, or too visible, you're asking for it.

Young girls and women under 30 have a different attitude to these things. A much healthier one, too. They know their boundaries, and expect to have them respected. Much more than women my age ever did.

I grew up in Quebec in the 1970s and 1980s. As a preteen and teenager I had uncles openly - and loudly - commenting about how flattering my sweaters (plural, two of them; get it?) looked. They did this in the presence of other relatives. This was considered funny, or flattering. Not creepy.

But my naked knees slightly apart? I was going to be asking for it. (To be clear, nobody would have condoned rape or aggravated sexual assault. But unwanted attention, harassment, creepy jokes and inappropriate touching? Meh. Boys, you know.)

In case you're wondering, this kind of upbringing did not make a cloistered innocent out of me. Quite the opposite. I saw through the hypocrisy of what they were saying, and treated it like the bullshit it was. Yes, I got in trouble. I had plenty of unwanted sexual attention (anything from bad jokes to improper touching), harassment (the kind of improper touching or propositioning that doesn't stop after you say no very clearly), and violence (boyfriend rape, date rape).

Like I said before, I don't consider myself a victim. I've known about predatory men (not all men, but in my experience where I was when I was young, there were rather a lot of them) since I've had boobs. And when the adults in your life insist so much on your knees and don't really seem to have much to say about sexual predators, the impression you're left with is that when you get pawed, it's your fault. You shouldn't tease like that.

I believed that. I was a pretty girl not dressed like a nun, therefore any unwanted attention was secretly wanted and I shouldn't complain about anything.

I didn't complain. I got tougher and became, essentially, detached from myself. I thought if that's what the game is, if having sex you don't care about just so you can get on with your life, is the price to pay to get ahead in this society, then fine. I worked in sales, in restaurants and bars, I went to law school; I played the game well and succeeded where I wanted to.

I am far from the only one with this kind of experience. Ask any successful woman over 30 working in a competitive field. How often has she had to pretend she liked the game? How much inappropriate behaviour has she had to put up with just to get where she is? Behaviour that men would not tolerate? Jokes that wouldn't be funny to them? Unwanted courting or touching? Over and over and over again?

We've all tolerated it too long, and finally with the Weinstein story it seems like the dam has burst. Now the game is not something we play anymore. We seem to have stopped pretending that predatory behaviour was par for the course.

And now I'm wondering: When are we going to see people no longer pretend the 45th president is where he belongs? Who will finally see that the endless tweeting of inappropriate remarks, the constant questioning of court rulings, the incessant and pointless lying, the boorish remarks about football players or anyone who does something he dislikes, the escalation with North Korea, the un-condemned racism of some of his base, are not just a different way to do politics, but clear signs that the man in charge of the Executive Branch has no business being there? It's not OK to pretend otherwise.

It isn't just one of those things there's no point talking about. It's something wrong, it's unacceptable political misconduct, and it is possible to do something about it. At the very least, we should speak up. Starting with members of his own party - who'll be the first ones to pay the electoral price when this particular dam bursts. There's no excuse to wait until someone else has the guts to say it. Because that only encourages more of the same.

I didn't use to think there was any point talking about sexual misconduct, because people just shrugged and closed their eyes to it. Eventually I was proved wrong. People did start to talk, and they started to care. And now all of a sudden they care a whole lot. Here's hoping something similar happens in politics, too.