If anything has really changed with the high-profile deluge of sexual harassment and assault allegations over the past few months, it’s that men have been actually held accountable for their actions. This meant that a lot of people felt the need to warn these “hysterical” women coming forward that they had to be careful about what they accused men of, since sexual harassment or assault can go on a guy’s permanent record and ruin his career. But the fact is, even as men are being held accountable right this very minute, we know that sexual assault allegations don’t usually ruin men’s lives.
In the past few months, accused sexual predators were fired or forced to resign from their jobs in the most egregious cases. Others, like Aziz Ansari or James Franco, have had to apologize and lose magazine covers. Outside of Hollywood and Washington D.C., men in media or tech industries have also lost their jobs for sexual harassment. On some level, this might be the most compelling thing about the #MeToo moment. Not that so many women have come forward (though that was something to watch for sure), but that for once, in all of these years, powerful men have had to hand over their companies, movies, and Senate votes, or at least admit that they *might* have done something wrong.
This all really messes with the power balance in society that most of us are used to, including women, which might be why some people seem so worried about the accused and feel like “too much” is happening “too fast.” That men will be accused and damned without their “due process,” which isn’t guaranteed from a private company anyway. But the truth is, men just don’t get ruined when a woman comes forward.
Sexual harassment or assault allegations do not, historically, ruin men’s careers or lives. Also, being held accountable for a crime or lewd behavior isn’t the same as “destroying” someone. And even if it was, there really aren’t many men who have been accused of harassment, assault, or even domestic violence that have been held back by the allegations in any meaningful way. Let’s all just take a minute to think about some of the biggest names that came out of #MeToo and how old they are. Those men have been perpetrating this egregious behavior for decades, while hosting their own TV shows, being acclaimed directors, and running political campaigns. It’s about time they were held accountable. For the others, it’s a matter of seeing how this all tends to play out. Obviously, if what they were accused of illegal, they’ll have a chance to defend themselves.
What about a guy like Ansari, a person who so many people ultimately think was just clueless about reading body language? Will we demand something a little more from him or just forget all about it? What do we about the sh*tty media men who want another job? We can’t pretend to know exactly what should happen before they’re allowed to work again, but we have a terrible feeling that time might solve their problem. Even in moments like this when sexual assault is at the top of public consciousness, our collective history of pervasively engrained inclination to minimize and brush past sexual misconduct allegations is still, in way too many cases, likely to prevail. In other words, for most of these dudes, once things die down and time passes, their lives will roll on largely unaffected.
The trick about this moment is to not slip into old habits and actually do the hard work of finding a new balance and a new way. It can happen, but it’s not going to be easy to overhaul people’s strongly held opinions and even the actual laws that protect men over women.
Even before this watershed moment, men tend to make a comeback, namely because there are so many people in charge — both men and women — who make apologies for a man’s sexual misconduct, whether it’s because internalized misogyny has them thinking that a slap on the ass here and there is just the price of admission to working with men, they straight up don’t think someone did anything wrong, or they believe the myth that women falsely accuse people for fun when in fact, false allegations are the random, rare exceptions. The list of men who have been accused of harassment or violence against women and are still working, still respected is too long to list.
Our president, for instance, was accused by 19 women of sexual harassment. He hardly addressed the accusations, let alone was he professionally held back by them. The DJ that Taylor Swift took to court for groping her just got a job at another radio station in Mississippi. David Mueller, the DJ, is going to get his very own radio show in the morning, but the most jaw dropping point is why he was hired. Delta Radio CEO David Fuss told the Washington Post that the hire was a “tiny” bit about publicity.
Some might say that the Mississippi market isn’t large or lucrative enough to count as a comeback, but he’s still working. Having your own radio show is a dream. Being held accountable by Swift didn’t “ruin” him. Our society is set up to favor the notorious and hate women, especially women who speak up for themselves. You do the math. To be fair, it’s not like we want all men unemployed and detained for life. If punishment fits the crime and there’s some sort of counseling or rehabilitation involved, maybe someone who did something profoundly wrong can be reformed. In any case, Taylor Swift’s DJ is still living his life, defending himself at any cost, after being accused by a powerful woman.
If powerful women are hardly taken seriously when they hold a man accountable, what about us non-celebs? This whole #TimesUp, #MeToo movement is empowering AF, but it’s hard to make people around us hear us or trust us. Caring for men is written into our laws and the way we let legal system deal with our complaints. This fall, a Michigan woman who was raped was forced to share custody of the child with her rapist. “She (client) and her family was told first-time sex offenders weren’t sent to prison because people come out worse after they go there,” the victim’s attorney, Rebecca Kiessling told Detroit News.
This kind of light sentencing for assault happens all the time, if the rape or assault is even investigated at all. This is why we were all cheering the judge who sentenced Larry Nassar for abuse earlier this month. But even then, that case took 150 women and two decades to come to any quantifiable outcome.
That men shouldn’t have to go to prison for their violent crimes is something women are told all the time. Right now, we’re also being told that women should be “careful” about pointing fingers at men who have traumatized them. But until the punishment starts fitting the crimes or men start showing some actual remorse and different behaviors, we shouldn’t “feel bad” about “ruining” them by showing solidarity with their victims. Men being “ruined” just isn’t a thing that happens very often in our society.