Real Men Don’t Stand Up for Sexual Harassment
by Henry D. Godinez
When my cousin called my sister fat, I pushed him so hard against the wall, it knocked one of my mother’s prized plates onto the floor where it shattered. And guess who got in trouble. But it was a spontaneous defense reaction I couldn’t resist.
I realize I would likely get in far worse trouble today if I pushed President Trump against the wall, but that was what I felt like doing when I heard him defending Bill O’Reilly as a “good person” saying, “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
What a difference a New York Times investigation, and fifty less advertisers can make.
Bill O’Reilly has been fired from Fox News. It seems even a huge star’s sexual misconduct is bad for business, and despite having the President as a character witness, the court of capitalism has reached its verdict.
My faith in goodness is partially restored.
O’Reilly’s departure comes in the wake of Fox News chief Roger Ailes’ exit last year in a storm of sexual-harassment allegations and lawsuits that are still growing. And now, Fox News co-president Bill Shine has been ousted amid allegations that he enabled and covered up the sexual miss-conduct of both Ailes and O’Reilly.
This is the pervasive culture of abuse, harassment and discrimination that the President of the United States defended.
To be sure, none of the allegations against Bill O’Reilly has resulted in a conviction.
Our legal system allows for those with considerable financial resources to evade judgement, by allowing for settlements like those Fox News paid to resolve sexual misconduct allegations against Bill O’Reilly, effectively silencing his accusers.
As a university professor, particularly in theatre, where female students often find themselves working on plays with intimacy or sexual content, I am too keenly aware of Title IX violations on college campuses across America to not be offended by the President’s comments.
Thousands of young women have had their personal lives and education thwarted by profound physical and psychological trauma, when instead they should be flourishing. That is not okay.
Maybe the President didn’t grow up with five sisters like I did, raised by a single mother, like I was, but he does have a daughter like I do. Perhaps, unlike my daughter, his was not the victim of sexual assault. If she had been, maybe he would not have been so quick to publicly defend someone who, though not convicted, cost his employer $13 million to silence sexual harassment accusations.
If there was one thing I was sure of as an adolescent, and there weren’t many, it was that you always stand up to defend women.
As a father, brother, husband — -as a MAN — -I have to stand up and say it is not okay that our country has grown so tolerant of violence against women. It is not okay that the President of United States should publicly defend a fellow rich celebrity accused of sexual misconduct. And it is not okay that so many in our nation have so pathetically compromised their moral standing, by swallowing their outrage.
Maybe I read one too many books about chivalry growing up, but real men do not force themselves on women. Period.
Somewhere along the way I naively began to equate leadership with chivalry, with fighting for the rights of the most disadvantaged. Like Don Quixote, who fiercely defended a virtuous maiden that others only saw as a strumpet.
It strikes me as profoundly shameful, that the man holding the most powerful leadership position in our great nation, should rush to defend another man accused of abusing his power to take advantage of women. That is not okay, for so many reasons, no matter what your politics are.
And to do so during the month Trump himself declared National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, is absurd and deeply insulting to anyone whose life has been violated by sexual assault.
The things we say matter, and when they are said by the President of the United States of America, they matter a great deal. As someone keenly aware of the power of celebrity, and extraordinarily successful at manipulating public opinion, President Trump should know that.
When boys and young men all over this country see the President, who himself faces dozens of allegations of sexual misconduct, endorse another man who has used his power to abuse women, consciously or not, they are led to think that is okay.
It is not okay. If in doubt, imagine your mother, your wife, or your daughter having a man force himself upon her. Chances are you would take exception to that. Yet, even the thought that we should have to imagine a woman we care for being abused in order to find such behavior abhorrent, is itself abhorrent; we should be disgusted by it on its own.
Every man in this country needs to be made to understand that real men with real power, do not abuse women. That a man who uses his power to take advantage of women, is no man at all.
In Cervantes’ book, Don Quixote, though old and frail, fearlessly embodied the Ten Commandments of Chivalry, which lists in order of importance, next to honoring God, that “Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.”
Mr. President, I will happily send you a copy.
Henry D. Godinez is resident artistic associate at Goodman Theatre in Chicago, a professor of theatre at Northwestern University, and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.