When a male colleague in a government leadership position inappropriately lunged at me, forcing an awkward kiss, I was young and naïve, and I blamed myself, which is why my initial response to public revelations of assault and harassment is “Ugh.”
Amidst the satisfaction and even celebration by many on the day of Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction came new accusations against yet another cultural icon. This time it’s veteran NBC newsman Tom Brokaw on the receiving end of claims he made unwanted advances toward two women back in the 1990s.
Ugh. Again? Tom Brokaw! Seriously?
Since Harvey Weinstein’s comeuppance last year, it seems a week scarcely goes by that we don’t hear a new claim about someone in a position of power or wealth who has felt entitled to take what he wants from women coworkers or clients.
As a woman, I’m inclined to believe other women when they speak up. As a journalist, I want to keep an open mind, to give the accused the benefit of the doubt until the whole story unfolds. I’m blindsided by the Brokaw accusations, because he seems the epitome of an upstanding citizen and ethical journalist, successful because we, as viewers, have trusted in what he tells us. Of course, that doesn’t make him a saint or above reproach, but he’s not someone we’ve heard salacious rumors about in the past, while it seems that what Weinstein was up to was known by half of Hollywood.
I want to believe Brokaw is innocent, but at the same time, I want to trust that women don’t make this stuff up. We don’t tend to lie about these things. So that leaves us with a classic “He said, she said” dilemma. Time will tell how this one will play out. Brokaw has withdrawn as a commencement speaker for Connecticut’s Sacred Heart University because of the scandal, and has penned a lengthy denial to colleagues, saying he had been “ambushed and then perp walked across the pages of The Washington Post and Variety as an avatar of male misogyny…”
When a woman publicly recounts her decades-old experiences with harassment or assault, we may be inclined to ask “Why now? Why did she wait so long to come forward?”
In the case of the latest revelation, as in many others, Tom Brokaw’s accuser feared, at the time, it would damage her career, which is exactly why men in power get away with predatory behavior. Then there’s the humiliation of recounting the details, the terror of having our characters and motives called into question, and even the soul-searching, misguided fear that perhaps we brought it on ourselves.
I’ve had that feeling, and it’s precisely why my response is almost always “Ugh” when these stories come out. For years, I never thought about it or called what happened to me 30 years ago what was: an assault. But now, the myriad stories trigger me; they take me back to that moment, and there’s a huge “ick” factor. Although I was strong and clear in my rejection of his advances, I did and said nothing more about it. I question now whether I should have filed a complaint, but at the time I didn’t even consider it an option. Today that option exists. One benefit to more women revealing their stories of years-old abuses is that we are now more empowered than ever to stop keeping the secrets. We no longer have to wait so long, to speak out, to say “Me Too,” or “Time’s Up,” or something more than just “Ugh.”
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