One of the principal pleasures of Mad Men, on rich display beginning with the pilot episode, was looking at all of the crazy things people used to be able to do in offices: smoke, drink, and—if they were male—grope and corner and sexually humiliate the women, who could either put up with it or quit.
It’s just about impossible to imagine someone lighting a cigarette in today’s hyper-sanitized workplace; anyone with liquor on his or her breath at midday is usually targeted as a massive loser or frog-marched to human resources. But to look at the shocking and ever-growing list of prominent men recently and credibly accused of acts ranging from sexual harassment to violent rape is to realize that abhorrent treatment of women is alive and well in many American workplaces.
Every day seems to add another man to the list, and precious few of them have flatly denied the accusations. The strangled, vague, blanket apology—intended not to rile up any other potential accusers, leaving plenty of maneuvering room if the charges end up in court—has become an art form.
How many women will find some kind of justice for terrible things that have happened to them at work? And how many women won’t ever have to face such things because of this profound episode? We don’t know the answer to either question, but we do know this: There is a gathering sense that all of this has just gone too far. It was fine in the beginning, when a handful of Hollywood monsters were brought to account. But as the tide keeps roaring onto the beach, depositing flotsam of all kinds, the sentiment has begun to turn. It seems that this is just too many women saying too many things about what has happened to them, and something needs to be done about it. The approaches are various: It’s a witch hunt; it’s a sex panic; it’s destroying good men’s careers.