Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, vindicating Mechelle Vinson, a bank teller fired after a higher-up subjected her to years of unwanted sexual aggression, many employers have behaved as if the most important aspect of workplace culture is reducing or eliminating exposure to liability.
That paradigm helped some victims of sexual harassment to recover damages, and it prompted changes that presumably spared others from being victimized.
But its shortcomings and inadequacies have been laid bare by the allegations against Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein, and others whose alleged misbehavior was exposed or anonymously described in the #MeToo campaign. “I’ve received somewhere between five and 20 emails every day from women wanting to tell me their experiences: of being groped or leered at or rubbed up against in their workplaces,” Rebecca Traister, one of the most eloquent chroniclers of this outpouring, wrote at The Cut. “They tell me about all kinds of men—actors and publishers; judges and philanthropists; store managers and social-justice advocates; my own colleagues, past and present—who’ve hurt them or someone they know. It happened yesterday or two years ago or 20. Few can speak on the record, but they all want to recount how the events changed their lives, shaped their careers; some wish to confess their guilt for not reporting the behavior and thus endangering those who came after them.”