Reckoning on Sexual Misconduct Splits Women Over How Harsh Judgment Must Be
In Boston, the leader of a businesswomen’s group said that some women were so angry about the wave of sexual harassment revelations that they no longer wanted to hire more men. In Kansas City, Missouri, a women’s career center is urging women not to throw caution to the wind when making public allegations involving harassment. And in Silicon Valley, one of the best-known female executives in the technology industry is celebrating the moment while advising that accusations must be followed by a fair process of punishment.
The diversity of perspectives reflects an evolving debate over harassment among women across the country. In interviews with The New York Times, most women agreed that a reckoning for the sexual misdeeds of men in the workplace was a long time coming. But ask the question “What do we do about it?” and the answer has become as wide ranging, nuanced and intensely personal as the offenses themselves.
“We need to make sure the people accused believe there’s due process,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer and one of the most prominent female executives in Silicon Valley, said in an interview. “There will be claims that aren’t true, and if people feel there’s going to be no process for vetting, that’s where the backlash against women comes.”
But, Sandberg added, the opportunity to address what women commonly face cannot be allowed to slip away. Sexual harassment “has always been about power,” she said. “We cannot have a rash of people coming out and people getting fired and then back to business as usual.”
For many women, the revelations around high-profile predation by men like Harvey Weinstein began as a black-and-white issue that deserved zero tolerance. Yet as the movement has flowed into workplaces around the country and grown into a broader conversation about men’s behavior, it is getting more complicated. Women’s debates about sexual harassment are splitting.
Some women caution that men need to be encouraged to join the conversation; others argue that men will change only if women collectively demand it. Some argue that making accusations on social media could become more dangerous for accusers, potentially exposing them to lawsuits; others see airing such accusations online as the only option. Older women said they were stunned at how little tolerance those just graduating from college had for toxic gender dynamics that had long been considered pretty normal; college students asked why women had tolerated sexual harassment for so long.