Time For Men In The Ad Business To Grow Up

While I have no real opinion about if Brett Kavanaugh would make a reasonable Supreme Court judge (although the fact that The Moron In Chief is backing him casts grave doubts), it has been instructive to watch Christine Blasey Ford's testimony -- while also listening to the conversations of people in the advertising business on whether it was a good or bad thing for her to come forward.

As you might expect, the commentary has run the gamut from "It was 36 years ago, and Brett is not the same person" to "Who among us didn't do things in high school or college we aren't proud of?" to "If he lied about this, he has lied about other things so can't be trusted on the Supreme Court" to  finally, "Men who attack women should be held accountable forever."

Angry Republicans are convinced Ford is just one of a three- or four- (so far) part conspiracy to derail his nomination, while Democrats contend that it is wrong of Congress to endorse someone who apparently has a checkered past (and has lied about it).



It has been interesting to me to hear so many women who have been in the advertising and media businesses for decades try to reconcile their own experiences of being attacked by men "back in the day" with the new urgency of the #MeToo movement.

Many of them, pioneers in climbing the ranks of the ad business, tend to shrug off the unwanted attention given them by men in the same business with "Well, yeah, that was everyday for us." They tended not to report the abusive behavior for fear of being labeled troublemakers or having the men involved enact some later retribution that would restrict or end their careers.

The experience of many who tried to report things like unwanted sexual advances was too often a tone-deaf response from HR or management to "not rock the boat." This was a very similar to the "boys will be boys" rationalization some Kavanaugh defenders have deployed.

This served to solidify in women's minds that there was no upside to making accusations, so they tended to just let it go -- or fight it in subtle ways, like calling in sick so they would not have to travel to the sales meetings in Puerto Rico where they knew alcohol-fueled aggression waited.

Many women today would condemn their compatriots for not coming forward more forcefully, but they were not part of the almost totally (white) male hierarchy that was the ad business in the '60s and '70s. They made the rules and you were expected to follow them --  or your career went nowhere.

Among the rules was that, as with Kavanaugh, it was just the alcohol talking, and down deep, these often-married men were good guys just having a little fun.

But as we have learned from Ford and so many other women, what was excused as "playfulness" was far more traumatic for the women involved -- made all the more so because they felt there was no recourse and ultimately, no accountability.

While the ad business has grown up in many ways over the years to include more races, creeds, and sexual identities as part of their headcounts, there is still a tendency to minimize the impact that inappropriate behavior has on women in the business. Younger men tend to be far more sensitized to this than the old white dudes still hanging around, but they too "make mistakes" -- especially at social gatherings that include women they work with.

Regardless of what happens on Capitol Hill this week, let's use this occasion (like so many in the past year or two) to recalculate how we treat women in the workplace. If drugs and alcohol tend to compromise that resolve, stay the hell away from them when you're around women in the business.   

Plenty of folks can survive Cannes without rosé (so to speak).


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