The Misuse Of Power In Our Industry Has Got To Stop

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has had a bad week. Every time he says he is sorry for some past sexual harassment incident, another woman lobs in a new charge, and he is back on TV apologizing (but so far, not resigning).

Too bad. He had moments early on in the COVID-19 crisis that might have given him lift to higher office, but I suspect that’s never going to happen now.

Isn’t it interesting that when powerful men who have abused women for decades are being called out in every industry, you can see the look of disbelief that they have to answer for something they routinely did years ago?

Someone told me a long time ago that after men acquire wealth, they go after power.  You can see that play out with most political candidates. The problem is, part of the power they are after is power over women, who can be vulnerable targets when they might lose a job or an acting role or a sale if they don’t allow insistent men to take certain liberties.  Surely all this was made clear by the reluctance of the dozens of women raped/molested/pressured  by Harvey Weinstein to go public with their claims.  



Then there is Trump, who raped and pillaged his way through many years of Miss Universe contestants and women he met in business. When he bragged about how easy it is to molest women, not enough Americans were repulsed to keep him from winning the White House. What a nation of sissies we’ve turned into.

One might credibly argue that every president has leveraged his power to corner women, but it's hard to believe that guys like Jimmy Carter and even Richard Nixon had such inclinations.

There is a tendency in the advertising and marketing businesses to try and whistle past the graveyard and pretend this kind of behavior hasn’t been pretty much the norm for the past 70 or 80 years.  Some women in their 50s and 60s are also stunned by current claims of “he wanted to give me an unwanted kiss” when they spent their entire careers fending off (mostly) married men who had power over them in some way, shape or form.  They swallowed years of verbal and physical abuse, choosing not to risk their careers (and future “hireability”) by speaking out.

The explanation most men have for their behavior is just as disjointed and unbelievable as Brett Kavanaugh’s pathetic denial.

It’s true that some serial rapists like Weinstein and Bill Cosby are off the streets, but look at the decades they were free to practice their abominable craft.

Some have argued that some women chose not to report attacks at the office, because they in fact were not victims, but instigators using their sexuality to help them climb the corporate ladder.  While you can’t totally rule this out as a possibility, it was my experience that powerful men took advantage, and that the minuscule number of women who tried that tactic, were quietly branded and their careers suffered appropriately. 

Over the years I have seen a number of men, who once might have made a lewd comment or observation about attractive women in the workplace, change their tone and stop being one “of those guys’ who can make work a living hell for many women.

While I am sure we are not done litigating the past, I am heartened by the truly different -- and respectful -- attitudes and behavior of many men in the ad business. We cannot undo the past, but we can set a new standard that protects everyone in the current and future workplace.

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