WASHINGTON – I found myself in a TV makeup room with two of the most prominent men in the news business this last week, just after the New York Times suspended White House correspondent Glenn Thrush over allegations of sexual harassment and hours before CBS News suspended Charlie Rose over similar allegations.
We were discussing the question that has dominated conversation in our business for weeks. “How,” one of them wondered aloud, “does this end?”
I believe it will end with a whimper.
Famous and powerful men will continue to fall from high positions. And for the vast majority of women, nothing will change.
In certain circles, the reaction since the Harvey Weinstein revelations has been something of a revolution in entertainment, in politics and in media. Something like this is happening, or soon could, in other elite professions: Wall Street, law firms, tech, universities and the like. Though painful for many, the awakening is good for these workplaces. The awareness will deter some sexual misconduct.
But these high-profile industries are a sliver of the workforce, and the focus on them has left the impression that the perpetrators are mainly men with boldfaced names. An educated woman from the corporate world asked me recently: “What is wrong with your profession?” The answer: nothing that isn’t wrong with every other profession. Indeed, the problem is worse for women in low-wage, low-skill jobs, harassed and assaulted by men who abuse their power over women but whose actions don’t make headlines.
A Quinnipiac University poll published Tuesday found that fully 60 percent of American women voters say they’ve experienced sexual harassment, the vast majority in the workplace. And for many, it’s more than harassment. A government survey conducted in 2011 found that 1 in 5 women said they had been raped or experienced attempted rape, 1 in 4 said they had been beaten by an intimate partner, and 1 in 6 women said they had been stalked.
An important data analysis from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, released Monday by the Center for American Progress, broke down the industries that generate most sexual-harassment charges. Some of the leaders: hospitality and food services (14 percent of complaints), retail (13 percent), manufacturing (12 percent), health care (11 percent), and administrative and support (7 percent). The “information” (3 percent) and arts and entertainment (2 percent) sectors are well down the list.
Farmworkers, janitors and restaurant workers (as The Washington Post’s Maura Judkis and Emily Heil powerfully described) are particularly vulnerable, as are women in any position where they are isolated or work at night.
Washington could do something to give these low-skill, low-wage women more power and workplace protections. Instead, the White House, and in particular presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, are sending the opposite message about women and those who prey on them.
Almost exactly a year ago, Conway participated in a “Women Rule Summit,” where she preached about the importance of sisterly solidarity. “It’s great to ask how we’re making opportunities for women, but do we even have each other’s support, frankly, on our way there?” she asked.
This Last week Conway answered that question. In an apparent violation of the Hatch Act – which restricts government officials from using their offices for political gain – she went on Fox News and strongly suggested viewers support Roy Moore over Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate election because “we want the votes in the Senate.”
Think about that: One of the most senior women in the White House telling people to support a man accused by seven women of making sexual advances on them when they were teenage girls and he was in his 30s. So much for women having “each other’s support.”
Moore isn’t guilty (or even charged) in a court of law; very few of the prominent men accused since the Weinstein scandal broke are in legal jeopardy. President Trump excuses his support for the accused child molester by saying Moore “totally denies it,” a standard under which the late Charles Manson was also innocent. This is not a he-said/she-said case. It’s a he-said/she-said-she-said-she-said-she-said-she-said-she-said-she-said-and-others-corroborate case. As a practical matter, there’s little doubt Moore sexually exploited girls, yet the message from the White House is that such a man belongs in high office.
That’s a green light to millions of men who harass and abuse women – and a caution to millions of women that they shouldn’t complain about it.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.