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General News    H3'ed 11/16/17

Tomgram: Robert Lipsyte, Beating Back the Bad Boys

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Starting with Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly and film producer Harvey Weinstein, they've fallen like so many dominoes in the glare of publicity and grim public testimony from the women (and, in a few cases, men) they mistreated -- all those predators, gropers, sexual abusers of Hollywood, TV, the news, magazines, comedy, and politics, including a former president. Their films, their shows, their roles, their books have been cancelled, sent to the trash bin of history. Not so long ago, they were the big dogs, the winners of our world, and now, shown up for how they misused their power and prestige, they've been humiliated just as they humiliated others.

Oh wait, actually not all of them. I can think of one who didn't go down at all. He won. He made himself great again. He got away with it.

In the full knowledge of what that particular big dog had done to women, with at least 10 of his victims coming forward to offer public testimony against him, with a filmed self-confession of what sort of behavior he had considered perfectly permissible for himself as a "star" -- with all of that in plain sight practically 24/7 -- a near-majority of the American people elected Harvey Weinstein president, or at least the Harvey Weinstein of 2016. That should be sobering indeed.

Pussy-grabber Donald Trump waved all of it aside as so much "locker room talk" and "fake news." He threatened to sue. He denied everything, instead accusing his political opponent, Hillary Clinton, of aiding and abetting her husband's sexual predation. And it all worked. The evangelicals voted for him. His "base" went for it. They elected a self-confessed predator president and, exactly a year later, in Alabama, with recent revelations about Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore's scandalous behavior toward a 14-year-old girl and other young women, it just may happen again in the very same way based on the very same playbook. Moore has, of course, denied (almost) everything, labeled it all "fake news," threatened to sue, attacked the "Obama-Clinton Machine's liberal media lapdogs," and is even raising money off it. And it's at least possible that he may still win the special election for the Senate seat of Attorney General Jeff Sessions next month by staying on the same path into the wilderness of sexual predation that Donald Trump pioneered in 2016. (Keep in mind that if a story broke tomorrow that Hillary Clinton had, in her thirties, approached a 14-year-old boy in a similar fashion, evangelicals across the South and that same Republican base would surely be up in arms about it.)

I suppose it's hardly surprising that we're on a predatory planet. The question is: What's to be done about it? On that, TomDispatch's jock culture correspondent Robert Lipsyte has some thoughts about the men (and this should ring a bell for many of us) who never spoke up when the big dogs barked. It's certainly a perspective we guys should think about at this moment, given the big barker ensconced in the White House. Tom

Groping for Manhood
It's Time for the Bystanders to Challenge the Bullies
By Robert Lipsyte

Almost 80, I've been stunned and bewildered by the ever-expanding list of sexually predatory males, from movie mogul Harvey Weinstein to former New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier to comedian Louis C.K. And it's triggered a list of questions for me: Who raised these louts? How did they give themselves permission to harass and assault women the way they did? Why did they think they could get away with it? And above all, who enabled them to advance along this vicious spectrum from creepy remarks to groping to rape?

Slowly, I've come to a realization I probably should have had long ago. It's men like me, the bystanders, who enabled them. However righteous we may feel as they're exposed and punished, the truth is we're the problem, too.

But we're at least part of the solution as well.

One lesson from Donald Trump's boasts to a sycophantic TV broadcaster, revealed during his run for president, about grabbing "'em by the p*ssy": sexual harassment -- or even claiming to have done it -- is just another way of preening for the pack. Trump obviously saw the female objects of his faux-macho lust as props. He might as well have put his hands on Billy Bush or me for that matter (as Kevin Spacey evidently did to young men on his movie sets). Alpha dogs like them have always been able to do more or less what they wanted -- until, that is, people started listening to the women speaking up. And that reality reinforces who the cowards were: we bystander bros.

I learned that 70 years ago in my elementary school playground in Queens, New York. At recess, Crazy Ronnie pinned girls against the chain-link fence and cackled as he felt them up. We boys, maybe nine, ten, eleven years old, were afraid of Ronnie. No one of us could "take" him, so we just watched. Of course, three or four of us could have pulled him off and stopped it all. Even at that age, what were we thinking? Didn't we read books and see movies about heroic male saviors of women and children? Could we have been getting our own secondhand thrills from his acts?

Eventually, a teacher would notice and drag him away, ending the show. Nothing would be said and life would go on, except that the young girl probably wouldn't forget the assault (and, as it turns out, neither would I).

When I started working at the New York Times in 1957 as a 19-year-old copyboy, there were few more approachable older guys in the newsroom than the motion picture editor and third-string movie critic known as Doc. The culture departments were next to sports, where I worked, and Doc was friendly, loud, and inclusive, especially when he lurched back from lunch, waving to the guys and squeezing the women.

Even then, though everyone seemed officially amused, it was discomfiting to watch. When I first arrived at the paper, he was 50-ish, short, with curly dark hair and a push-broom moustache. He played cute, acted puppy-ish as he stood on his toes to kiss cheeks or encircle a woman from behind. Mostly, he pawed young news assistants and secretaries. The few female editors and reporters at the Times in those days wouldn't have been likely to tolerate his advances. He wasn't that important.

It was a year or two before l worked up the nerve to ask any of the women why they suffered him that way. "Oh, that's the way he is," came the typical, slightly embarrassed answer, or "He's really nice, he means no harm." It took a lot longer for a few of them to trust me enough to confide that, while they thought he was a jerk, he still had the juice to drop a negative remark that could stall a promotion or hurt a future career. He could have done that to me, too, then, had I intervened.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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