Earlier this week Les Moonves was declared fit to continue in his capacity as President, CEO and Chairman of the Board at CBS as an internal investigation is conducted into sexual misconduct, after Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker exposé detailed Moonves’s harassment and sexually abusive tactics targeting former female employees. In a turn of events both disappointing and unsurprising, “time’s” only “up” if the powers that be consider you ready to put out to pasture, or someone whose offenses are so extensive that defending them creates a personal liability.
So, fuck. Let’s check in with each other, shall we?
At the end of last year, I wrote a piece for Paste called “Make Them Leave.” It was written less than two months into the now cultural phenom that is the #MeToo movement, the same day that comedian accusations of sexual assault surfaced against T.J. Miller in the press. In that piece, I wrote about the searing anger that came with even entertaining the thought of rehabilitating and welcoming someone guilty of sexual misconduct into their communities. The idea that they’d try was inevitable, but the community first needed their chance to heal, regroup, process, and figure out how to move forward.
The idea of making men who had been hard-wired to be complicit in the mistreatment of women at best, and perpetrating those acts themselves at worst, depart any given industry was never going to happen. People do not disappear and become less who they are because it would make you feel safer for them to do so. Less than a year and a million ‘yas queen’ corporate moments later, many of the men whose actions were spoken out against by victims are already working on re-entering their communities, and in the case of Moonves, are not being asked to leave at all.
This isn’t to discredit any of the work that’s been accomplished. There’s been a shift in the national conversation about sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, and a handful of perpetrators have been removed from their jobs and punished by law, depending on the severity of their offenses. For many men, this is their first experience hearing the common stories of women in the workplace experiencing this abuse, and recognizing that they may have been complicit in allowing it to happen. Then there’s the fringe of men who had allegations about them confirmed, disappeared for a while, and are quietly slipping back into their comfortable positions of power. This is something to take note of—ignoring it is almost certainly the death of what could be a productive moment.
A short list: Chris Hardwick has been reinstated to his post at The Talking Dead and his NBC game show; T.J. Miller is back on stand-up shows in New York and elsewhere; disgraced celebrity chef Mario Batali is in the process of “creating a new company led by a powerful woman chief executive” (a particularly gross example of a virus mutating). Garrison Keillor, Louis C.K. and Matt Lauer are all rumored to be making similar moves. Ryan Seacrest declared support of #MeToo while dismissing accusations against him and continuing at his post on E! News. Notoriously abusive execs like Nickelodeon’s Dan Schneider and Pixar’s John Lasseter have been allowed graceful exits from their positions of power with benefits and no demand for self-examination. The list goes on, but I have a word count limit to abide by. Heads are poking out of the sand as time goes on, because if we’re being honest with ourselves, we are living in a world that is such an active political hell that it’s easy to miss.
Yes, Cosby and Weinstein have finally and rightfully been put into the first steps of being meaningfully punished, but these are men with dozens of counts against them. There is certainly a spectrum of abuse at play here, and allowing a person capable of abuse back into their position of power with no evidence that any self-examination or progress has been made is guaranteeing it will continue. As a pretty cohesive segment on Last Week Tonight summarized over the weekend, these movements are cyclical. There was a variation on the #MeToo movement at least once a decade since women entered the workplace in a major way beginning in the 1970s, and each wave of these movements, as with each wave of feminism, has made varying degrees of progress and shifted the culture.
There have been a few examples of those being accused who have dealt with their accusations with nuance instead of denial, particularly Dan Harmon after being accused of misogynist behavior by former Community writer Megan Ganz. Depending on your level of faith in humanity, this is either progress or the work of an extremely good publicist, but the example here is a useful one—by acknowledging his own internalized prejudices and past actions and participating in the conversation thoughtfully, Harmon emerged not just unscathed, but praised as a woke hero willing to make amends. Either way, he was controversy-free enough to land seventy additional episodes of Rick and Morty by springtime.
Make of that situation what you will, but it’s proof positive that acknowledging internalized misogyny and speaking on it publicly is by no means career suicide, even with a fan base as notoriously toxic as Harmon’s can be. “Most harassment apologies are just damage control. Dan Harmon’s was a self-reckoning,” a Vox piece covering the confrontation gushed. Trust me, there is no lack of willingness for the public to forgive a man who says sorry literally one time.
Here’s a general statement: most men making sweaty observations about being afraid of women should be. If there were suddenly a moment of reckoning for people who consider Cheeto’s and Mike’s Hard Lemonade dinner, I’d be very afraid. Because I do that. With some exception, if anyone is that concerned that women are “out to get them,” it’s likely because they behave in a way that deserves it. There’s not a systemic history of women going ‘after’ men. There’s a systemic history of women being silenced and sidelined, and society tolerating it.
Aside from their own embarrassment and eagerness to game the system, allow me to editorialize and say that it is extremely doubtful that these men have learned anything. Less than a year, particularly if much of it was calculating a return, doesn’t indicate a hell of a lot of introspection. When the #MeToo movement first began in late 2017, Moonves himself referred to it as a “watershed moment.” Now that it’s applied to him, he has gone silent.
So they didn’t leave, and they were never going to. What now?
Jamie Loftus is a comedian, writer and social media victim of the International Olympic Committee. She’s the creator and star of the Comedy Central online original series Irrational Fears. You can find her some of the time, most days at @jamieloftusHELP or jamieloftusisinnocent.com.