Listening and Maintaining Perspective In The Era of “Rape Culture”

Howard Spierer
Lessons in Leadership

We are living in the era of reverse “slut” shaming. Many women and men are reviewing the events of their sexual past and asking themselves “was I victimized?” I applaud that inquiry. It is important to acknowledge and air our hidden wounds. So what does it mean for me as a leader? I believe there two important roles I have to play.

The first is to listen. That’s it. Hold my judgement. No advice. No sympathy. Just acknowledge someone has been heard. Someone else’s pain and experience is uniquely theirs. Even if I experienced something similar it can never be the same. I believe this because I have a debilitating disease, MS, and no matter how many times I hear someone recount their MS experience I continue to be taken aback by how strikingly different our emotional journeys have been.

Which brings me to my second role.

Maintain perspective. I can label an act abusive or depraved, but I need to be careful about extending that taint to the actor. Context is everything. How much time has passed since the event? Is it a pattern that has continued into the present like with the accused Bob Weinstein and Kevin Spacey? Or is it an event from the distant past that is contrary to who the man is now? Like George Takei and Roy Moore. Yes Alabama’s Roy Moore. It is laughable to me that people are calling for him to step down from the Senate race for things he did 40 years ago. People change and hopefully evolve. The important query for me is: “As his position of power grew did his conduct stop or get worse?” With Moore he got married 30 years ago and stayed married with no known instances of indiscretion since.

A more tenuous query around context is that of intent. Does anyone really believe a 90-year-old wheelchair-bound George Bush pinching a young girl’s ass is predatory? Annoying? Intrusive? Unwanted? Yes, yes, maybe. But my fondest memories of my grandfather involve his annoyingly unshaven face playfully biting my ear. If unwanted touching is suddenly actionable, I want to spearhead a class action on behalf of the babies of the world who have been “traumatized” by serial cheek pinchers.

A little murkier on the context spectrum is Louie C.K. wanking off in front of female peers. I do not understand this. I judge C.K. to be pathetic, but this strikes me as a cry for help more than anything else.

And then there is the most tenuous prong of the context spectrum – the role of the victim. I will say two things and leave it at that.

I believe I play some role in any harm that befalls me. Either I chose consciously or not to ignore the warning signs of the oncoming freight train, or I was partially complicit because I initially judged the perceived benefit to outweigh the harm. It is only in retrospect that I feel otherwise. In order to get to the truth on that prong requires self-awareness and open dialogue.

Which brings me to my final point: As a leader I must continue to empower others to speak their truth and to continue to remember … it is their truth.

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