Until recently, guys acting like creeps was something people were just supposed to tolerate. Or at least, that’s the message we got from TV and movies.
I came to this realization after a couple of minutes watching “Family Ties” while flipping through channels on TV the other night. (Don’t judge me by my TV habits.)
It was an episode from late 1987, and the mother, Elyse, is caught in that working-mom conundrum of how to divide her time between her family and her career.
Anyway, Elyse is at her office in a jacket with shoulder pads, talking to the secretary, a woman named Doris. They’re both furiously scribbling notes when their male office mate walks in.
“Hey, Doris. Nice outfit. You fill it well,” the guy says, giving her the up-and-down look. “Don’t you think so, Elyse? What’s the matter, girls? Can’t you take a compliment?”
Then the phone rings and everybody kind of goes on about their business.
Thirty years ago, that was an exchange a prime-time network TV audience was supposed to relate to, maybe to show challenges for women in the workplace.
Today, it’s cringeworthy.
TV and movies from the 20th and even early 21st century are filled with casually presented sexual misconduct. The guys in the popular films “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Porky’s” peeped on women in the nude; the guy in “Grease” hid under the bleachers looking up girls’ skirts – it was comedy.
Sometimes the women in the shows even liked it. (Those scripts were almost definitely written by men.)
Of course, we have the examples from politics, too. Just thinking about the 1990s, there were people such as Clarence Thomas and Bill Clinton, who did incredibly inappropriate things in powerful, federal jobs and were considered acceptable for high office.
In fact, people fought hard to defend Thomas and Clinton, and attack their accusers. The message was clear: Report harassment at the risk of your career and reputation.
If you look at the high-profile people who recently have been accused of sexual harassment (and in some cases, assault), most of them are products of that era. Of the big names to face these allegations – people such as John Conyers, Charlie Rose, Roy Moore, Sen. Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. – none of them is younger than 50.
I’m not big on moralizing. You want a sermon, go to church. There are degrees of everything, and I don’t get outraged at or automatically believe every story I hear. But I also don’t have much sympathy for guys who got away with sexual harassment, abuse or assault now getting their comeuppance.
That behavior always has been wrong, even when people used to be able to get away with it. No one’s ever liked it.
Today, it’s no longer presented as something that just happens. It’s taken seriously.
Times have changed, and that’s a good thing.
• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.