As usual, Stephen Colbert has the right words for the stickiest and ugliest situations. Last night he addressed sexual misconduct accusations against his boss, Les Moonves - head of CBS.
He acknowledged with grace that, as a powerful white male in the entertainment industry, he might not be the best one to offer analysis of the #MeToo movement - which was started by Tarana Burke (a Black woman) in 2007. He went on to state unequivocally, though, that powerful men taking sexual advantage of powerless women was wrong. He claimed men know it now, and we know they knew it then - because of the cloak of secrecy they went to such lengths to keep around the behavior.
Colbert went on to address the inevitable question of whether or not this "disappearing" of assaulters from the public eye was necessary. By way of answer, he quoted John F. Kennedy: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable." For so long, complaints of harassment went ignored or mocked. For generations, women were told to shut up and take it. Worst of all, they were blamed for their own abuse. According to Colbert, "this roar is just a natural backlash to all that silence."
He finished with a mic drop about accountability.
I do believe in accountability. Everyone believes in accountability until it is their guy. And Les Moonves is my guy....but accountability is meaningless unless it is for everybody, whether it is the leader of a network, or the leader of the free world.
The more recent Twitter #MeToo movement was barely hours old before people began voicing "concerns" that it had gone too far. Men complained, "So, what, I can't even flirt now?" Mothers cried, "What if my son gets accused of date rape?" Both genders leapt to the defense of men who'd lost their jobs and reputations after revelations of sexual assault and/or harassment. "Is it really fair they should lose their livelihoods because they sent mixed signals at a party 20 years ago??? They've accomplished so much since then!"
I, and so many other women sighed and rolled our eyes. Yes. Yes, it is fair. This is what you get for ignoring injustice for hundreds of years. This is what comes from tens of generations of systemic oppression. This is what happens when a woman tells her boss about harassment and her boss either does nothing or tells her if she wants to keep her job, she will endure it. There will be what seem to you like outsized consequences at first. And it only seems outsized to those who have never suffered from it.
So many women - especially Women of Color - have been saying what Stephen Colbert said last night for so long. Maybe now that a famous white male has said it, people will listen.