Neil DeGrasse Tyson is one of the latest public figures facing allegations of sexual misconduct – has it truly become a witch hunt?
First, I would like to point out that suggesting we are getting into witch hunt territory is not a statement about women making allegations in the first place. It is entirely about how the entertainment industry and society as a whole is reacting to those allegations.
In the case of DeGrasse Tyson, based on what information is currently available, it appears that we really are looking at a “he said, she said” situation. Legally, that can mean that no one will ever know the complete truth, or there will never be any tangible or witness evidence to prove the allegations.
While it is important to listen to women when they make allegations of sexual misconduct, we also need to spend some time thinking about what that actually means. Right now, it’s becoming a highly subjective scale of behaviors that are solely defined by the feelings of the women involved. Basically, if someone says or does something to or around a woman, it makes her feel uncomfortable in any way, and it can be construed to have even the slightest sexual connotation, it can be called “sexual misconduct.”
That means really bad pick-up lines at cocktail parties could fall under this category. Or, in the case of DeGrasse Tyson, exceedingly clumsy flirting could be included. (I am not addressing the allegation of sexual assault during his college years in this description.)
It is good that we’re starting to have conversations about appropriate behavior and interpersonal relationships, but immediately leaping to punishing people for past alleged wrong-doings before there are any investigations definitely isn’t acceptable. What is making it worse is the fact that we are littering our media outlets with headlines about these situations without providing real context for the next generations. Bluntly, I am tired of hearing my teenage son tell me that he is avoiding dating in high school not only because he doesn’t want the drama, but also because he doesn’t want to end up like one of those guys in the headlines because he tried to grope a girl in a movie theater.
Now, if we’ve reached the point where we think that the teenage rites of passage that include “testing the sexual waters” are wrong, then this “guilty as soon as there’s an allegation” attitude is fine. But, no matter what, if we don’t start shifting the conversation toward teaching our children what is appropriate behavior in schools, then all of this is for naught.
We won’t change how women and men treat each other unless we stop thinking that we can rely on parents to teach their kids about sex. The men who are being accused of misdeeds now come from generations that didn’t have sex-ed that included anything beyond the basic anatomy and avoidance of disease and hopefully pregnancy. They didn’t learn how not to be a creep. They didn’t learn how to talk to women in a positive way. There weren’t any lessons on how to ask for permission to engage in sexual activities. There definitely weren’t any classes on reading body language and other non-verbal cues. It’s also worth noting that they were raised in households during the era when this nation generally didn’t have laws against spousal rape, so it’s entirely possible that they literally learned bad behavior in the home.
That said, we also have to remember that many of these women making allegations were not raised to know there is such a thing as personal boundaries in the workplace. They worked in an industry that has a long standing reputation for encouraging women to “sleep their way to the top”. Yes, we are trying to put an end to that, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
Now, if it becomes clear that DeGrasse Tyson truly did do what has been alleged, then it’s time to talk about punishing him. The same should apply to everyone else. But, we really need to avoid going this route:
Yes, that means some people who really did bad things may end up walking away unscathed. But, that’s the deal we made with our justice system and society in general. There are reasons why we say “innocent, until proven guilty”. Operating under the presumption of guilt is how they do things in authoritarian regimes, not here. Also, ask yourselves, how do you prove that you didn’t do something when there were no witnesses other than your accuser? We’re all appalled by laws overseas that insist a woman must have a few men bear witness for them when they accuse someone of rape. But, we’re fine with the idea of saying men must come up with witnesses to prove they didn’t rape someone?
Rape is wrong. Sexual harassment is wrong. Punishing people without due process is wrong. Failing to teach our young how to stop the cycle of sexual violence is the greatest wrong we can do right now. You want it to stop? Work on that.
As for DeGrasse Tyson? Maybe the networks worrying about whether or not they should air his programs should just put them out there. Let the viewers decide. Go back to the negotiating table with him, and have him sign a contract stating that he won’t benefit financially from his work to date anymore if the allegations are proven to be true. After all, that’s really what this is about, isn’t it? It’s all about the money. If he did wrong, let him pay for it with cash. If the networks really want to look good, give money that would have gone to proven perpetrators to their victims. Leave the programming out there. If the people know the guilty stars aren’t getting the paycheck if they watch, they might still turn it on. If they know the victims are getting the profits, maybe that will show what the public really thinks about supporting them.
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Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the Sexual Witch Hunt