Columns 2018

What price fame?

Can you see their faces? I can. They are beautiful young ladies with impossibly toned bodies who perform amazing feats with those bodies. They always seemed so fresh and young and innocent. They represented our idealized dream of the all American girl.

But we must once again ask ourselves what price we are willing to pay for fame. We must ask why, given what has happened in other institutions like Penn State and the Catholic Church, organizations still think the best way to handle a bad situation is to protect the organization instead of the people being hurt. It is clear that the Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics decided that protecting the institution came above all else. What was best for the young ladies paled in comparison to the need to keep the institution functioning and generating money.

For the gymnasts, this is truly a tragedy of immense proportion. The very people who should have been protecting them were pretending that all doctors went to their patient’s hotel room at night and did vaginal manipulation with no gloves and no nurse present. Yep, just business as usual – if you’re a pervert. Yet for thirty years this man was given unlimited access to the most vulnerable population – children. What’s even more disheartening is that one of the people involved in the cover up is a woman, the now former president of MSU.

I think back to my childhood and how trusting and dependent I was on adults. If I thought something was wrong but mom and dad said it was ok, I accepted that. I maybe didn’t like it. But I accepted it because they were the power in my world. These female gymnasts were placed in that exact situation except it was their trusted coaches and program administrators who were telling them this was perfectly normal.

The choice given to these often very young ladies was either to submit and accept or risk losing everything they had worked so hard to achieve. Don’t rock the boat or you will be the first person the boat tosses.

Most of the women now coming out about abuse by men in the workplace were experiencing the workplace equivalent of this behavior. Rock the boat, lose your job. Whether it’s your future or the job paying the rent, you cave and stay silent because you can’t afford to do otherwise. The power is all in the other person’s hands.

The gymnasts who finally came forward and would not be silenced are clearly as strong morally and emotionally as they are physically. Despite years of their complaints being ignored or swept under the rug, they came out loud and clear, demanding to be heard. They would not allow their voices to be silenced again.

Most Americans are horrified that an institution they admired and respected would put the value of a human life below that of the institution. Each time something like this happens, the relevant institution blusters and bluffs before finally admitting that it needs to rethink how it handles cases of reported sexual or physical abuse. Then Americans go back to their lives thinking that surely this will act as a deterrent to any other institution indulging in similar behavior.

Here’s the problem. It doesn’t. Each institution seems to think that somehow it can keep its secrets even if the others can’t. The Catholic Church, Penn State, the US Congress, Hollywood – each in turn thought it could get away with doing what took the others down. But they can’t. They can’t because women have found their voices and will no longer be silenced. This time we can hope that when the dust settles, it doesn’t settle on the status quo. Instead, it settles on a whole new landscape in which women who speak out do not have to risk their future by refusing to protect their abuser.

For those men who complain that there is a witch-hunt happening and they no longer know how to act at work without risking an harassment complaint, let me make this simple – it’s called work, not happy hour, for a reason. And if this makes you feel uncomfortable at work, sorry, but this is what women have had to put up with for centuries. Everyday they went back to a job where a harasser with the power to fire or demote them was in charge.

As for Larry Nassar, while there is a part of me that hopes he rots in hell for eternity, the part of me that isn’t really all that convinced there is a hell would be just as happy to see him find a non-consensual boyfriend in prison.

 

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