Nearly each day there is another revelation about a man who abused women (and girls, and boys) and took advantage of his powerful position. Abusers banked on people staying silent and tolerating their behavior. The good news is that these days seem to be coming to an end: Powerful men are surely taking note that whatever advantages they wield won’t hold up for long, especially if accusations stack up and women are given the support to speak out.
It’s about time.
Of course, the national discussion of this issue needs to include how to protect men (and women) from wrongful accusations. Abusers rightfully pay a heavy price in terms of lost reputation, employment opportunities, and potentially jail time; therefore, the accusation itself is a serious weapon that could be misused. We also want our ire—and our resources—focused on punishing those who are truly abusive, and not on policing all speech or bullying those who are just socially awkward. Asking someone out isn’t a criminal offense and neither is telling a bad joke, but threatening speech and unwanted physical contact is unacceptable. We need to make these distinctions clear.
Hopefully, this national attention to the problem of sexual assault will also encourage a broad examination of how we treat women publicly. While we have a limited ability to control what happens behind closed doors beyond trying to deter bad behavior with the threat of serious punishment, society can shape what’s considered acceptable in the public sphere.
Unfortunately, much of the media—and even those who claim to be feminists and on women’s side—tolerate abusive treatment of women in public. Consider this video montage that New York magazine created, using Comedy Central footage, which has been watched on YouTube by nearly three million viewers—most of whom guffawed along in the comments. In this video, about a dozen celebrities mock Ann Coulter, with statements including:
“Ann Coulter is one of the most repugnant, hateful bitches alive—but it’s not too late to change, Ann. You could kill yourself.” (Jimmy Carr)
“The only person you will ever make happy is the Mexican who digs your grave.” (Nikki Glaser)
“Why is Ann Coulter here tonight? Because the right-to-lifers wanted everyone to see what an abortion looks like up close.” (Rob Lowe)
Saturday Night Live star, Pete Davidson also called her a “racist c**t.”
Is this really acceptable treatment of a woman?
Undoubtedly, those who slammed Ann Coulter would argue that she makes plenty of outrageous statements of her own and can give as good as she gets. Yet I don’t believe that Coulter has ever singled out anyone with such vile names and expected the target of her abuse to sit calmly on camera and not respond.
You don’t have to agree with anything Ann Coulter has said or written to recognize that this isn’t appropriate. It’s not appropriate to talk like that to anyone or about anyone, and it’s particularly not appropriate to talk like that about someone sitting near you and in public, thereby inviting the entire world to believe it is okay to humiliate someone in this manner.
Ann Coulter isn’t the only woman who has faced criticism that crosses over into abuse. In fact, another question the public ought to explore is why women who are on the political Right seem to be singled out for particularly vicious attacks. Perhaps there are examples of women on the Left and men who have been publicly insulted, but the Left and the mainstream media seem to tolerate treatment of conservative women that would otherwise be considered out-of-bounds were it directed at women on the left. Consider this treatment of Sarah Palin (and her family) and Kellyanne Conway, and even Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Ivanka Trump. Needless to say, no one in the media or in Hollywood would ever consider denigrating Chelsea or Hillary Clinton, or Michelle Obama, in such a manner. That is as it should be, but why is the standard different when the woman is a conservative?
The media and the Left talk a lot about wanting more women to run for office and take bigger roles in political debates. But these vicious personal attacks are intended to mock, delegitimize and silence these women, and ultimately discourage others who share their views from speaking out and getting involved. That shouldn’t be okay.
Preventing abuse and encouraging more respectful treatment of women should be a priority, and should extend to all women—even conservatives.