In case you needed another sign that chivalry is dead, you can check out a new piece in the Atlantic from Michelle Cottle, a former New Republic writer who describes her longtime association (and friendship) with famed editor Leon Wieseltier. Wieseltier, who has been accused of serial sexual harassment by various colleagues and editors and recently lost the financial backing for a magazine he was about to launch, comes off as completely lecherous.
Cottle describes how when she was first starting at the magazine, Wieseltier invited her up to his hotel room and proceeded to tell her “naughty stories” and grilled her about her sex life. She made clear she wasn’t interested and from then on made sure she wasn’t in hotel rooms alone with him.
His inappropriate behavior in the office continued though. And then Cottle reveals this:
Leon also ribbed me about my sex life, which was more than a little awkward once my husband-to-be joined the staff. And while my partner’s presence kept Leon in check in some ways, it also gave him another avenue of teasing. He repeatedly suggested that, before I officially got hitched, he and I needed to go out on a proper date so I could slip into something super sexy and we could paint the town red.
He continued to tease her about her sex life in the same office where her husband was working? I am waiting for the part of the story where her husband slugged Wieseltier and he never did it again. But no. We find out that the three are all friends and there is no mention of Cottle’s husband sticking up for her.
I am sure that there are those who will find the mere suggestion of Cottle’s husband intervening to be offensive. Why does she need a man to protect her? But it turns out that even if she didn’t, many of her female colleagues did.
The protectiveness of husbands and fathers and brothers was once taken for granted. And I don’t mean in the 1950s. While watching one of the first episodes (from 1982) of Family Ties the other night—once again I’ve run out of appropriate contemporary television content for my daughter—there was a scene in which Alex P. Keaton finds out that his younger sister, Mallory, has gone on a date with the kind of guy who uses girls and then tosses them away. After spending an evening pacing back and forth in worry and expressing his guilt for having introduced the two of them, Mallory finally returns. When Alex demands to know what happened, she accuses him of adopting “a double standard for men and women.” Alex responds, “No, I believe in a triple standard—one for men, one for women and one for sisters.”
The same could presumably be said for wives. There are plenty of men who would walk away when a dirty old man was saying obnoxious things to other women in the office. But how many are expected to turn the other cheek when that other woman is their wife?
In recent days a number of men have come forward expressing their remorse for being complicit in the culture that allowed the sexual harassment and assault of women. Some have professed their ignorance—Dana Milbank, a Washington Post columnist who used to work at the New Republic, actually wrote that he lived “in a cone of ignorance,” whatever that means.
Others have noted their regret that women didn’t come to them with such problems. But frankly, it seems that few women were looking for a knight in shining armor to rescue them from the crudeness and rudeness of Wieseltier. If Cottle’s own husband couldn’t tell the guy to cut it out, the other men in the office (men whom Milbank calls “feminists, all”) probably didn’t think it was their role to intervene either. And up until last week, the women would have agreed.