As 2018 begins, a little reflection on 2017 is in order. Last year did not go out quietly, and one issue was particularly notable. Famous men, in the media, politics, and entertainment, among other areas, have fallen over sexual abuse and harassment allegations, some of which are so overwhelming and shocking that they give all men pause.
Peggy Noonan, in an opinion piece published on Nov. 30 by the Wall Street Journal, touched more than a nerve with regard to these events. Her words reminded me that we must be vigilant and not ignore things we otherwise might. She quoted extensively from Pope John Paul II’s 1995 letter to women, which, in and of itself, is a wonderful statement from a man of authority. I take the liberty of quoting from that letter here, so that we might consider the issue openly.
“Women have contributed to history as much as men and, more often than not, they did so in much more difficult conditions. Women have been underestimated, ignored and not given credit for their intellectual contributions. Only a small part of their achievements has been documented, and yet humanity knows that it owes a debt to the great immense feminine tradition. How many women have been continued to be valued more for their physical appearance than for their skill, their professionalism, their intellectual abilities, their deep sensitivity, in a word, the very dignity of their being!”
Pope John Paul II went on in his letter to thank women for all that they do, for the simple fact they are women. He noted that in every time and place, women have suffered abuse, in part because of cultural conditioning, which has been an obstacle to their progress. “Women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged, and their prerogatives misrepresented.” He cited the “long and degrading history of violence against women in the area of sexuality.” He called for condemnation of sexual violence, which frequently objectifies women.
We know what proper
conduct in the workplace
is, what we can say
to colleagues without
offense, and when not to
demand what is not right.
Given the current scandals, resignations, and firings, it is time to acknowledge that this type of behavior is unacceptable. For many of us men, it feels a little bit like a tidal wave will sweep us all away. However, those of good spirit should not be afraid – in our society, life continues and, in this case, perhaps on a higher plane. I imagine all of us would think twice about certain acts or behaviors that may be offensive or downright wrong. Common sense informs us that we know what is right. We know what proper conduct in the workplace is, what we can say to colleagues without offense, and when not to demand what is not right.
I think that if we all use intelligence, trust our instincts, and act the way we know we should, these problems will subside and our workplaces, our profession and the courts will be better places. Our profession is still, for better or worse, majority male. Men who are lawyers need to understand and appreciate the established norms of our profession and treat women with openness, respect, acceptance and, most importantly, fairness.