The former presidential candidate issued a Facebook post in response to revelations she’d shielded a 2008 campaign adviser accused of sexual harassment
The #MeToo lens magnifies past imperfections.
Hillary Clinton issued a 1,567-word Facebook post Tuesday in response to the revelation she had shielded a 2008 campaign adviser accused of sexually harassing a female subordinate. “The short answer is this: If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t,” she wrote. She laid out why, at the time, firing the aide hadn’t seemed like the optimal solution: “He needed to be punished, change his behavior, and understand why his actions were wrong. The young woman needed to be able to thrive and feel safe,” Clinton said. “I thought both could happen without him losing his job. I believed the punishment was severe and the message to him unambiguous.”
“I’ve been grappling with this and thinking about how best to share my thoughts,” she added. “I hope that my doing so will push others to keep having this conversation — to ask and try to answer the hard questions, not just in the abstract but in the real-life contexts of our roles as men, women, bosses, employees, advocates, and public officials.”
The former Secretary of State is among many reckoning with past beliefs, attitudes, judgments and actions in light of the ongoing national discussion on sexual assault and misconduct: Actors like Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Mira Sorvino and Rebecca Hall have aired their regret over working with Woody Allen, who has long denied the allegation he molested daughter Dylan Farrow. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain owned up to having unwittingly validated “a meathead bro culture that has not been good, particularly for women.” Stories bearing headlines like “I Believe Juanita” and “Bill Clinton: A Reckoning” have revisited retired nurse Juanita Broaddrick’s longstanding charge that the 42nd President raped her. (Clinton denied the allegation and has never been charged in connection.)
“We’re reading the past through a different lens,” educator and author Jackson Katz, whose work focuses on preventing gender violence, told Moneyish. “This is about changing social norms — what was normative in a previous era is no longer normative.” Reassessment in light of a new cultural sensibility is not unique to this moment, he added: The notion of marital rape as a crime, for example, didn’t gain traction until 1979. Even the term “sexual harassment” is relatively new. “Legal and civil remedies didn’t exist,” Katz said. “A lot of men who engaged in it and a lot of women who experienced it saw it as just normal behavior.”
An authentic apology for having mishandled, misjudged or failed to act on an issue of sexual misconduct should start with acknowledging that something wrong has occurred, said Vaile Wright, a licensed psychologist at the American Psychological Association and expert on sexual harassment and sexual violence. “Often using the actual words ‘We apologize’ (is) good,” she told Moneyish, as well as acknowledging or naming the transgression. You should then assume some level of responsibility, demonstrate some level of remorse, and commit to remedial actions and/or reparations.
“There’s a fine line between explaining why things happened (and) sounding like you’re making excuses for why a transgression occurred,” Wright said. “Research at least suggests … when the apologizer conveys this notion that they’re viewing the situation as an opportunity to grow as a person, that is part of what makes it a more effective apology.” While hasty apologies aren’t ideal, she added, “delayed reactions (from when the transgression occurred) are often seen as less effective.” And integrity-based trust violations (“I messed up because I don’t have a lot of integrity as a boss”) are judged more harshly than competence-based ones (“I messed up because I’m an uninformed boss”).
Companies reeling from sexual harassment scandals, Wright said, can earn back employees’ trust by following through on remedial actions and acting in ways that don’t tolerate harassment going forward. “It has to do with procedural justice theory,” she said. “The idea is, even if I don’t get the outcome that I want, if I feel the trial was fair and my organization handled it fairly, I’m still going to trust and support my organization.” In practice, Wright added, this means appropriately punishing someone who engaged in harassment, taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again and making sure employees are protected and heard.
The productive way forward, said Katz, is for people to recognize they’ve been part of the problem and vow to be part of the solution. “‘I’m going to try my best to make amends in any way I can, in my personal and professional life’ — if you say that with sincerity and you act with integrity, that’s what we should expect of each other.” There’s little to be gained in passing judgment on others, Katz added: “In the best of circumstances, sometimes people make the wrong decision,” he said. “We do have to keep in mind that some of the new ways of thinking about this old behavior (reflect) changing social attitudes, beliefs and norms.”
While it’s important to acknowledge the role bystanders played in staying silent, refusing support to victims or letting perpetrators remain in their positions, clinical psychologist and Yale University associate professor Joan Cook told Moneyish in an email, we should collectively strive to “keep our emotions in balance and not finger-point at the bystanders.” “There are many survivors in the world who have been waiting to have their stories heard and believed. And they deserve nothing less,” she said. “That said, it might be an overshoot if we are now intolerant and impatient with the rest of the world for catching up to where we are.”
“If Hillary Clinton, celebrities working with Woody Allen, and people now believing Bill Clinton’s assault accusers are legitimately sorry and they express their forgiveness sincerely, then we have a choice to make — to blame or to forgive?” Cook added. “What a wonderful dialogue our forgiveness could help create. The incredible healing that that could bring forth is enormous. And, if those individuals like Hillary Clinton could then ask, ‘And what can I do to help you now?’ Wow. That would only strengthen the #MeToo coalition.”
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