Why It's Dangerous To Call 2017 The Year Of Reckoning
There’s a reason why so many are calling 2017 the Year Of Reckoning. In 2017, beginning with The New York Times’ publication of the sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein and the ensuing “Weinstein effect,” it’s become apparent that men are no longer getting away with alleged sexual assault and harassment. (Through his attorneys, Weinstein denied "many of the accusations as patently false.") As Jessica Guynn and Marco della Cava put it at USA Today, 2017 has seemingly shaped up to be “the year sexual misconduct became a fireable offense.”
It is long past time that sexual misconduct be taken seriously, that it be discussed far and wide, that those who survive it are supported and that those who commit it face consequences for their actions. But I’m reluctant to call 2017 the Year Of Reckoning — because the work isn’t done. And it’s not going to be done for a long while yet.
I can understand the impulse behind the label; you only need to compare 2016 to 2017 in order to see why it’s emerged. In 2016, for example, Brock Turner was sentenced by Judge Aaron Persky to only six months in county jail and probation after being found guilty of three counts of sexual assault; Persky’s reasoning was that a more severe sentence would have a “severe impact”on Turner, an explanation that conveniently ignored the “severe impact” Turner’s choice to assault another person had on the woman who survived the attack. Turner was released after three months.
2016 was also the year in which Susan Fowler allegedly experienced misconduct at Uber. Between November of 2015 and December of 2016, while she was employed at Uber as a site reliability engineer, Fowler claims she was allegedly sexually harassed by a manager and threatened with termination if she continued to report it. It wasn’t until her 2017 blog post recounting the alleged events went viral that the claims were investigated. (Then-CEO Travis Kalanick said in statement at the time the investigation was launched, "What [Fowler] describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in. ... We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber.")
In 2016, Roger Ailes, who had been accused of alleged sexual harassment by Gretchen Carlson, was allowed to quietly resign from Fox, receiving $40 million as part of the agreement. (Ailes denied Carlson's sexual harassment claims. He died on May 18, 2017.) In 2016, allegations of sexual harassment against Casey Affleck that had originally been made several years prior resurfaced. Affleck had denied the claims and settled in 2010. But instead of people talking about these allegations, he was talked about as a contender for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
And in 2016, Donald Trump was accused of unwanted physical contact by at least 16 women. He continues to deny these accusations. A tape was released of him bragging about sexual harassment and assault: “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” he said. “And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything," he said. “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything,” he said. He later dismissed it all by calling it “locker room talk.”
On Nov. 8, 2016, he was elected President of the United States.
This, by the way, is just a small selection of what happened in 2016. But although the stories were perhaps more visible than they often are, what’s notable is this: The year was not unique. It was full of the same things we’ve seen throughout the entirety of history.
But 2017 was different. In 2017, Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment and assault by more than 80 women. Through a statement delivered by his lawyers, Weinstein denied “many” of the allegations, calling them “patently false,” and threatened to sue The New York Times, who broke the story. Weinstein was terminated from his position at the Weinstein Company and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Also in 2017, allegations came out claiming Kevin Spacey made advances toward Anthony Rapp when Rapp was 14. Other allegations of sexual misconduct emerged soon after; the allegations came from many other people, and they spanned decades. Netflix severed ties with Spacey, halting production on or removing him from projects on which they had been collaborating. In a statement released on Twitter, Spacey responded to the allegations saying that he “honestly [did] not remember the encounter" with Rapp; he added, “But if I did behave then as [Rapp] describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”
In 2017, Louis C.K. was accused of sexual misconduct by five women. In a statement he released in response to the accusations, C.K. said, “These stories are true.” The premiere of his film I Love You, Daddy was cancelled in advance of the publication of The New York Times’ report on the allegations. Distributor The Orchard later pulled the film from the release schedule entirely. C.K. has also been dropped by managers and agencies, and FX, which has worked closely with C.K. for many years, cut ties with him.
In 2017, photographer Terry Richardson, who has years of sexual misconduct allegations behind him, was blacklisted by Conde Nast and other brands and publishers.
And in 2017, as more and more people came forward to tell their stories of how powerful men in powerful industries allegedly abused them, the public response was nearly unanimous: Projects featuring these men have been dropped. They have been removed from positions of power. They have faced consequences.
But the Year Of Reckoning isn’t enough.
Until now, there’s been a “right” and a “wrong” time to come forward — and by “right” and “wrong,” I mean times at which you’ll be believed, and times at which you won’t; times at which there will be an outcry, and times at which there won’t; times at which justice will be served, and times at which it won’t. There has been no way to predict which time will occur when; most of the time, though, it has been the “wrong” time.
And this is still the case now. It’s true that this time around, more survivors who step forward are being taken seriously instead of being brushed off or ignored. But here’s the thing: What we need to do is get to a point where women are taken seriously every time they come forward. Every time must be the "right" time.
And we are not there yet.
That's why I’m reluctant to call 2017 the Year Of Reckoning. 2017 has been an encouraging start, yes — but it’s just that: A start. It needs to continue for it all to mean anything; society can’t just pat itself on the back and then let things go back to the way they were before. Because despite the victories we’ve seen recently, there is also still plenty of justice that was not meted out in 2017. The work is not done.
This moment that we’re in right now — it can’t just be a moment. It needs to be more than that. It needs to be a paradigm shift, a change in our culture, an evolution of our society. And it needs to be ongoing — it needs to actively continue to move forward.
And, as odd as it may sound, I’m hopeful about that. I’m hopeful that we can get there. I’m hopeful that this might be the push we need, that we’ve needed for so long, to make that huge, seismic shift.
We need to keep speaking up when we are able. We need to keep listening to survivors. We need to keep having the difficult conversations. We need to keep acting when necessary. We need to keep helping those who need it.
If the phrase “Year Of Reckoning” really means “Year When People Are Held Accountable For Their Actions And Face The Consequences,” then, truthfully, we don’t need a Year Of Reckoning. Every year needs to be a Year Of Reckoning.
We need to enter an Era Of Reckoning. And once we’ve entered it, we need to stay there for the rest of human history.