KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Here at NPR and at other news organizations, we've been calling this thing happened after news broke of allegations against Harvey Weinstein a moment - a moment where women are coming forward with their stories and dozens of influential men in media, entertainment and politics are having to account for their actions. But then a listener wrote to me on Twitter and said, please stop calling it a moment. It's bigger than that.
Rebecca Traister, a writer for New York Magazine and The Cut, calls it a reckoning. Ijeoma Oluo, editor-at-large at The Establishment, which is a media platform run by women, says it might be a reckoning. But if so, it's just the beginning. So to talk about this unprecedented time, era, movement, we invited Traister and Oluo to the studio. Rebecca Traister, thanks for being with us.
REBECCA TRAISTER: Thanks for having me.
MCEVERS: And Ijeoma Oluo, thanks to you, too.
IJEOMA OLUO: Thanks for having me.
MCEVERS: So, Rebecca, you actually started this week with this piece titled "This Moment Isn't (Just) About Sex: It's Really About Work." And you talk about how there's something a lot bigger going on here. Just explain for people who haven't read it, like, what you mean.
TRAISTER: Well, I think that there's been some category confusion and category error in the way that this conversation has unfolded. I think in part the entry to this period came in the form of that first big story, which was about Harvey Weinstein, which of course was a story about sex crime. But importantly, it was also a story of professional discrimination. The people - even the people who were describing sort of the most violent acts that they claim Harvey Weinstein, the movie producer, committed against them were describing the impact it had on their careers.
So from the beginning, it was a story that happened to combine acts of sexual harm with acts of damage done to women in their professional lives. And I think that for a bunch of reasons some of the coverage sort of wound up focusing in on sexual harm. And while the country does not have a rich history of caring particularly about women's sexual autonomy or about women's equality within the workplace or within the public sphere, we do have a very shaky history of being able to tell alarmed stories about the sexual violability of especially white women.
And I think it took the conversation down a path that was about sexual harm when in fact we need to get back to focusing on the fact that this is about work. And in some cases, it may also be about sexual harm and sexual crime. But what is being revealed here is a vast gender and racial inequity that have long been in operation in our public spheres.
MCEVERS: Ijeoma, I wonder what you think about this because when I listen to Rebecca I hear, you know, just think of all the women who were not able to advance at work, who quit a thing, who changed careers, who changed departments because of what they were experiencing at work. What do you think about all this?
OLUO: You know, I have spent a lot of time wondering what could have been for so many women around this country and around the world if they were not shut down by this sort of harassment and discrimination. And I think to kind of, you know, go along with what Rebecca was saying but looking at it slightly differently, I think that fundamentally, this is an issue of power. And the way in which women are treated at work all falls along that same thread.
I was a manager at a predominantly male environment. I was the only female manager outside of the HR manager. And we would have these manager meetings. And I remember we were talking about another manager who wasn't in the meeting. And HR says, we have a problem with him. You know, he keeps sexually harassing women in the office. We have to do something about it. And they were trying to hire more staff. And the response that was given was, well, we just have to stop hiring attractive women.
OLUO: We can't risk it. You know, and they're making these jokes - let's hire some old lady. You know, let's hire, you know, an old dude. And I was sitting there in this room going, you know, the women impacted by this don't even know they were impacted by this...
OLUO: ...The women coming in and applying for this job.
MCEVERS: Right. How many women lined up for a job and were turned away for that very reason?
MCEVERS: 2018 - what, in your opinion, both of you, should happen in the workplace? What changes do you think need to happen going forward?
OLUO: You know, I really hope that we start seeing a real cultural shift. This isn't something that just starts and stops in the workplace. This is something that starts in childhood. I'm raising two boys, and I see the seeds of this kind of being implanted in them at such an early age. And we really need to be treating everything like it's a big deal. Everyone talks about, you know, they're worried about this, quote, unquote, "moral panic." And they're worried that we're going to get too sensitive. We have been undersensitive (ph). We have been desensitized for so long.
And my motto for the last couple of years has been, be more mad (laughter). Be more mad all the time. These things are outrageous, and we should be enraged by them. And we need to start getting angry and seeing things for what they are, which means we need to see those little comments at work for what they are. We need to see those little social interactions for what they are, which are really damaging perpetrations of rape culture and misogyny.
And these sorts of cultural shifts, you know, there's so much backlash and push against them, but the truth is it's actually fairly easy to get used to. I don't think it takes that long. You go a little while without sexually harassing women and you'll figure out you can get through your day without it. And then you move on. And I think that we really do need to start pushing both systemic accountability, but also social accountability as well and really start treating these things as the harmful things that they are.
TRAISTER: I think that some of the practical things that we could look to address moving into 2018 are actually some of these systemic failures - the fact that so many of these companies never had HR departments. The fact that HR departments themselves are deeply flawed...
TRAISTER: ...In how they address these cases. You also see a legal system that set such a high bar for sexual harassment that it encourages the settlement of legal claims. The settlement of legal claims often come with these nondisclosure agreements that wind up silencing the voices of those who might otherwise be telling their stories of bias, discrimination or abuse. So those are the sort of small-bore but massive shifts we could begin to make. But we're also going to have to be protective because as the backlash - which isn't going to come in, like, one moment, right? It's already around us. It's already happening.
One of the key elements of it is going to be not - an unwillingness to hire women, an unwillingness on the part of men to go to lunch with them, mentor them, take them under their wings. But I also think that Ijeoma's first point is so powerful and correct, which is that we have to sign on for a long haul. And so I think those who are interested in making sure that this conversation does help to transform the power structures and alter them and dismantle the injustices should be aware that they're signing up for a project that's going to last their entire lives. And I'm not exaggerating.
MCEVERS: Rebecca Traister is a writer for New York Magazine and The Cut. Thanks so much to you.
TRAISTER: Thank you.
MCEVERS: And Ijeoma Oluo is editor-at-large at The Establishment. Thank you very much as well.
OLUO: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAM-FUNK'S "NIGHT STROLL")
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