Pierce County has had several high-profile #MeToo moments over the last month.
The question now: What’s next?
Because, to date, the lack of a local response is enough to make a person wonder if the so-called national reckoning the #MeToo movement is said to have inspired will result in the cultural shift we need.
That includes not just believing women when they speak up, and making workplaces and communities safe for women, but holding men accountable for their actions.
Unfortunately, there are reasons to believe there’s still plenty of work to do.
Take the case of state Rep. David Sawyer of Tacoma, who in February faced accusations from eight women.
The women, including former legislative assistant Jessica Gavre, accused the lawmaker of a myriad of troubling transgressions, ranging from inappropriate to harassing.
Then there’s Bates Technical College president Ron Langrell, who has been on paid administrative leave for more than a month.
The investigation by the college into a formal harassment complaint ultimately determined that Bate’s president “frequently gave unwelcomed hugs to his subordinates, made remarks about some staffers’ looks that made them uncomfortable and insulted and intimidated staff members,” as The News Tribune reported.
Langrell will face discipline but appears poised to return to work soon.
Both Sawyer and Langrell have apologized for their conduct, while simultaneously insisting the complaints were the result of clumsy communication, not intentional actions.
There’s little question both men behaved in wildly inappropriate ways — while simultaneously failing to grasp the reasons why.
This column isn’t strictly about Sawyer and Langrell, however. It’s about the response we owe the women who came forward, those who’ve understandably stayed silent in the past, and how we go about changing our culture for the better.
Sadly, the reaction to the stories — each published in February — has been underwhelming.
From the political establishment, it’s largely been crickets — at least until very recently. The silence speaks volumes.
From the community, meanwhile, there has been no shortage of visible support for the women who had the courage to speak up but not nearly enough demand for accountability and change.
“I think it feels really kind of weird and lonely,” Gavre said of the public reaction, or lack thereof.
“I was shocked by the silence of so many people, and by the amount of people that would maybe send me a text message (in support), but clearly weren’t saying anything in any other venue,” Gavre continued. “I think it says something about whether or not you’re willing to stand with me.”
It certainly does, and as the movement evolves, it’s a dilemma we must face head on. Especially men.
Often, the conversation surrounding #MeToo moments has come down to whether or not we believe a woman when she’s brave enough to speak up. That’s clearly part of it, and there’s no question that even just believing women when they point out the harassing and misogynistic ways men often operate is a sign of progress.
But there’s more to it. While Gavre said she largely feels believed, she’s been disheartened to watch the debate often spiral into a question of: “Well, is this stuff really that bad?”
Spoiler: It is.
“I actually don’t think anyone doesn’t believe me. I think there’s just a great divide in whether people think it’s inappropriate or not,” Gavre said. “That maybe feels worse.
“If for some people this conversation isn’t enough for them to think there’s a problem, I don’t know what it takes.”
As Gavre pointed out on a recent episode of the Citizen Tacoma podcast, she’s been particularly troubled by the lack of a formal response from Democrats in Olympia. She noted that when news broke of Republican state. Rep. Matt Manweller being investigated for sexual harassment late last year, some Dems called for his resignation.
For Sawyer, a Democrat who’s set on seeking reelection in 2018 and has raised gobs of money to do so, the response instead has been relative silence.
“If we are really saying it’s not OK to treat women inappropriately … then we have to say that across the board and stick to it. Otherwise, you’re just playing politics with people’s stories,” Gavre said.
“Sometimes doing what’s right isn’t the most politically strategic thing to do, but you do it because it’s what you should do. And I think that’s been missing.”
She’s right. The correct response starts with demanding accountability — with the acknowledgment that we expect better from our elected officials and men in power, and that actions do have consequences.
“We’re in this space where we are telling women to tell your story and we’re going to believe you, and we’re going to stand with you. How this has played out … is like I’ve gotten a lot of pats on the back and told I’m so brave, but nothing has changed,” Gavre said.
“The silence sends a message, whether folks intend it to or not.”
I believe her.