As we root out a rotten culture, let’s not forget about grace.
After a lukewarm reception three years ago, the #metoo movement is getting a second chance in Denmark. Sparked by a personal account by TV personality Sofie Linde at an awards show a few weeks ago, the media industry especially is having a long, hard look at itself. By so is politics and the arts – and many other industries should probably be following suit.
Why now? I don’t know. Maybe we’ve matured in the past three years. Maybe having a female PM helps. Whatever the reason, the ball is rolling with appalling stories about offensive behaviour hitting the media almost daily.
This should have happened long ago, and a despicable sexist culture should have no place in a modern and equal society.
But let’s make sure we don’t turn it into a witch-hunt. For example, a 12-year old case has resurfaced, in which the current Danish foreign minister had sexual relations to a girl 19 years younger than him. He committed no crime, but his political career was hampered, and he lost his position at the time. He has apologised and moved on, and recently repeated his apology. Which is fair, because he did a reprehensive and stupid thing – but it should not continue to haunt him for the rest of his life.
Believe in people’s ability to change
Yes, we may need a period of finger-pointing to drive the change. We do need to talk about this for everyone to understand that harassment is not ok. But if we are to move on, eventually the finger-pointing will have to stop.
Calling out jerks is better than not calling out jerks. But even better is a culture change where people stop misbehaving, so we won’t have to call them out all the time.
If what we really want is culture change, we can’t just sit around and wait for the next generation to grow up and hope they will fare better. We need to also believe that people here and now – even boomers – have the ability to change.
Giving jerks a second chance
So let’s get it out in the open, and then let’s draw a line in the sand and move on. Some people may need to face consequences for their actions. Some may lose their jobs, or even face criminal charges. Justice should be served. At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, only around 10% were actually given amnesty.
But after that comes reconciliation. When people have atoned, they should be given a second chance. If they are honestly sorry and want to change, we should have the faith to – if not forgive, then at least say, “That was then, now let’s move on.”
This is not a carte blanche to continue being a jerk. And we probably do need a potentially painful period of rooting out the problem. But when we root out that culture of harassment and sexism, let’s not make the mistake of replacing it with a culture of condemnation and never-ending judgment.
I’m a privileged white male – how do I dare say anything about sexism? Answer: with big humility and some fear, but hopefully good intentions. If I have ever personally offended someone, I’m truly sorry. There is a culture that needs to change, and I am sure I have prejudices of my own that need to be challenged. But for the greater good, I hope I can be a part of the solution, not the problem.