If you have not seen the video of CNN journalist Ashleigh Banfield responding to the accusations from an anonymous source of sexual abuse by comedian/actor Aziz Ansari, you need to. Here’s the link, as presented by newsweek.com. The accusations and the response have given rise to a lot of impassioned discussion and controversy, and women across the globe need to sort out the facts.
The point of your inquiry should be not whether the events took place but whether the events amount to the kind of sexual harassment that is the benchmark of the #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp movement that followed. Those movements are founded on a recognition that women have suffered abuse in the workplace because of an imbalance of power where they were powerless to refuse unwanted advances and remained silent because their employment and financial livelihood depended on cooperating with the abuse by powerful men, who controlled their futures and their ability to work.
That is not what the anonymous blogger complained of. Rather, she complained of a date gone wrong, albeit with raw and unsavory facts, but a situation where she had the POWER to walk out —- as in TO LEAVE a situation that had turned into something she did not want. She HAD THE POWER and leaving would not have cost her a job or curtailed any of her future employment opportunities. There are no facts presented to indicate that she was being forced in any way to stay and to continue to experience behavior that she apparently found abhorrent. In fact, when she finally did leave, the alleged abuser did not stand in her way. Far from it.
Why is this important, and why am I breaking with tradition by taking it on?
The answer is simple. Because, as Ashleigh Banfield states in her open letter to the accuser, complaints like those of the accuser diminish the value of legitimate movements, which involve true sexual harassment and abuse of power. Muddying the water with descriptions of dates gone wrong (rather than workplace abuses) and women who fail to use the power they possess to extricate themselves from objectionable circumstances serve to retard the progress of these legitimate movements rather than advance them.
I have been talking about and writing about women lawyers using their power to control and manage their careers for over a decade. Now, I want to send that same message to all women. Although you may encounter an imbalance of power, you must use the POWER YOU HAVE to change your circumstances and protect your futures.
You have VALUE, and you have POWER. Understand it and use it. To do anything else is to join the abusers.