There may be some who remember this as the title of a somewhat strange 1964 comedy in which Charlie (Tony Curtis), a womanizer, is shot “in the act” with another man’s wife only to be reincarnated as a woman (Debbie Reynolds). For most of us though, “Goodbye Charlie” is what many of us are saying as we learned Monday of the latest set of accusations of sexual impropriety against talk show host and journalist, Charlie Rose.
This one hit me hard. I always thought of Rose as one of the good guys, hosting at his table some of the most fascinating conversations one could find on television. Everyone from Broadway stars to religious figures to political and thought leaders sat at his table, and he unerringly seemed to draw out of them the very best they had to offer. As of Tuesday, it appears it is goodbye for good as both CBS and PBS have terminated their contracts with Rose.
While I wish this were not so, I fully support these actions. Termination of employment is one of the possible consequences of sexual harassment in the organization I work for and as a director in that organization, I have responsibilities to take complaints seriously and to adhere to our organization’s procedures to investigate complaints and take appropriate corrective action. Similar policies are on the books in most organizations and there are both moral and legal obligations for leaders of those organizations. Yet until recently, many thought they could sweep such obligations under the carpet or ignore them. Only as women have found and joined their voices in collective action has it become clear that such complaints cannot be ignored, even or especially by the rich and powerful.
But someone may say, “this is such a talented person who cannot be replaced.” Some might pity Rose because he is out of at least a couple very lucrative jobs. I suspect Rose has a fortune that easily will secure him for the rest of his life. The greater loss for him is losing the chance to do something he has said he deeply loves.
That is what has been happening to sexually harassed women in the workplace for years. Many had jobs they loved, for which they were highly trained. Due to sexual harassment and the lack of complaints being taken seriously, for many, the only alternative (other than giving in or living with the harassment) was to leave. I’ve known of women devastated by this experience, some who sacrificed careers they loved and significant income to escape harassment. Sadly, this behavior is so pervasive that often women had no good place to escape to.
The difference between Rose and these women? One is without a job because of what he did, his use of position and power to sexually impose on women. The others are without jobs or have had to find other employment through no fault of their own, but only to escape situations that were personally threatening. So, while saddened by Rose’s actions, and their consequences, I would much rather have him off the air than for women to be unsafe in their workplaces. My hope is that this will serve as a wake up call for men everywhere that similar harassment or sexual imposition is wrong. Period. [And yes, I know that women may also harass or create threatening environments, which is equally wrong, albeit much more rare.]
Rose’s “sort of” apology evidences the self-justifications men must face about their behavior. He said, “I deeply apologize for my inappropriate behavior. I am greatly embarrassed. I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.” The most revealing phrase here is “I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings….” Men often justify efforts to sexually impose on women with the idea that “she wanted it” or “she liked it.” Besides the fact that Rose’s statement is oblivious to the power dynamics in such incidents, he also ignores the simple realities that only “yes” means “yes” and “no” means “no.”
Rose, along with a number of others in recent weeks, has been made an example of the consequences of the misuse of power to sexually harass or exploit women. Rose strikes me as someone with great empathy and emotional intelligence. I hope he turns this in the coming months to understanding what was really so wrong about his actions, and perhaps the wellsprings in his own life for why he acted as he did. I hope he won’t turn to further self-justification. My hope is that the day will come when he will be a different kind of example — one of a guy who finally “gets” it.