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Sexual Harassment and Progressive Organizations

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Self-defined progressive men progressive organizations are far from immune from the plague of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Rather, it’s a huge problem on the job for women at progressive organizations as we see in this devastating discussion of what happened at FitzGibbon Media.

In retrospect, there were some red flags. One former FitzGibbon Media staffer told Vox that FitzGibbon gave off a “weird” vibe and was overly “touchy-feely,” but most people chalked it up to social awkwardness.

Rachel Tardiff, who left the firm in July, said that while she never experienced sexual harassment from FitzGibbon, she isn’t surprised that it happened. He would sometimes say things that seemed inappropriate or over the line. He treated male staffers with an “overgrown frat boy demeanor” while he scolded or more sharply criticized the women.

Another former staffer said FitzGibbon didn’t react well when he was told about sexual harassment allegations against someone else at the firm. He was angry and dismissive, yelling about how he didn’t believe that such a “good guy” could do something like that. FitzGibbon also had issues with some anti-rape campaigns the firm ran, according to the staffer. At one point he confronted an employee about the campaign in front of about 10 other people. He questioned the tactics of holding “alleged” rapists accountable, talked about how false rape accusations had ruined his friend’s life, and said that being accused of rape was actually worse than being raped.

“A lot of people heard that. How do you report when you know that’s the feeling? Who wants to put themselves through that?” the staffer said.

Tardiff said FitzGibbon’s personality and the firm’s structure also made it difficult for anyone to come forward. “There was no real HR. Everything flowed through or from Trevor,” she said. “His tendency to respond extremely personally to any criticism also fostered an environment where speaking up — in basically any situation — came with the risk of him lashing out in a way that would make things even more difficult.”

In other words, predatory scumbags come in all political persuasions.

And just because progressive women are well-aware of how awful these men are doesn’t mean it’s suddenly easy for them to go after the bastards:

It’s also harder than people think for women at progressive organizations to come forward when there is a problem. Some organizations have structural problems or a hostile culture like it seems FitzGibbon Media did. But even at a supportive workplace where things run smoothly, cultural norms can hold women back.

One progressive activist told Vox about a case of sexual harassment that she reported to her employer. It was about as clear-cut a case as you could ask for, complete with witnesses. Still, she spent half the night before reporting it crying. “I was so scared of what the consequences might be,” she said. “I’d only been at this new job for a couple months and was terrified of being seen as someone who ‘rocks the boat.’ We’ve all heard a million stories about how women are treated or retaliated against for complaining. It was honestly terrifying.”

Another progressive strategist recalled moving to DC and having three different women give her lists of which members of Congress she should avoid being alone in a room with. The lists included members from both parties, and there were enough of them that all three lists had different names.

Enduring inappropriate advances from men in power is “bipartisan and almost like a rite of passage in DC from what female friends have told me,” Mary said. And of course, politics isn’t the only place where men get away with routinely abusing their power over women who fear not being believed, or fear retaliation because of a man’s influence. Just look at Bill Cosby.

It’s not just that this story is disturbing. It’s that we, and especially progressive men, have a responsibility to call out these jerks for this behavior and confront men who are doing terrible things to women when we know about it.

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