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Last year, audio surfaced of the eventually successful candidate for president bragging about how fame gave him license to force himself on women. This year, rich and powerful men are getting toppled by credible allegations of abuse even without recorded confirmation. In one famous case, the allegation is about events from four decades ago.

This is a momentous change. How momentous remains to be seen. Demands for decent, respectful treatment could shake the male-dominated powers that be. Alternatively, women could settle for somewhat better treatment from that power structure and leave it firmly in place. After all, 46 percent of women voted for the successful presidential candidate.

It is a cold, hard fact that men can make many concessions and still retain a dominant degree of power. Keeping your hands to yourself is small price to pay to keep a grip on the reins.

Cynical as it sounds, the breach in the dam so far required bipartisan creepiness. Sexual abuse claim settlements drove powerful people at the conservative Fox News Network out last year but did not start a cascade of resignations elsewhere. That only began after Harvey Weinstein, a man who made movies but was a major Democratic donor, was forced out of his own production company.

This assertion of a right to basic dignified treatment is rising against male-dominated power structures, whatever and wherever any one of those structures happens to be: conservative, liberal or something else.

The most perceptive piece I read on the issue is one I would link if I could find it again. Successful, profitable organizations tend to promote men who are standouts and go-getters, people who get what they want, the author said. This makes too many organizations willing to turn the blind eye when what the go-getter wants and grabs on a given day is someone else.

More people are inclined to believe abuse allegations than in the past. That is because so many more of us watch it happen as women assert themselves at ranks that, in general, only males could reach before. Anyone who still thinks sexual abuse problems are exaggerated has never seen what attractive women news reporters have put up with.

Bipartisan creepiness was needed to breach this dam, but the flood damage so far is quite partisan. As Michelle Cottle notes in her story Wednesday in The Atlantic magazine, 354 women have announced already that they are running for a seat in a state legislature next year. Of those, 291 are Democrats and 63 are Republicans. At the same time in the 2016 election cycle, there were 121 Democratic and 60 GOP women announced.

In other words, the number of Democratic women running for a state legislature more than doubled by a quite considerable degree. The number of GOP women running has gone up by 5 percent. Also of note, white women in Virginia evenly split their 2016 presidential vote but went for the Democratic nominee for governor this year by 8 percentage points.

"It doesn't take a math whiz to chart the enthusiasm gap," Cottle dryly notes. Fair enough, but enthusiasm could fall flat unless such a massive effort garners proportional success in next year's elections. I have no reason to doubt it will, but I have no reason to believe it is a cinch, either.

As always, the likely results are somewhere between the possibilities on either extreme. Notably, the number of women elected to the 100-member Virginia House of Delegates went from 17 to 27 this month. Equally notably, 27 out of 100 is still a minority.

What is really needed are effective, non-violent consequences when someone crosses boundaries. Neither the problem of sexual exploitation nor principled rules against it are anything new. There is no disputing that the rules of the past recognized ridiculously few rights of women, but the punishments were drastic when crossed, or at least could be.

Troy fell because a visiting diplomat seduced and absconded with another man's wife. Allegations against candidate Roy Moore in Alabama would have been settled as soon as they are supposed to have taken place with pistols at 20 paces 150 years ago.

I am not implying in any way that young girls today need pistol-wielding male defenders, or that it is normal or natural to burn a foreign diplomat's town if he absconds with the king's wife. Too few consequences at all, though, has not worked out well either.

Commentary on 11/25/2017

Print Headline: The political cost of creepiness

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