The #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns are empowering women to step forward to try to stop sexual misconduct, and to shape a better world for our children. To do this it requires that guilty men fall. The question that many are asking is do these men need to fall so harshly? The court of public opinion can ruin careers, it is unforgiving and the media stokes the flames with every dirty little secret uncovered. Is this public shaming a necessary part of the change our society is going through?
I hope we will get to a day when it isn’t needed, but think, as the beginning of social change sets in, the public shaming is a necessary part of the social change. And I say this as someone who has experienced public shaming.
By taking on the Mayor of Toronto in 2013, and being the first to talk about his drug use and sexual misconduct, I became a target for Ford nation. And I admit that I wasn’t prepared to go up against a very savvy and strategic campaign (led by Rob’s brother Doug Ford) to bury the truth. From the moment the news hit social media, Doug Ford was on the phone with all the media personalities in Toronto, calling in favours and working to gain their support for his brother. His goal was to get them to discredit me, to turn the public against me and make the Mayor out to be the victim. A friend of mine was, at the time, hosting a talk show on Newstalk 1010 and he warned me that Doug Ford was calling all the key commentators and trying to get them to discredit me. Doug was able to manipulate many of them. Even those who knew me to be a legitimate community advocate turned against me. They spent a week questioning my background, my authenticity, and making Mayor Ford out to be the victim. Doug Ford succeeded at manipulating the media to work on his agenda, and for a time they were so busy attacking me, they ignored the legitimate stories swirling around the Mayor. Ford’s strategy to deceive the public through the media worked – until it didn’t.
But the public shaming was a terrible experience and I understand now why so few came to defend me. I am thankful to the men who did – Mayor John Tory and Greg Sorbara – were two men who stood up in a sea of accusations to suggest that I wasn’t one to exaggerate. But for a week or two I couldn’t get on the subway or walk through a grocery store without a Ford fanatic following behind me screaming that I was a lying bitch. So I know very well what the court of public opinion can do to someone. And I also know that eventually the truth comes out – as it did on Mayor Ford.
Today women are finally uniting and using their voices to shine a spotlight on the sexual abuse and misconduct of some very powerful public figures. The guilty need to fall. And I for one believe that the truth will protect those who are wrongfully accused, as it did me. I went through hell, but I am stronger for it. The time has come for men who abuse their power to pay for their actions.
There is still one man whose actions haunt me. In 2010 when I was running for Mayor of Toronto, I was on a political talk show with the other top four candidates. The show was widely watched and it helped my numbers in the polls, so the next time I saw the host I asked if I might get on his show again. Always kind and friendly, he suggested we meet over lunch to discuss. My assistant and I met him at Grano’s on Yonge Street, and the three of us ordered our lunch. Not five minutes into the lunch the host asked me if I would sleep with him. My assistant almost spit his drink all over the table. I politely told the host that I loved my husband and would never do that. I then excused myself, went to the washroom and called my campaign manager. My manager was at first angry that I was alone with a talk show host, but when I explained that my assistant was actually sitting there with us and had heard the entire thing, his anger turned to shock. He was great at calming me down and joked that if I didn’t want to “take one for the team” then I should excuse myself and leave. I followed his instruction, and later asked my EA what he and the host had talked about while I was in the washroom. He told me he questioned the talk show host to see if asking directly for sex actually worked for him. The host said that it worked 50 percent of the time. I hope he was just bragging, but I’ve always wondered if the women who are frequent guests on his show have slept with him.
Back in 2010 this meant that some of the male candidates had extra exposure on his show that I couldn’t get. They didn’t have to sleep with him to get on his show. It was frustrating but in a busy campaign we didn’t have time to address it. When I talk with younger women, they are shocked at the way the world was back then. I realize that women of my generation were programmed to accept how it was. We had to joke about it because getting mad every other day wasn’t healthy. I remember a woman saying to me once when I complained about an editor who slept with interns that “boys will be boys.” It wasn’t until I met my husband that I learned that some boys turn into caring and compassionate men concerned about building a fair and just society.
In 2010 the host made it harder for me to compete with the men I was up against, because they were invited to appear on his show while I wasn’t. He didn’t give a damn about how he impacted my future. In the years since he’s approached me several times, usually at political functions, to suggest we “sleep together” and he always laughs about it. I wonder if he does this so that if he is ever held to account he can claim that he was only joking? I also wonder how he would explain why he has never had me on his show, in a climate where talk show hosts complain that they can’t get women to appear on their shows? And I wonder how many other women have had the same experience I did with him? How many women have not been invited back to his show simply because they won’t sleep with him?
I wonder too what our next steps should be? My assistant who sat with me at the table when I was propositioned by this host, remembers the conversation well. But my gut tells me we will need to gather a few other women who have shared a similar experience in order for his CEO to take this seriously. With two elections coming up this year the host will have many opportunities to prey on women candidates. I hope my words will stop him from abusing his power. So I shout them and warn women to be careful – avoid lunching with the host of a talk show! If you have experienced the same situation, and know whom I am writing about, please contact me – firstname.lastname@example.org. We will protect your identity.
And I warn him: we are coming. We aren’t rushing, but we are slowly gathering our facts and we won’t let up. Do the right thing, and step down from your job.