Calling It: Weinstein scandals and others prove we are living in a world of the red dot

By Rachel Rippetoe | November 1, 2017 5:36pm

Photo by David Shankbone courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Edited by Rachel Rippetoe

There’s something that stirs a visceral reaction inside me as I continue to scroll through my Twitter feed to more not-at-all-surprising accounts of sexual harassment and assault by powerful men, from movie mogul Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey to NPR News Chief Mike Oreskes

The isolated stories of violation in hotel rooms, the last dregs of Hollywood parties and offices in plain sight are enough to make your blood boil. But there is a thicker layer of oozing disgust, something else about this narrative that sends me into a darker tailspin. 

It’s the others. Not the foaming at the mouth Weinsteins, not the twitching, stuttering Woody Allens and Oreskes, or even the Catholic priests and Boy Scout troop leaders with dirty secrets. They are the monsters, but it’s the others that are the scariest part.  

The makeup artists, the teachers, the boyfriends, the best friends, the Ben Afflecks, the secretaries, the directors, the editors and the people who held the door open and the people who thought they heard something but plugged their ears and kept walking. 

The people who knew. 

The people who knew but said nothing. 

These incidents become more than crimes, more than abject acts of horror. With the others, they become the underbelly of a system. 

You read in the New Yorker about the others. And the others start talking and making little Facebook posts about how they can’t believe it. But of course they can. 

The others take us outside of a crime show of isolated incidents and put us into the Stepford Wives. A culture in which we walk and smile and keep going with our lives while the vulnerable are targeted, voiceless. 

The others give us a sick, sticky realization that we are living in a world of the red dot. 

Hopefully as the good Pilots we all are, we’re all familiar with the concept of red dot, green dot. A red dot represents the predator, or the unsafe situation that could result in sexual or physical violence. The green dot counters the red dot. It defuses the situation and dissolves the red dot entirely — it’s Harry Potter’s “expelliarmus” to Voldemort’s “avada kedavra” (except reverse the colors; maybe this metaphor is more confusing than I thought). 

Sound unfamiliar? OK, so maybe you weren’t listening at the Green Dot presentation — the one that Wellness Education and Prevention Program Coordinator Tiger Simpson and a team of others give to freshmen every year about preventing a community of violence. Maybe you skipped it altogether.

I skipped, actually. So did my brother, who’s a freshman this year. We wanted to get an early dinner with my parents, and it just didn’t seem important enough. 

But here is the bone-chilling truth that no one wants to hear their first week in a new place, unpacking their freshly bought dorm trimmings and making awkward small talk with their roommate: Every woman will be sexually harassed or assaulted in her lifetime. 

I don’t care what the statistics say. It’s not one in five. I have walked the walk of femininity for only a short two decades and I know. No one gets out unscathed.  And many men don’t either.

But it’s not just the Weinsteins. It’s easy to think that only the foreboding bully-type creatures are responsible for perpetuating this culture that is pervasive enough to where I can say things with confidence like “all women.”

If we can nail the root of this behavior down to sweaty men with God complexes, we don’t have to turn around and look at ourselves — look at the ways that we continue the cycle of violence every day.

The people who keep the culture alive are the ones who go to parties and don’t pay attention. The ones who see it on the street or the bus or the train and decide that it’s none of their business. The ones who hear about it later from their girlfriends or boyfriends, and are furious, but ultimately tell no one, keep the secret and the shame. 

Green Dot, an anti-violence initiative started three years ago at the University of Portland, isn’t an annoying orientation ritual. It’s an attempt to change a culture, to craft a spirit of intervention in young people getting ready to fill our newsrooms and our movie sets, our law offices and our hospitals. 

If you missed that freshman session, don’t sweat it. There is a bulk of information on Green Dot’s website and UP’s site about how to step in and prevent sexual violence. 

The hope is that none of us grow up to be Ben Afflecks. That none of us join the ranks of “the others,” that we are instilled with a sense of responsibility for breaking down a red dot culture that affects us all.