As allegations of misdeeds by powerful men continue to pile up in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein accusations, it’s becoming clear that if we don’t want to live in a society where abuse so plainly thrives, there’s a lot of work ahead. We need to question and rethink the power structures that have allowed men to act with impunity. We need to pay attention to ensuring the safety of people in lower-profile, lower-paying fields. And by God, we need to cut off men’s access to bathrobes.
Perhaps it’s gender-essentialist to argue that all men should be denied the fluffy comforts of bathrobes based on just a few men’s bad behavior. But in a world where Mike Pence refuses to meet with women alone and pundits have suggested that everyone should follow suit, I feel OK about saying the following: Men, it’s time to grow up and put on your big-boy pants, because your bathrobe days are over.
Post-Weinstein, reading allegations of abuse has become part of a horrifying routine all media consumers share; one starts to develop a sense of each alleged abuser’s arsenal of tricks, some of which overlap with or echo other abusers’ tricks. It’s a sick game of Clue where instead of candlesticks and lead pipes, we’ve got masturbation into potted plants and forced kisses. Or a game of bingo where your prize for spotting the telltale accessories is … the sinking feeling that workplaces have let this go on unchecked for years. There are many reasons for that, and bathrobes surely are not the primary thing keeping bad men in power. But I do think that if we pull the robes out of the Jenga tower that is the patriarchy, it will be ever so slightly more likely to topple.
Let’s examine the role men in bathrobes have played in some of the recent revelations. On Monday, the Washington Post reported on eight women’s accounts of being sexually harassed by Charlie Rose. The TV host’s M.O. involved showing off his Long Island home and that old hand-on-the-thigh maneuver: palming his female employee’s legs while they were riding next to him in cars. But it doesn’t take any special knowledge of terry cloth thread count to spot that other reliable standby in the harasser’s playbook that appeared in the Washington Post report: a bathrobe. One night, Rose allegedly invited a female job candidate to his house and gave her a tour of the property:
At the pool, Rose dangled his legs in the water and then said that he needed to change because his pant legs were wet. He returned wearing a white bathrobe, which was open; he wore nothing underneath.
Harvey Weinstein, the man whose alleged abuses kicked off this current moment, was also known to favor a bathrobe, which came up repeatedly in the New York Times and New Yorker’s reporting on his victim’s stories. One appears in the lead of the very first Times story:
Two decades ago, the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, she recalled in an interview.
The robe also makes appearances in subsequent reports about Weinstein: He reportedly was wearing one when he asked Rosanne Arquette for a massage and with at least one other accuser. Yet another man who loved robes was of course the late Hugh Hefner, who, in the words of my colleague Christina Cauterucci, “earned millions off the bodies of the women in Playboy while spinning it as a win for sexual liberation.” And he accomplished all that while wearing a robe—even on TV.
One wonders, was it the same robe that Weinstein carted from hotel suite to hotel suite, like an athlete’s good luck charm, except for abuse? Did Charlie Rose have the same one? Did they both come from a mail-order catalog for dirty old men along with instructions for use that laid out some tried-and-true harassing tips? Or could any robe be an accessory to lechery?
We don’t yet know, so until we’ve worked out this current crisis—as our president might say, until we know what the hell is going on—the safest thing to do is to bar men from wearing the kind of loose clothing where only a flimsy sash stands in the way of their genitals flapping around for all to see and be traumatized by. They simply can’t be trusted, and if the result is that they’re less cozy and secure, then so be it. Sorry, dudes, you have lost the privilege to put on a soft, snuggly transitionary item of clothing after bathing. Now, you must towel off and get fully dressed, even if it means getting your clothes a little damp because you aren’t fully dry. Boo freakin’ hoo. Protesting will not earn you back your robe privileges, but may, in fact, bump you down to the apparel your mindset most deserves: a diaper.