Return of the Harper Valley PTA

In 1968, county singer Jeannie C. Riley became the first woman to top both the Billboard Hot 100 and U.S. Hot Country Singles chart with her recording of a song, written by Tom T. Hall, titled “Harper Valley PTA.”

The song tells the story of a widowed wife, who is the mother of a junior high school girl. The girl brings home a note from the school “PTA,” complaining that the mother is setting a bad example by wearing short dresses and “running around” with men.

The mother decides to attend the PTA meeting that very night. At the meeting, she exposes the misbehavior of members of the PTA, concluding with the line “This is just a little Peyton Place and you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites.”

Fast forward 50 years.

At the recent Golden Globes award program, many men and women within the entertainment industry “power elite” dressed in black, protesting the culture of silence which surrounds sexual harassment in their industry.

As media pundits have now pointed out, many of those same stars and studio executives are the ones who created the culture of silence, in the first place. Those who gathered in designer gowns and tuxedos to demand a solution are probably a large part of the problem.

In his 2014 book titled “Not Cool”, author Greg Gutfeld called out entertainment industry “cool people,” who preach compassion, but rarely practice it.

“Even as the cool put out ads condemning bullying, they spend the rest of their time turning persecution into an art form. The cool are just bullies with stylists and publicists,” he wrote.

I have spent much of my career in court rooms.

As an Assistant District Attorney, I begged witnesses to testify truthfully about the activities of known criminals.

As a civil attorney, I subpoena reluctant witnesses to appear in court and tell the truth. Some are very cooperative, while others attempt to avoid the courthouse, at all costs.

We should applaud anyone who works to stamp out bullying, in any form.

My service on a local school board taught me that bullying among young people is more than merely hurtful, it can be devastating.

Bullying among adults is no better. It is a real problem, and it requires real solutions. While I am certainly no expert, I have a few thoughts.

First, we all need to be honest with one another. Silently accepting bad conduct breeds more of the same.

When a friend or coworker exhibits bullying behavior, we should politely tell them so, and encourage them to stop. Some may be offended. Most will appreciate the “heads up,” especially if it is done with a good natured suggestion that we are trying to save them from potential embarrassment and sanctions.

Second, we need to speak up to those who are responsible to fix the problem.

There is more to the job of Human Relations than entrance interviews. A savvy HR Director knows how to pull someone aside privately, and explain that their behavior may cause problems. Most folks in positions of authority are not stupid, and most of them would prefer to adjust their conduct, rather than lose their position.

Finally, when all else fails, we need to be willing to walk into a courtroom, and testify truthfully about what we saw, what we heard, and what we know to be true.

A handful of Hollywood stars dressed in custom made outfits will not stop sexual harassment, or other forms of bullying. The answer is for all of us to call out the offenders, to speak up to others, and to tell the truth.

It takes real strength of character to tell someone what they do not want to hear, or to testify in court about their bad actions. While it may be very uncomfortable, it is far better than allowing their conduct to continue, and more victims to suffer.

Carlucci is a local attorney.

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