How to Fix America's Still-Existing Sexism Dynamic

This Nov. 11, 2014, photo shows entertainer and Navy veteran Bill Cosby speaking during a Veterans Day ceremony, at the The All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors in Philadelphia.Matt Rourke/AP Photo
This Nov. 11, 2014, photo shows entertainer and Navy veteran Bill Cosby speaking during a Veterans Day ceremony, at the The All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors in Philadelphia. Cosby's upcoming appearance on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" has been canceled amid a growing uproar over allegations that he sexually assaulted several women in past decades. Cosby representative David Brokaw confirmed Friday that Cosby would not appear as previously scheduled next Wednesday. He did not say why.

For how far men and women have come through the years, we are still a culture where many are trapped in old models and ways. The tragic circumstances surrounding cultural icon Bill Cosby and those who have come forward to accuse Cosby of sexual abuse puts such a highlight on the sexism dynamic which still is rooted in our culture.

Taken together with the Cosby revelations, the domestic abuse rampant in sports, most notably in the NFL, Hollywood's still myopic view of men and women, the actions of fraternities on college campuses across our country (the University of Virginia being the latest example), and the abuses we have seen revealed in the military, all point to a broader societal issue.

First, in all of these there has existed a male-dominated and paternalistic system. Women for years were only given a seat at "the table" for symbolic reasons or if they bought into the system. They had to be the right women, saying the right things, behaving in the right ways. And the group of men were encouraged to show their "manhood" in very strict ways. Nice guys couldn't make it, toughness was rewarded, and each was supposed to cover for the other. Kindness and respect to women was seen as a weakness, not only by other men, but by women themselves. So many women say they want a good man, but constantly talk about the attractiveness of the bad boy. And this perpetuates the cycle.

Second, if men were powerful enough with either fame or fortune or rank in the hierarchy, they were give a pass by so many in the system. They are given a pass by other men who might want themselves to behave properly but look the other way. And the victims, mostly women, feel powerless to confront the abuses. They either aren't believed at all and are dismissed if they raise their voices, or they self censor, not wanting to be the victims of even more abuse or discrimination. So many spouses in this cycle are complicit in this dance with abusive, yet powerful and popular men. Sexual predators who have held great power in our world have gotten a pass by not only the culture, but the partners they are in relationships with.

Third, whenever a powerful man is accused or caught when women finally get the nerve to stand up and confront the immoral or illegal behavior, male bulldog lawyers and publicists systematically push back with everything they have, whether it is through explicit or implicit threats, or through impugning the very woman who is a victim in all of this. We shouldn't celebrate these "handlers" as effective, but castigate them as much as the abuser themselves. The abuse of women in this culture only starts with the act itself, but is exacerbated in the actions of the handlers.

Fourth, nearly all these institutions mentioned above in many ways claim to advance the equality and protection of women, but the tales told by so many victims tell a whole different story. And when these institutions have actually done anything to protect women, it is almost always in the aftermath of a public relations problem where they know their continued protection of the perpetrator is meeting with negative feedback by the public. The NFL didn't really do anything about Ray Rice (and others), Cosby didn't lose his television contracts, and the University didn't do anything about fraternity behavior until each was suffering a PR problem.

So what do we do?

We need to start by redefining what it means to be a real man or real woman in our society. We need to see that strength and kindness and respect go together. We need to see that attractiveness and sexiness starts first on the inside of how we treat others and the deep values we hold. We need to see that protecting the vulnerable goes together with being vulnerable. That men and women can each be warriors with also showing their weaknesses. We need men to police other men on this. And we need women to police other women as well. And we need these conversations to be openly communicated between the sexes. It isn't about having one conversation in the locker room, another in the living room, and a third in bars across America. It is seeing that we each must learn from the other. Integrity is really saying and doing and thinking the same thing no matter where we are or who we are with.

In addition, in politics we need to get past the point where someone votes against a candidate because of their sex or votes for them because of their sex no matter who benefits. The tired language of breaking through the glass ceiling or getting more people a seat at the table needs to end. We need to get rid of the building the glass ceiling was in and throw out the old table. If we are constantly arguing about a seat at the broken cultural table, then we can't create a new way to relate to each other and treat one another. Our institutions are corrupted, and we need new ones with new language and a new model for all of us to sit in to create a different way.

As we look forward to the 2016 presidential race, I hope we can begin to look at candidates for who they are, what they will do, how they might bring a new way to politics, how they might bring us together as a country, and who is best to lead us in the 21st century journey to build new institutions across this great land. I hope we don't vote for or against that candidate just because their race, their party, their religion, their sexual persuasion, or if they are a man or a woman.

If Hillary Clinton is that candidate for me, then I will vote for her. But if she is not that candidate for me or others, I hope we won't be criticized for being anti-woman. That is the kind of dynamic that keeps us in the pattern of the old. And at this time of Thanksgiving as we come together for our gatherings, maybe it is time we moved on to a new table where everyone is welcome and no one has designated seats.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd, Founder of ListenTo.Us, is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.