Now that Nancy and Michelle are here, the ladies outnumber the men in Árbol Squirrel. (We don’t really have a Casa.) I kept tabs on the campus even when I was on class war correspondent duty, and I read that members of Congress who have daughters are stronger on women’s issues than those who don’t. I think I was an enlightened squirrel before. I tried to steer Regis, formerly known as the baby, away from sexist video games and other such things and we never let him chitter disparagingly about female squirrels. We have since passed that task on to his guirrel friend, not that she’s had many reasons to complain. Regis usually gets it.
I’m not a member of Congress, but I do have daughters now. So I get even grumpier when I research 21st Century Political Nuttitude and come across a history and journalism professor writing that the media should Leave Herman Cain Alone Already. David Greenberg teaches at Rutgers University and wrote the piece for The Atlantic. It’s not quite a sequel to his piece last month about Sex and the Married Politician, but it’s close.
Dr. Greenberg’s argument, reduced to its essence, is this:
Indeed, as I tried to suggest in a longer historical piece for The Atlantic earlier this fall, our judgments as to what even constitutes sexual misbehavior have varied enormously over time, in accordance with ever-changing social norms. That fluctuation should induce some humility and restraint among pundits inclined to decree that a particular deed – whether harassment or adultery, divorce or homosexuality, or even sending lewd pictures over the Internet – presumptively disqualifies a politician from holding or seeking office.
Dr. Greenberg cites the usual rogue’s gallery of politicians who faced sexually-related scandals, and the widely-varying outcomes, as evidence that the media’s treatment of such scandals is a scandal all its own. While he defends Politico‘s original story exposing the allegations, he says that sparked a “feeding frenzy” that has “gotten wildly out of control.” It is time, he argues, “for the press to relent and let Republican primary voters decide whether they believe or care about these still-vague charges.”
So I included Dr. Greenberg’s name personally in this memo….
From: The BPI Squirrel
To: Men, including David Greenberg
Subject: Sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is not like adultery, divorce, homosexuality, or sending lewd pictures over the internet. With exceptions for conduct involving minors, society has come to see those other acts as private. Dr. Greenberg’s prior article makes a reasoned point that those other acts are private except for politicians. I could quibble that other very public figures – entertainers, athletes, etc. – face similar scrutiny. But I’ll grant that, absent some public misconduct, a politician’s adultery, divorce, homosexuality, or lewd internet practices should be as private as anyone else’s.
That’s exactly the point about sexual harassment. It is illegal and thus, by definition, “public misconduct.”
Sexual harassment is at minimum an obliviousness to power and privilege, and too often a calculated abuse of power and privilege. It says “You work for me, and your job description includes enduring my sophomoric jokes, suggestive comments, requests for dates, casual touches, and sometimes worse. You are not and will never be just another employee. You are a woman employee, and I won’t let you forget that.”
Men, that is what women experience when you treat the workplace like a single’s bar or a high school locker room.
Whether you intend that or not when you make a joke – or a pass – is irrelevant.
When women object to that, it’s not “greenmail.” They are asserting their legal right to a non-discriminatory workplace.
Stop complaining that “the rules are always changing” and “I don’t know what’s okay anymore.”
Stop pretending a trivial handful of examples are evidence that every accusation is false unless the woman has a videotape, witnesses, DNA, and a signed admission.
Pause to ask yourself: “How would I feel if some man did this to my daughter?”
The problem is not that women or the media need to “get over it.” The problem is that you need to:
Good day and good nuts.