As a men’s rights advocate this is the worst time I can remember regarding sexual harassment. No group gets more upset about sexual wrongdoing than we do, although well healed, power pushing; elitist feminists make the most noise. Not that we are more empathetic than others, but that such behavior is harmful to those impacted, including us and especially since all good men are being painted with a filthy brush laden with toxic misandry. Yet all I hear about is the same unconstructive aluminum chewing, take no responsibility for anything, victim propaganda, like some of your Washington Post column, “The Sexual Harassment Problem Has Been Diagnosed What’s the Cure?”
Monica, I think your article is characteristic of what I have read. Your article quotes a woman saying there will be a backlash about sexual harassment. This does not bode well for those willing to criticize the current orthodoxy. I stay undeterred.
Regarding sexual harassment, you note feminist Rebecca Traister saying there has been “some lamenting” about men losing their jobs. Traister asks what about the women who never got careers. In reality, concern for men losing their jobs, has received remarkably little attention. Clearly, we need to be open to hearing about the problems of both men and women.
Some years ago, in an alumni publication from the University of Maryland, a study by a social scientist found equal satisfaction among men and women in every area but one. Women had more satisfaction about their jobs. The researcher attributed it to women having greater flexibility in job choices than men. Andrew Clark’s Labor Economics journal article, Job satisfaction and gender: why are women so happy at work?, confirms that other workplace satisfaction studies agree. Moreover, evidence shows women are somewhat more likely to say they are engaged at their job than men are, as reported in the Atlantic Magazine article Women Are More Likely To Be Engaged in Their Jobs Than Men.
When I worked at the United Parcel Service, entry-level was unloading truck for men. When there was, a job opening workers moved up, generally to a much less strenuous job. However, at entry-level women got too chose of which of the two jobs to take. None of the women I worked with chose to unload trucks. Similarly, a man I knew who worked full-time at the Post Office told me about a task where the worker had to stand all day. The job was given only to men. I thought at the time, if someone grabbed their behind while they were standing they could charge harassment, but to this real hardship, they were unprotected.
Moving from one town to another I saw this same phenomenon. When I went to a car wash, guys washed cars in the horrifically hot summer sun while women did the inside jobs like cashiering. At diners, I usually saw men working the hot kitchens cooking and cleaning while women worked the counter and cash register. I know of one woman who drove a garbage truck but have never seen a woman outside the truck manhandling garbage or garbage cans. We often hear “be nicer to women” as in chivalry, which ironically satisfies the definition of sexual harassment.
Women deserve to be safe at work, no dispute. Nevertheless, men are far more likely to be killed or injured on the job. Where is the same level of concern for men? How does all this reflect on the ways sexual harassment should be treated? It does not at all. But, if we are going to ignore male issues why expect men to be concerned about problems about women. Nor should concern for women at work focus so much on sexual harassment. My experience is that overall women cause more trouble to women than men are. I think this is why women who have a preference, prefer to work with men.
Determining sexual harassment is difficult, even feminists contend that many women do not understand what it is. Regardless, it only seems to go one way. Women complaining about it while men suck it up.
Alexandra Petri in the Washington Post article How to Interact With Women so You Can Have Your , Office Party, lampooned about men trying to avoid sexual harassment at office parties. In the New York Times article, Men at Work Wonder if They Overstepped with Women Too, Nellie Bowles asserts women are the arbiters of acceptable behavior while men may be criticized for even asking about it. Bowles reported that one corporate director cancelled a holiday party because of the confusion and uncertainty about acceptable behavior between the sexes.
The NYT article noted that sexual harassment lawyer Johnathan Segal was perplexed at men who ask if hugging at work is okay. He explained that hugging an old friend of course is acceptable. He observed that those who cannot understand that “just shouldn’t be hugging”. Tell that to a man put on a year’s probation for hugging a female friend whose mother died. The woman was not upset by the hug, but a female bystander reported it as sexual harassment (Ceasefire!: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality, Cathy Young, Simon and Shuster, 1999, P181).
The key word is unwanted. Hence, sexual harassment is not necessarily a behavior but a reaction to the behavior, a perception or belief. Wanted touching may be foreplay, but the same touching unwanted may end up becoming sexual harassment or even sexual assault. Professor Laura Kipnis broached the subject after being attacked for defending charges against her. At a harassment seminar, she asked, “But how do you know they are unwanted until you try” (Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2015). Unsurprisingly, no one answered.
In the 1990’s there was a pivotal moment. Feminists, who were fine with an unwanted sexual glance, or a man posting a picture of his wife in his office constituting sexual harassment, found something even they found too inconsequential to rise to that level. That being the allegation that President Clinton while Governor of Arkansas, inviting a government employee Paula Jones to a hotel, taking down his pants and asked for oral sex. However, respected legal analyst Stuart Taylor noted that legally the claims against Clinton were more serious than those made by Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas, during his Supreme Court hearings. Taylor’s opinion became the consensus viewpoint of the mainstream press.
This created a conundrum for women’s advocates. The behaviors alleged against Thomas, were at the time if true, considered horrific. How then could the charges against Clinton be ignored? Feminist legal scholar Susan Estrich solved this dilemma. She explained that the real issue regarding Thomas was not sexual harassment, but whether Thomas deserved to be on the Supreme Court. This contradicted a legal scholar who described Anita Hill as a classic victim of sexual harassment. That person, Susan Estrich (ibid, Young 169).
Ellen Goodman, at the time probably the most influential and widely read feminist columnist in America, declared that Clinton’s actions against Jones if true, did not reach the level of sexual harassment (Why Paula Jones Must Wait to be Heard, Baltimore Sun, 1997). .At the time I read Goodman’s words, I figured she must be mistaken. After all, I had attended my own work sexual harassment training, and I followed stories in the news. If for instance, America’s most read magazine Parade, which on March 10 1994, suggested not to compliment women on their hair, how could the charges by Jones not be sexual harassment? Monica, based on your comments about flirting, I can only assume that you and other women are able to distinguish flirting from the harassment of unwanted hair evaluations. Goodman reiterated her point in It May Be Lurid but Not Illegal (St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), 1997). She quoted Judith Lictman of The Women’s Legal Defense Fund view on welcome versus “unwelcomed… [which] implies that people get one free pass”, meaning one unwanted sexual advance. If such a criterion were used today, almost all the behaviors by the men now considered sexual harassment would not meet that standard.
Gloria Steinem was probably the most important advocate of the one free pass concept. After all, the opinions of the most influential feminist in the most influential place the Sunday New York Times, has a lot of clout. Steinem argued that the charges by Jones if true, were not sexual harassment, nor were those of Clinton accuser Kathleen Willey, assuming they were legitimate, because Clinton took no for an answer (Law in the Clinton Era; a Feminist Dilemma, New York Times, 1998). Willey claimed that when she asked for a job, the President, held her tight, kissed her, touched her breast and forced her hand on his penis.
Goodman’s opinions proved to be prophetic. The charges against Clinton were judged not to reach the level of harassment. Rather than help bury the decision for the future, Goodman could not resist noting in a column following the Jones decision, that she was right after all (Paula Jones Gone But not Forgotten, Baltimore Sun, 1998).
People speculated that feminist’s support of Clinton was because of his viewpoints, for instance on the question of abortion. Think again. Vice President Gore had many of the same opinions. Regardless, after the last big national discussion on sexual harassment, men could infer that such behavior would not have legal consequences and women were given the message that they should put up with such actions. Regarding feminist’s behavior involving the Clinton charges, dissident feminist Marjorie Williams observed, “the social sanctions against the behavior (sexual behavior) will be irretrievably damaged.” Wrong, it just sets things back. Currently, celebrity sexual harassers disappear into the ether. With Clinton, the alleged behaviors were dismissed as inconsequential.
The President was later found to have lied under oath in the Jones hearing, meaning he lied in a sexual discrimination lawsuit. Even then, feminists did not seem interested. It looks like some are interested now, but only about Monica Lewinsky, and only about twenty years after their opinions would make any difference.
As a men’s rights advocate this is the worst time I can remember regarding sexual harassment. No group gets more upset about sexual wrongdoing than men’s activists do, although well healed, power pushing; elitist feminists make the most noise. Not that we are more empathetic than others, but that such behavior is harmful to those affected, including us and especially since all good men are being painted with a filthy brush laden with toxic misandry. Yet all I hear about is the same unconstructive aluminum chewing, take no responsibility for anything, victim propaganda, like some of your Washington Post column, “The Sexual Harassment Problem Has Been Diagnosed What’s the Cure?”
You wrote, “But as for what happens next, and how this all gets fixed? It’s hard, because we can’t repair the garbage disposal while it’s still spewing.” True, but first one has to get the garbage in the disposal, all of it. The discussion has to include women who sexually abuse, harass and make false allegations, regardless of how many of which of us do the most damage to the rest of us. Without an inclusive diagnosis, there can be no cure, solving of half the problem just doesn’t get it…
An Open Letter to Monica Hesse re Sexual Harassment
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