Here are some complaints we’ve seen in the press from women who have endured workplace harassment. One woman who worked as a fact checker at The New Republic asserted that editor Leon Wieseltier had “forced her to look at a photograph of a nude sculpture in an art book, asking if she had ever seen a more erotic picture. She wrote that she was shaken and afraid during the incident.” (NYT 10/25) The words “forced” and “afraid” make us wonder how old this person was and whether she had ever been on a subway during rush hour or at a campus fraternity party at any college in the United States. Gretchen Carlson, a Stanford graduate and former Miss America who successfully collected 20 million dollars in a settlement with Fox News over her harassment, recounted the time she got into a car with a public relations man with whom she had just had a meeting. He pushed her head into his crotch after which she immediately fled the car but confesses now that she suffers PTSD because of this incident. Obviously Gretchen didn’t spend much time with veterans during her reign as beauty queen or with battered women who were victims of torture and abuse.
Concomitant with such hyperbole is the magnification of the term “courage” to include women who pour their recovered memories of past harassment into hashtag/metoo. It takes little courage to join a group that offers unqualified approval for anything they say. At the beginning of the feminist movement in the sixties, young women were encouraged to speak out and not be intimidated by boys at school. Single-sex schools bragged that girls did better at science and math when boys were not around but the goal was for women to strengthen their own voices, assert themselves and enter the same careers that men traditionally owned. Although this goal has been enormously successful with more women becoming doctors, lawyers, professors, executives and politicians, the hesitance to defend oneself against improper behavior until years later still lingers. But the tendency to conflate someone’s boorish personality trait with a threatening sexual assault weakens the cause of strong and independent women. Having your boss show you a picture of something you’d rather not see is not a women’s issue - it’s a reality of the hierarchal structure of most workplaces and affects men as well as women. There is always a question of whether the benefits you get from a desirable job outweigh the negative aspects of working with certain people, many of whom have risen to their status by virtue of being aggressive, self-promoting personalities. This doesn’t argue for compliance with unwanted sexual demands; it suggests that there’s a world of difference between looking at a picture in an art book and being threatened physically or economically - for which we have existing prohibitive workplace regulations.
Actresses who endured Harvey Weinstein’s lewd behavior for years were unwilling to jeopardize their opportunities for advancement and success by challenging him in accordance with these regulations. In a profession which has many gay men, this is not solely a women’s issue either nor will regulations ever be able to counteract all aberrant behavior. We live in a society that has been inundated with readily available pornography and extremely heightened sexuality throughout advertising, the media and music and entertainment industries. Ironically, Harvey Weinstein was not one of the shlock-meisters who populate these fields but more accusations will keep coming now that confessionals are both in style and sufficient to ruin reputations. Let’s distinguish between the necessary ability to tolerate compromises in the workplace which often include moral and ethical issues as well as sexual remarks, with unrelenting harassment that cannot be handled without regulatory interference. The current climate of regurgitating grievances from years past re-inforces the image of women too weak to stand up for themselves at the appropriate time - hardly a role model for feminists.
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