Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Know It When I See It

(I want to preface this post with the disclaimer that, while I'm desperate for women to have the legal rights and the social freedom to do whatever they want, I'm not generally a rabid feminist.  I mean, yesterday's post espoused cooking pot pie for your man to make him happy, so I think we can all agree that my stance on sexual equality is, at best, confused.)

You all know, dear readers, that I'm a Democrat; this blog doesn't try to hide my liberal leanings.  Just in case you were still wondering, though, I took a very thorough test to determine where on the social and economic spectrum I might fall in comparison to some contemporary world leaders.  To be honest, I expect to be placed much closer to the center though still in the same quadrant, but apparently I actually overlap almost exactly with the Dalai Lama.  (In order to put myself on the chart I had to cover up his dot to make room for my star - oops.)

I also will admit that I've sort of gone to town in mocking this current crop of Presidential hopefuls from the Republican party.  My intention has been to poke fun gently rather than maliciously and I hope I've been successful because I don't want to insult or alienate anyone.  However, the latest story to come out of the nominating race has offended and outraged me so deeply that I feel compelled to take up my pen.

Herman Cain has been dodging accusations of sexual harassment for the past few weeks from several women who worked for him while he led the National Restaurant Association; he has consistently denied having engaged in any inappropriate behavior and, though his poll numbers have slipped in part as a result of these allegations, he is still one of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination.  The possibility that these stories are true has not dampened his supporters' faith in him.

However, earlier this week a woman named Ginger White claimed to have had an extramarital affair with Cain that lasted for thirteen years.  He denies it, of course, saying that their relationship was purely platonic, but it is this latest scandal that is causing conservatives to question his suitability and is sending his supporters running for the hills:

The allegation is one that could upend his presidential campaign... I think this is the most damaging allegation that has been made to date.  No question about it.
- Former Governor Mike Huckabee

[The latest accusations] created doubt in people's minds whether or not another shoe will drop.
- Fox News host Sean Hannity 

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said the accusations raised urgent questions about his conservative convictions.
- The New York Times

I cannot grasp an ideology in which allegations of an extramarital affair are more damaging than those of sexual harassment.  I cannot comprehend a belief system in which adultery is worse than assault.   I cannot fathom a code of morality in which it is acceptable to force unwanted attention on a woman but unacceptable to cheat on your wife.  The above assessments from Huckabee, Hannity, and Bachmann might be rooted in a social contract or religious covenant with which I am not familiar, and I do acknowledge that everyone has his/her own opinions and I certainly don't expect us all to always agree.  But I simply cannot understand a philosophy in which the possibility of harassment pales in comparison to the possibility of an extramarital affair.

Beyond my disbelief that these views are not only held but are broadcasted by people in the public eye, I am concerned about the message that this sends to those who are in vulnerable positions and/or are susceptible to sexual harassment - which could be, if we're honest, many of us in one way or another.

A recent ABC/WashPost study revealed that a quarter of American women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace (compared to 1 in 10 men).  Only 36% of the women polled who had been harassed reported it to their employer; of those who didn't report, 31% said it was because it didn't seem important enough, 14% said it wouldn't do any good, and 18% were concerned about the consequences.  If we send the message that sexual harassment is not a big deal, it will become more prevalent while decreasing further the percentage of victims willing to accuse their harassers.

Look, I get that everyone has a different definition of sexual harassment, but as Justice Potter said of pornography, I know it when I see it.  Often these instances hinge on pre-established relationships and circumstances; many of my colleagues and I banter in a way that could be construed by an outsider as harassment but which is, to us, familiar and even comfortable.  But this should in no way detract from those cases in which women (and men) feel abused or taken advantage of by someone more powerful.  These situations must be taken seriously and followed through appropriately.

We live in a world where, as was discovered in a recent study by the American Association of University Women, 48% of American children in grades 7-12 experienced sexual harassment in the last school year; 56% of girls and 40% percent of boys surveyed said that they had been sexually harassed verbally, physically, or electronically.  Of those who said they had been sexually harassed, 9% reported it to someone in authority at school, 27% talked about it with a family member, and 23% discussed it with a friend, while half did not tell anyone about the harassment at all.  95% of those who identified as harassers had themselves been sexually harassed.

In light of all of these figures, it cannot be emphasized enough that sexual harassment exists and that it is unacceptable.  Leaders in every sphere of influence need to recognize that sexual harassment is a big deal - that it can hugely negatively affect the victims and that allegations must therefore be responded to appropriately.  If we sweep accusations of sexual harassment under the rug, we give our implicit consent for it to continue and even for it to become more casual and common.

I cannot believe that this needs to be enunciated, but if we must say this because it is not already accepted let us do so loud and clear so that even the powerful can hear and and understand that sexual harassment is wrong and that those who are guilty of sexually harassing others must face the consequences of their actions.


  1. Urgh I agree so much with this blog. It is excellent and they are disgraceful. I can't fathom the attitude whereby this alleged affair is 'worse' or more damaging in their eyes than alleged sexual abuse or assault.

    [*Sidebar*-What's a 'rabid feminist' though? To my mind, you either are of a mind whereby you believe in the equality of the sexes -politically, socially and economically- don't. Making nice food for your significant other isn't necessarily 'anti-feminist' imo.*end random sidebar*]

  2. Betsy ~
    I recently stumbled across your blog, & I must tell you what a joy it is to read!! You are such a bright woman, with so many interesting things to share :) You are living the life in England I am now realizing I wished I had done at your age!! BRAVO!! Can't wait to read & see more...& thanks so much for your candid honesty! Best ~
    From Across the Pond

  3. Some scary stats there. Thanks for the enlightening piece.

  4. Megan - that's a totally fair point. I guess I'd say that a "rabid feminist" belives in (amongst other things) hardcore affirmative action to make up for the centuries of oppression. One of the big pieces in the news in the UK at the moment along these lines is suggested quotas of women on corporate boards, which I don't agree with. I think that women should achieve high positions based on merit not based on gender!

    Thanks, anonymous! That's really lovely and encouraging to hear.

    Michelle, it is scary - it makes me really concerned about what I will be able (or not) to do to protect my future children from this sort of thing.

  5. I see what you mean, Betsy. I agree! Affirmative action/positive discrimination isn't a long term solution at all. (I think it's ok transitionally if there were no other way for women to get a foot in the door, especially if they are already held back by being from a poorer background.) Grassroots, organic change always take root better for the long term.

  6. Hmmm, maybe that is a default position or something because I remember taking that test and also thinking I'd be somewhere near the middle and also landing up right on top of the poor Dalai Lama!!

    American politics confuses me! I try to understand it and am slowly getting there but it is very confusing. The UK system is too. I miss South African politics with the good, the bad and the ugly.

  7. I think part of the problem is that for some people, a 13-year long affair sounds more plausible (and easier to find evidence of) than more isolated harassment incidents. Which is awful, because that means that the harassment victims don't appear credible, and they're the ones that have really suffered. But good for you for calling out the discrepancy in the public's reactions!

  8. 'I cannot this/I cannot that'. Is this the junior league debating society, Betsy? Laughable.

    As per usual, SOMEONE needs to inject a dose of hard-bitten reality into your Everything's-Coming-Up-Roses-And-Apple-Pie-But-I'm-Still-A-Deep-Thinker-And-Ain't-I-Getting-Grand-At-The-Ole-British-Sarkiness-Thing perspective. Happy to oblige!

    Had you been of age when Bill Clinton got serviced by Monica Lewinsky (but refused to reciprocate), and your bosom buddies the Parisians had a field day with him and the American reaction to the scandal, you would have quickly come to realize that your brand of shock and awe at the mockery which substitutes for US politics is a. mawkishly American, and b. utterly useless.

    Whether or not Doritos are on sale at Walmart that week, and/or a fresh American Idol episode is running, will have so much more to do with whether or not whichever Republican ne'er-do-well gets elected President than all of your hand-wringing. With each American election cycle this type of in-depth analysis à la your prep school debate team becomes more and more useless. Conversely, talking about the worldwide relevance of protesters has increasingly (and urgently) more of a point these days.

    But then, of course, really getting to grips with the Occupy movement (which would absolutely have a purpose) or George Osborne's economic strip-mining of Britain (more of a purpose, even) doesn't sit well with your polo crowd buddies or your shockingly Tory boyfriend (who reminds me once again to trust no one under thirty.) I mean, let them eat cake and all that, right?

    Knowing rather more than I would like about the subject, I perceive that quite a contradiction groweth between your picture-perfect idealized values and your reality as an American on The Last Visa In Britain. Such bloated indignancy and number-crunching and yet you and your lawyer blog buddy Karen have finally come to the realization that in order to remain in Britain you're both going to have to get married, ASAP. Pardon me while I pause a minute for my moment of schadenfreude. There now; it's passed.

    If neither of you Yank ladies had a British boyfriend who didn't turn tail in horror at the mention of the word 'marriage' (you see, Betsy, these days most men do behave that way), neither of you would have a snowball's chance in hell of remaining in the UK for the rest of your lives.

    Quite a contradiction, innit, between your meritocracy/independent woman fantasies and your reality? No husband = no visa. Let's rephrase, shall we? Husband = visa. Nothing meritocratic or feminist about that equation.

    Betsy, are you going to tell your readers about how loaded your husband has to be in order to sponsor you as his fiancée? How your very future hinges on his tadpole 'net worth'? Are you?

    Enough with the interminable I-offend-no-one pussy-footing. Tiresome and juvenile, that. Be up front and tell it like it is. Your readers aren't going to figure this stuff out on their own: they're too busy frantically towing your über-positiv bottom line, and unsurprisingly a great many of them are merely uninformed hangers-on.

    Give it ten to fifteen years, Betsy: there will yet come a day when your youthful indignancy starts giving way to resignation, and all that still-firm extra flesh you carry around as a result of an addiction to crème fraîche and lardons will start to jiggle, pillow and sag. Then you won't be young and deludedly 'in command' anymore: you'll be aging and limited by circumstance.

    Such is life. You're just not there yet.

  9. Rebecca, I'm very happy to engage in a debate with you about my views - political or otherwise - but there is absolutely no need to get nasty. Please let me suggest that, if reading my blog conjures up such jaded indignation and jealous outrage that you cannot help but write unnecessarily cruel comments, you stop visiting. I encourage you to email me personally if you feel that you must make these opinions known and I am more than willing to entertain your attacks on my character given that we have known each other for several years, but as you do not know the majority of my readers (and, I am certain, have never met Karen, who has done nothing to deserve your self-serving skewering) and as you clearly are less familiar with my boyfriend than you assume, I must insist that you refrain from insulting them publicly. Thank you.

  10. Amazed McGobsmackedOctober 29, 2012 at 7:42 PM

    Rebecca Rose Hirschfield, I sincerely hope that your mood is not always this vitriolically filthy. You are entitled to your opinion, of course. No-one is saying your aren't. What you are not entitled to, however, is making spiteful comments of a personal nature. Duh.

    If you don't like a blog, then you are under no obligation to read it. There's really no need to respond so venemously (and long-windedly, although I think I just made that word up), especially in such a public place.

    Seriously, calm down dear. Don't be so spiteful. You come across as an uptight psychotic harridan, rather like one of those rage-fuelled beasties in tales of old who zoom in on the nearest poor inoffensive bystander and blast him/her with fire or acid out of sheer bad temper.

    What an unpleasant person you must be. Perhaps you are so obnoxious because you're exhausted from the weight of those chips on your shoulders.

    1. Like I said, somebody needs to commit Rebecca ASAP. I'm trying to locate her mom and or brother. Perhaps if her mom cuts off her trust fund payments, she might get a job and a life.

  11. Rebecca Rose Hirschfield is a loony. I wish her mother or brother will just commit her already.


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