Among us, it seems, lives a class of men who call to mind Caligula and Elagabalus not only in their depravity, but in their grotesque sense of impunity. Our debauched emperors, whether enthroned in Hollywood, media front offices, or the halls of Congress, truly imagined their victims had no choice but to shut up, take it, and stay silent forever.
But speak I must. It now takes only one accusation to destroy a man’s life. Just one for him to be tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion, overnight costing him his livelihood and social respectability. We are on a frenzied extrajudicial warlock hunt that does not pause to parse the difference between rape and stupidity. The punishment for sexual harassment is so grave that clearly this crime—like any other serious crime—requires an unambiguous definition. We have nothing of the sort.
I think this is accurate. We've reached a point where the mere accusation of impropriety, whether real or imagined, is satis faciam to eviscerate a man's job, societal value, and ruin his life. We see this in many different facets of society, from Hollywood actors to politicians, and we've found them guilty based on mere accusations.
In recent weeks, one after another prominent voice, many of them political voices, have been silenced by sexual harassment charges. Not one of these cases has yet been adjudicated in a court of law. Leon Wiesenthal, David Corn, Mark Halperin, Michael Oreskes, Al Franken, Ken Baker, Rick Najera, Andy Signore, Jeff Hoover, Matt Lauer, even Garrison Keillor—all have received the professional death sentence. Some of the charges sound deadly serious. But others—as reported anyway—make no sense. I can’t say whether the charges against these men are true; I wasn’t under the bed. But even if true, some have been accused of offenses that aren’t offensive, or offenses that are only mildly so—and do not warrant total professional and personal destruction.
Make no mistake, I'll gladly stand beside any woman who was sexually assaulted or harassed and call out the vile scum that did it, be that scum a man or another woman (and yes, that does happen). But I, for one, am getting a bit frustrated with the degree to which we're now defining "sexual assault". Complimenting a woman on her appearance should not be considered sexual assault. Holding the door for a woman is not insulting her ability to open a door on her own. Not everything a man does should be considered inappropriate just because the woman feels it is.
I could destroy them all—just by naming names and truthfully describing a flirtation or moment of impropriety. All of the interchanges I’m replaying in my mind would meet the highly elastic contemporary definition of “harassment,” a category vague enough to compass all the typical flirtation that brings joy and amusement to so many of our lives, all the vulgar humor that says, “We’re among friends, we may speak frankly.” It becomes harassment only by virtue of three words: “I felt demeaned.”(Again, emphasis mine.)
That's a pretty significant point. Doesn't matter if the woman involved participated in the bawdy humor or acts, doesn't matter if she didn't say "Please stop talking to me in this manner", doesn't matter if she didn't say anything then. As long as she FELT demeaned, that's sufficient to destroy the man in question. And I don't think that's the sort of place we want to go. It leads to a society where men will simply avoid any and all interaction with women, for fear of anything they say or do being interpreted wrongly, thus ruining their career.
Further, it makes me wonder: Given the loose definition that we've now come up with for harassment, what business owner would want to take the risk of hiring women, knowing that in 10 years, that woman could point back to an event that happened in her 6th month of employment, and claim harassment? Certainly, not hiring women would be a detriment to your business -- women bring different and worthy input to any company's culture, of course -- but which would be worse: Losing that female input, or dealing with the fallout of a harassment or sexual misconduct charge (real or imagined)?
We now have, in effect, a crime that comes with a swift and draconian penalty, but no proper definition. It seems to be “sexual behavior” or “behavior that might be sexual,” committed through word, deed, or even facial expression; followed by a negative description of the woman’s emotions. Obviously this is inadequate. Human beings, male and female, are subject to human failings, including the tendency to lie, to be vengeful, to abuse power, or simply to misunderstand one another. It is hard to define sexual harassment precisely, because all of these human frailties are often involved. But we must nonetheless reason out together a definition that makes sense. Mass hysteria and making demons of men will get us nowhere we should want to go.
I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing. MUCH more at the link.
Good food for thought.