It’s getting more difficult to discuss sexual misconduct allegations, perhaps because we’ve not addressed the important question Ruth Marcus ask in her column today:
The national debate over sexual harassment and sexual assault has reached an important and precarious moment as it shifts from what behavior is acceptable to what punishment is warranted. Having under-reacted for too long, are we now at risk of overreacting?
She has made a salient point. Is James A. disqualified from advancement because he patted a female fanny in times gone by? Is David B. disqualified from elected office because he has a documented history of advances on underage girls? Must Kevin C. resign because three women accuse him of improper behavior in the office? Must William D. resign because he settled one or more allegations of improper behavior out of court with non-disclosure agreements attached?
In short, the more women share their stories, the more complex the situation becomes because every situation is as different as the individuals and situation involved. Each of us is going to have to establish a framework for judgments, and there are some areas in which we should be in general agreement.
No one wants to be humiliated, objectified, and victimized. If someone’s behavior has that effect on someone else, then it’s bad. Period. Now, comes the hard part — how bad?
There’s Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, and Donald Trump level bad. Multiple women have leveled multiple credible allegations of sexual misconduct, some of which fall into the illegal activity category, against these men. And, now, as Washington Post columnist Marcus suggests, how do we evaluate other, less serious charges?
Do we toss all the pigs to the wolves? Must every Congressman, Senator, or Staffer resign at the first instance in which an allegation is offered? Does every producer, reporter, business executive have to pack up the office after being charged in the court of public opinion? The One Size Fits All response certainly appears to simplify the problem but in fact may serve to make the overall situation more complicated.
No one should argue that a woman must feel any form of discomfort about coming forward to complain about crude behavior. Period. However, What does she do in a Zero Tolerance workplace about the co-worker at the office party who’s had at least one too many from the open bar and did something for which he apologized profusely the next morning? Does it depend on “what he did?” On what he said afterwards? On how credible she finds his apology?
Perhaps one way to consider the problem is to operate from the premise: Believe the Women. If she’s not satisfied, I’m probably not either. If she is satisfied with the resulting actions, I’m probably OK with the solution. I do reserve a modicum of skepticism for those whose allegations appear specious or whose persistence is all out of proportion to the available facts. (I’m thinking here of a woman whose allegations were once dismissed by Ken Starr.)
I do advocate for a woman’s right to choose when to report instances of sexual harassment or misconduct. It should be HER call. Questions of assault, rape, and abuse are in another category in my estimation — these are legal issues in which the standards of the legal system should apply. Meanwhile….
What do we do with garden variety creeps? The fellows who don’t make physical contact but who can clear the room simply by being in it. What do we do with the man who only refers applications from men to HR for follow up interviews? What do we think of men who are perfectly comfortable with the belief that men should earn more than women for the same job because he’s supposed to be “bringing home the bacon?”
There’s one solution I think will work to mitigate the problems — hire more women, select more women, elect more women. Then I await the day when some fellow in the interview waiting room worries that his suit may make him look fatter….