Herman Cain Got Us Talking About Sexual Harassment Again — And It Didn’t Do Any Good
10:48 am, December 7th | by Amy Tennery
Herman Cain’s campaign is over. But the sexual harassment allegations against him — and how we talk about these claims — remain. There are a few things that go without saying: it’s ridiculous that an alleged consensual affair (ostensibly) led to his downfall, when allegations of workplace harassment (again, seemingly) didn’t. And it’s more than a little curious that Newt Gingrich skated by, despite his own past marital transgressions, while Cain could not.
Sure, the sexual harassment allegations against Cain by his former employees brought the issue of workplace harassment against women back into the national dialogue — for better or for worse. But it also led to the resurgence of workplace harassment apologists. And, most staggeringly, there’s a huge number of women who have done the defending.
First, let’s address a few facts. Workplace sexual harassment is, as Washington Times columnist Myra Fleischer pointed out in a great piece today, a widespread problem. Roughly 11,000 sexual harassment complaints reached the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission in 2010, according to Fleischer (and countless more instances likely go unreported). And, for the record, yes, men are also frequently targeted — about 15 percent of those filings came from guys.
And yet, throughout these allegations, Cain found more than a few defenders — many of their arguments were of the dubious “but it it couldn’t possibly be; it just couldn’t” variety.
Some of the most alarming examples of this was the “Women for Cain” site, which, yes, I can agree was rather disingenuous. But what the women there wrote wasn’t. It was just scary.
Some of the women who posted there implied that the allegations were a kind of political attack:
While others seemed to believe that if workplace harassment didn’t happen to them, it didn’t exist:
And, at the time of its launch, the site’s leader, Alveda King, famously said “A woman knows a skirt-chaser and Herman Cain is no skirt-chaser.” Umm, how, exactly?
The phenomenon, of course, is nothing new. Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, explained to us that “so often when you have sexual harassment cases… the victim practically ends up being put on trial to prove what happened.”
Yes, I can accept that people lie — particularly when motivated by a political cause. But the default incredulity that some of these Cain accusers faced — and, well, lots of women probably face with regularity — is alarming. It’s what Gearhart described to us as “the classic case… that the victim is hung out to dry.”
So, yea, the Cain saga brought the issue of workplace harassment back into the spotlight. But with columnists who still wonder aloud whether “anyone… thinks sexual harassment is a real thing,” it didn’t seem to help much.