The Economist Presents Absurd Theory on Rising Sexual Harassment Claims
4:59 pm, November 14th | by Amy Tennery
In the midst of ongoing allegations against presidential candidate Herman Cain, it was inevitable that the issue of sexual harassment would once again become the de rigueur issue in the press.
High-profile cases like Cain’s are nearly as regular as the tides, occurring every handful of years, working us all into a lather, and then exiting the zeitgeist as quickly as they came. We talk about what a significant problem sexual harassment is; we wring our hands and then pat each other on the backs, assuring each other that the boogeyman isn’t as bad as we thought it was, that surely there’s some innocuous reason why workplace intimidation seems worse than ever.
Which is exactly what The Economist did today in a limply worded item on the topic entitled “Nasty, but Rarer.” Subtitle, “Still a live issue in the workplace.” (No s—, really?)
It contains the obligatory “Herman Cain maybe did a bad thing so now we all have to talk about it” framework, before diving into a hair-tearing assessment of sexual harassment in America today. One expert they tap is employment attorney Richard Simmons, who says of the Cain accusers “the fact that there has been a settlement does not by itself tell you there was any truth to the allegations.” Yes, it is true that there are people who make up stories for personal gain. But why even go there? Such obvious factual statements are a coded, back-handed undermining of those who have legitimate claims.
The real gold from the piece, however, is this passage:
Mr. Simmons thinks sexual harassment is much less widespread in the American workplace than it was in the 1990s. The number of harassment cases tracked yet the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has risen, but this is probably because victims are more likely to report it.
Oh, sure. Because risking your job, career and livelihood in order to call out your boss for harassing you is a total breeze. That’s the reason we hear about it so often today, right?
Yes, there are a number of factors that could lead to a rise is sexual harassment claims. But to completely discount all others — including that teeny sliver of a possibility that, oh, just maybe sexual harassment claims are on the rise because sexual harassment is on the rise — is absurd.
Driving home the post’s total apathy on the issue, the author notes that “American business is far from perfect,” as though it’s one of those flaws we all have, like forgetting to floss. Two decades after Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of harassment, the vast majority of sexual harassment victims still don’t file complaints, according to data reported by the Christian Science Monitor — but, hey, who’s perfect, amiright?
As though this ham-handed approach to the subject weren’t bad enough, the piece is accompanied by a stock photo of a female worker getting a neck massage from a leery-eyed man. The caption? “A bad day at the office,” a descriptor that would be outrageously insulting to anyone who’s experienced workplace harassment. That’s not a “bad day” — that’s victimizing. And dressing it up or throwing as many caveats in the air as you want isn’t going to make it go away.