Politics Aside, Sexual Harassment is Unacceptable

Like many, I have been troubled by the eruption of the political scandal in Virginia, made public by revelations of racist behavior by the state’s governor and attorney general, and of sexist behavior by the lieutenant governor.

While it appears that the revelations were politically driven, the fact remains that what we learned was troubling. To be honest, I leaned toward wanting the public to give Gov. Ralph Northam a pass. White folks have put on blackface ever since I can recall and have kept live their association with the Ku Klux Klan, though they’ve wanted to keep it a secret. The picture in the yearbook was taken over 30 years ago and to be honest, as this government has given so many accusations of egregious behavior a pass, I shrugged it off. From all reports, Gov. Northam has been an exemplary person and has worked for racial justice.

I was glad that he at first admitted that it was him in the picture we all saw. He apologized and I was done with it. But then he changed his story and I also paid more attention to the “when” of the story. I had originally chalked his actions up to youthful foolishness – something of which we are all guilty – but this picture appeared in the governor’s medical school yearbook. Presumably, the governor and his friends were in their mid-20s, too old for such pranks. And I took issue with the fact that a medical school would even publish such offensive images. And so I changed my mind about chalking it up. And while I believe in the Christian mandate to forgive, I wonder what forgiveness looks like in this instance.

I am still wrestling with what I believe should happen. Something should happen, but I am not sure if I believe it is resignation.

That situation was enough to have to absorb, but then we were hit with the accusation of sexual impropriety toward a young woman by Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax. In this era of the #MeToo movement, this type of behavior perpetrated by powerful men has been revealed as being all too common. In spite of how some men have gotten a pass in light of accusations, as was the case with United States Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, many of the men who have been exposed as having been involved in this kind of behavior have lost their jobs, their reputations, and in some cases, their freedom.

I was clear, though sad to feel this way, that Fairfax should resign.

Why am I wrestling with the fate of a white man and resolute on my belief that the black man should resolve? It is partly because with the blackface accusation, I am convinced that many to most white men have a history of racist behavior. It is part of our culture, and I am convinced that many who engaged in such behavior did as they did because of peer pressure. To not join the crowd would set them up to be ostracized from their friends and kids do not handle separation from their friends easily. Even though Northam was older when he allegedly engaged in the prank that was caught on film, it is quite possible he was just trying to “fit in,” and if the Christian mandate to forgive is genuine, we must forgive, not hard to do in light of Northam’s public record of service. Where I shudder is the idea that a medical school, preparing people to take care of all kinds of people, blacks included, would sanction and publish the picture. I would not want to be treated by any doctors from that institution.

But in the case of Fairfax, as much as I want to defend him, I cannot, because sexual aggression toward women has for too long been sanctioned and accepted. Powerful men have for decades abused their power by using sex to intimidate and manipulate women. Their sexist behavior has caused far too many women too much pain, a pain which has been exacerbated by a general tendency in society to disregard the women’s claims of sexual assault. Men have had no reason to curb their impetuous sexual behavior and have taken advantage of the same.

If Fairfax did what he has been accused of, who is to say he would not do it again? In all honesty, there are women who are willing to compromise their bodies and their values for the opportunity to connect with a powerful man, and the men know it. The only way to get men to understand that having male genitals does not give them a pass to do whatever they want is for enough of them to have to face the music and lose something that is important to them. The sex drive is powerful, but it has to be controlled.

I am still offended that Brett Kavanaugh got off and was put onto the US Supreme Court in spite of Christine Blasey Ford’s compelling testimony. Worse, I am still offended that Clarence Thomas was likewise elevated to the nation’s high court in spite of Anita Hill’s accusations against him. Men have for too long gotten away with being sexually arrogant, reckless and impulsive. They have not had to pay the price for damaging so many women (and children as well, both male and female). We have to deal with racism and have always had to; it is systemic and cannot disappear because we want it to. We have to stay on the battlefield and fight against all the ways in which it impacts people of color.

But sexual recklessness, carried out by men, some powerful, some not, needs to be stopped. Men are too willing to give themselves a pass on what they do with their bodies, while they have a little too much to say and opine about what women can and should do with theirs.

As my son would say to his sister when they were little and she was trying to boss him around, “You’re not the boss of me!” so too, we as women, have to be consistent and say to men who disrespect us, “you are not the boss of us!”

A candid observation …

Not Sorry for Sandusky

Main entrance of Old Main, at Penn State Unive...
Main entrance of Old Main, at Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jerry Sandusky is on suicide watch, and I find that I am just not feeling sorry for him.

In fact, I am angry at him, and I find that I am angry at Penn State, for apparently being quiet about Sandusky’s alleged sexual activities with young boys. I find that I am as angry at Penn State as I have been at the Roman Catholic Church‘s hierarchy for protecting priests accused of sexually violating children, primarily young boys.

I suppose Penn State’s hierarchy kept quiet because they wanted to protect their beloved football program. I love football; I love Penn State’s team, and I loved Joe Paterno…but football should never have been more important than protecting children.

The whole issue of sexual crimes, and what institutions do when such charges come to the surface, is a critical one. Institutions, it seems, are more interested in protecting their institutions than they are in protecting victims of sex crimes, and because of that, are prone to keep silent when the possibility of such a crime has occurred within their walls.

Talking with a friend of mine this weekend, I learned that sex crimes, or sexual impropriety are really common in churches. The tendency, my friend said, is for churches to keep silent. It is the worse thing a church could do.

“What happens is when it comes out that there’s been a problem with a sexual predator and one child, there usually are more children involved,” she said. “It blows up. Churches have destroyed by instances of sexual violations of children.”

What bothers me most in the Sandusky case is that Sandusky didn’t “look” like a bad guy, certainly not a guy who could or would violate children. He looked like he could be anyone’s grandfather…and he had an organization he founded to help kids at risk!  To have violated their trust makes me sad and sick, but Penn State’s “looking the other way” bothers me, too.

In the conversation I had with the same friend this weekend, I wondered out loud if people who commit sexual crimes are sick, or are they evil? Or…are some sicknesses in fact evil?

Neither one of us had an answer for that question, but I asked because maybe there needs to be research, if sexual impropriety is a sickness, on how to treat it early on so that people will not grow into sexual predators. Sick children grow into sick adults …

I don’t know that there is a treatment for evil. I am not even sure if I am clear on what evil is. So many behaviors could fit into that category.

If Sandusky is sick, I am sorry nobody ever pegged it, but I just cannot feel sorry for him. No, I don’t want him to commit suicide, but the fact that he is despondent is not moving me. I keep thinking of all those boys whose lives were forever altered by what he is accused of doing…

And as far as Penn State goes, if they knew and were silent about it, they should have to answer for it in such a way that nobody ever does anything like Sandusky supposedly did and think he or she will get away with it. If their silence was driven by a desire to protect their football program, maybe they ought to be made to sit out a couple of seasons, and get a good policy in place on what the university will do should such a situation ever develop again.

I read that the investigation against Sandusky is not yet complete, that there could be other charges against him. I’m not surprised. After all, he doesn’t look like a bad guy; he looks like he could be anybody’s grandfather.

That’s part of what makes him and other predators so dangerous. They fit in…they don’t stand out.

A candid observation

Good Ol’ Boys Clubs, Challenged

Herman Cain reacted angrily yesterday to the candid disclosure of an encounter he allegedly had with one Sharon Bialek some years ago.

Flanked by her attorney, Gloria Allred, Bialek shared the details of an encounter with a powerful man that to many women, probably sounded quite familiar.

If you missed it, she said she had heard Herman Cain speak at an event; she and he sat next to each other during the dinner portion of that event, and she was impressed with his presence and message. When she lost her job at the National Restaurant Association a short time later, her then-boyfriend suggested she meet with Mr. Cain, who was the president of the NRA at that time.

She said she called Mr. Cain and asked if they could meet, and when he said yes, her boyfriend made a reservation for her at a Washington hotel, the location of the NRA. When she got to the hotel, she found that her room was an extravagant suite, not a “normal” room at all. She said she thought her boyfriend had gotten the room to surprise her. Later that evening, she went to dinner with Mr. Cain, and explained her need for a job and how she wondered if he could help her.

It was after dinner that Ms. Bialek alleges that Mr. Cain put his hand on her leg and moved it toward her genitals, and took her hand and moved it toward his crotch.  Some time in the course of the evening, Mr. Cain had told her it was he who had upgraded her room (he asked her how she liked it). Ms. Bialek said she was surprised that he had done that, but even more surprised when he allegedly touched her in the car.

He stopped immediately, she says, when she protested, but the incident bothered her. Somewhere in the midst of all this, in the midst of her surprise, she asked him why he would do such a thing, and she says he said, “You want a job, don’t you?” She told her boyfriend about it, and one other person, but did not press charges of sexual harassment. Part of the reason was that she was embarrassed, part of the reason is that she wanted to protect her relationship with her boyfriend, and part of the reason was that she was unemployed at the time. The law is concerned with sexual harassment in the workplace.

Herman Cain has come out swinging, after a week of saying he will not discuss the “false allegations” that are being made about him, but as I listened to Ms. Bialek, I thought two things: 1) she has got to be telling the truth because she knows she will be attacked from every direction, and 2) what she described is so much a common story of women in the workplace.

The “good ol’ boys” have gotten away with a lot over the years, and few people have challenged them.  More than once, I have had women tell me of similar encounters they have had with men on their jobs, and they have said nothing because they’ve been threatened. “Tell someone and I’ll get you fired,” I had a couple of women share with me.

Some of the women who have faced this have been high-powered women, on the rise, wanting their ascent not to stop, and others have been in far less glamorous situations.  In addition to wanting to save their jobs, the women have been afraid to have their whole sexual history smeared all over the public arena.

Because of their fear, many women have kept their mouths shut, much like many rape victims have done. I have talked with women who have been sexually abused by family members, but stayed quiet because they were threatened, as well as women who have been sexually harassed in their places of work.

Too few women have stepped forward, and so the good ol’ boys clubs have gone on virtually untouched.

Interestingly, the sex scandal at Penn State is blowing up at the same time the Herman Cain situation is getting bigger and bigger. There again, it at least appears that the “boys” of the good ol’ boys clubs have taken care of each other. Why in the world would none of those high ranking college officials go to the police so that the alleged sexual abuse of young boys could have been stopped?

It’s the same mentality. Good ol’ boys sticking together. We saw it in the scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church; the priests protected each other. We’ve seen it in the workplace, in churches, everywhere.

Sharon Bialek is a brave one for coming forward. She urged other women to do the same. The only way the tight grip the good ol’ boys have on so much of society, in so many ways, can be broken up is for it to be challenged and exposed.  The good ol’ boys have kept a tight rein on what goes on and what is prohibited in this society and indeed, in the world. They have made it difficult for women, for minorities, for anyone, really, to move as easily in this society as do they. So many in our society are afraid to challenge them, but challenge them we must.

Hopefully, Bialek’s experiences will be able to pass the truth test, and hopefully, Bialek herself will be able to handle the onslaught of criticism and disparaging remarks that are sure to come her way. Rush Limbaugh has already started, and there will be more. Ms. Bialek pleaded with Mr. Cain to be honest with what he has done, and “then move on.” She came not as a disgruntled Liberal, but as a proud Republican.

This isn’t about politics for her. It’s about the character of a man who would be president.

How much better it would have been if Mr. Cain had, from the outset, owned up to the fact that he had been accused of sexual harassment, and that he was sorry for any pain he might have caused. That would have been honorable. Everyone makes mistakes, yes?

But to react as he has, and come out fighting as he is, makes me wonder if he has too much pride to own up to his mistakes.

The good ol’ boys clubs have run roughshod over so many people for so many years. It’s high time that they are challenged with a fury and intensity the likes of which we have not seen before.

That is a candid observation.