Sexual Harassment Is Real

So, while news has been as flowing and ever-changing as the events in the world happen to make it, recently there were two stories that stuck around for a time and still have their effects affecting events today. These two stories deal with a subject that somehow can be both a subject of disregard and humor as well as a subject of immense disgust and near-horror.

That subject is sexual harassment, from its simplest, word-bound form to its extreme opposite, sexual assault.

As most should have heard at this point, GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain was revealed to have had several allegations of sexual harassment brought against him while he was president of the National Restaurant Association. Those allegations resulted in settlements, essentially hush-money. At least five women by my count came out against Cain saying he sexually harassed them to varying degrees, from offering sexual activities verbally to attempting physical contact.

The other story, one that perhaps brings about more nausea in the reader, is the one involving Penn State’s former football assistant coach and defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. As likely everyone has heard by now, Sandusky faces 40 charges due to accusations of his involvement sexually abusing eight young boys over 15 years. Mike McQueary testified to seeing Sandusky raping one of the children in the shower rooms.

As you may be able to guess, if you were in some sort of state of complete ignorance to the Penn State happenings, there was a massive public outcry when news broke over Sandusky. People have threatened Mike McQueary with death for his apparent inaction, former football head coach Joe Paterno and former Penn State President Graham Spanier were fired soon into the incident’s news cycle, and the general gut reaction was one of major disgust toward people involved in the scandal, particularly Sandusky.

Meanwhile, the reaction to Cain’s entry into the sexual shenanigans news cycle was… well, at worst a “tsk tsk,” at its lightest, laughter and joking.

Granted, humor in response to these situations is almost a necessary thing. It helps keep us from being stuck in a bad, negative area of thought. It helps keep us away from wanting to punch things and closer to a mental area that lets us stay calm and think rationally. So, thank goodness for “The Daily Show.”

That said, however… I found it odd and somewhat disturbing that several reactions I personally became aware of over the Cain story were simple dismissive jokes. Things like, “Is it okay to hug you? I don’t want to get charged with sexual harassment later in life!” Or, “I want to say you look pretty, but I’m afraid someone will tell me I’m harassing you!”

I’m trying to pinpoint the phenomenon in play here, and it’s quite difficult. With Sandusky, the mere suggestion of child rape makes people go into an apoplectic rage. Our children are a precious commodity, so long as we’re not trying to encourage healthier eating or anything. Child abuse in ANY form is frowned upon severely, as the outrage over the recent story of a Texan judge viciously beating his daughter showed (though discipline gets a little shady for some people). And while Newt Gingrich thinks child labor laws are “truly stupid,” the large majority of people in American society get very defensive when kids are involved. And if the situation involves both kids and sex? Thinks are about to get crazy.

Switch over to rape of adults. By and large, people tread very lightly around that subject. It’s disturbing and makes people uncomfortable. But even more awkward are the people that like to blame rape victims. “You shouldn’t have dressed that way.” Suddenly, with adults, we see ourselves slipping away from instant, unanimous outrage and slipping closer to disregard. Not that people view rape as anything less than heinous, by and large. They just sometimes feel like sharing blame with the victim for the carelessness they showed. Wearing a skirt and walking alone. Who does that?

And turning away from the middle, we land on the lighter, simpler sexual harassment Cain has been accused of. And the subject seems to be largely ignored by the common man. (And woman, too, oddly enough. Most of those jokes I heard came from women.) There are some jerks that disbelieve rape victims by and large, and there are unfortunately people that call rape falsely, “validating” those that ignore the issue. But, fortunately, those jerks on both sides of the equation are few.

Yet, when sexual harassment becomes an issue, the people that think that way seem to crawl out of the woodwork. On both sides. People falsely cry sexual harassment to further themselves in the workplace or to screw someone else they don’t like over. But, meanwhile, those that are actually being sexually harassed are largely ignored and found to be whiny. When I say “sexually harassed,” people instantly think of someone overreacting to a stray comment or gesture intended as platonic affection.

Plays like David Mamet’s “Oleanna” show how sticky the issue can be when all the doubt of honesty is thrown in the mix. And it is an excellent play. But it seems more and more like we, as a society, have sided with the idea that the victim is either at fault or not even truly a victim.

Personally, I find that unfortunate. I think that, in times of doubt, one should try to lean in favor of the person that was sexually abused.

Imagine, for a moment, how this Sandusky case would look without Mike McQueary’s testimony. Had he never seen it, we’d have eight young boys making allegations of sexual abuse against Sandusky. People would still generally be outraged, because why would kids lie about something like that? But what if they were grown men and women? Well, some of those people might just be trying to jump in on the blame train, but I bet something happened. Right? Probably. But what if, instead of rape, it was simple sexual harassment? Inappropriate fondling, unwanted sexual suggestions, et cetera. Suddenly, we’re less interested.

Play that in reverse. Often times, in these situations, the sexual harassment comes before the sexual activities. And the more we ignore the harassment and make glib, dismissive comments about it instead of deciding to check out the situation, the more complicit we become if words become actions. Sexual harassment is real and should be a real issue to people.

Am I saying Cain is as bad a person as Sandusky? No. Am I saying he should be held accountable for his actions and punished? Yes. As any unwanted sexual actions should be. But the change in society’s views has to start with the common people, like you and me. So instead of joking about the whiny women and whatnot, why not listen to what they have to say and consider what it would be like if you were in their shoes?

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