Sexual harassment, from 7th grade to Herman Cain

Observing my total lack of interest in Herman Cain’s sexual peccadilloes, I find myself amused, in a sad, resigned sort of way.  Another wanna-be politician trips himself up in his own boxer shorts.  Ho hum. What’s for dinner?

Something far more upsetting than the image of Herman Cain groping under a woman’s skirt while forcing her head in his lap was the recent report that more than half of American girls in 7th to 12th grades were sexually harassed in person–as opposed to online–in the past school year.

“The report documents many forms of harassment. The most common was unwelcome sexual comments, gestures or jokes, which was experienced by 46 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys. Separately, 13 percent of girls reported being touched in an unwelcome way, compared with 3 percent of boys; 3.5 percent of girls said they were forced to do something sexual, as did 0.2 percent of boys. About 18 percent of both boys and girls reported being called gay or lesbian in a negative way.”

Should it surprise anyone that a culture that tolerates these kinds of conditions in public schools gives rise to politicians, from Bill Clinton to Elliot Spitzer to Herman Cain, who feel entitled by their power and success to indulge themselves sexually with subordinate women?

Sexual harassment of women by men is remarkably constant across cultures–it varies only in degree.  Some cultures deal with it by demanding that women cover themselves from head to toe; others pressure women to go around half-naked and inure themselves to the catcalls and feel-ups.

What few, if any, cultures do is demand that men be accountable for their own behavior and keep their hands and their whistles to themselves.

I admire women like the defendant in the DSK incident, or the Cain accuser who had the guts today to come forward on the record and in front of the cameras to tell her story.

Why should women make it easy for men to get away with blatant sexist bullying?

More to the point, why does our society make it so easy for men–all men, not just the rich and powerful, though those are the ones we hear about most frequently–to shrug off incidents of sexual harassment, or even assault, as minor, unimportant issues, hardly worthy of mention?

That was certainly Herman Cain’s position, until the tenacity of the women he had abused made it impossible for him to continue to play innocent.  The same playbook was used by countless politicians before him–which is why it’s so hard to get excited about any of it today.

I’m just relieved that the swampy pit of Republican contenders for President will almost certainly be shrinking by the end of tomorrow’s news cycle.

Or maybe I shouldn’t take that for granted.  Look at Clarence Thomas, after all–our Supreme Court Justice, for crying out loud!

Women of the world, unite!  Our silence on sexual harassment and assault will get us absolutely nowhere.  If you care about the mental and physical well-being of your daughters, your sisters, and yourselves, you need to condemn this destructive social norm in the strongest possible terms.

And then let’s get on with that dinner.

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