We are all bitches now

9 November 2011

Herman Cain’s campaign learned something when those reports of sexual harassment claims came out a couple of weeks ago: this is campaign contribution gold. He reportedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations immediately, and $2 million within the week. Message: accusations of sexual harassment made Cain more attractive to some donors.

So now you can buy six different versions of a t-shirt like this one, ranging from $17.70 to $29.60 from HermanCain2012shop.com, which donates some of its profit to the Cain campaign. (I mistook this site at first for an actual Herman Cain organization, but I’d forgotten that the Cain campaign isn’t organized enough to have scooped up all these URLs, nor to have produced a website as professional as this one.)

Here’s why I’m not going to laugh at this t-shirt, even if it was created to criticize Cain’s sexual politics, and even if Cain’s star is falling after the news that four women, not just one, have made claims of sexual harassment against him:

  1. A lot of things are funny about the Cain campaign, but not sexual harassment.
  2. Honestly, this t-shirt isn’t even that funny, beyond a mere heh-heh.
  3. For Cain opponents, this t-shirt still keeps Cain’s face front and center and compares/contrasts it with the President’s face.
  4. It’s easy to see Cain supporters wearing this as a fuck-you to opponents, and a fuck-you to women’s rights.
  5. “Grope” denotes playfulness — the very opposite of how sexual harassment feels to women at work.

And most of all, in declaring Cain to be a groper, the t-shirt begs viewers to consider whether that specific charge might be true — which then opens up the broader question of whether sexual harassment charges should be taken seriously — and in our anti-feminist moment, I don’t want a single additional reason to discredit a woman’s ability to achieve workplace equality. In other words, the t-shirt is too flippant, too easily appropriated by sexists, and not fucking funny enough.

Sounds bitchy, right? That’s because every time a woman questions men’s power these days, she lines herself up for being called a bitch. A rape charge against a powerful French politician by a black maid? She’s a bitch and a liar. A sexual harassment charge against a presidential candidate? She’s a bitch and a liar. A blogger who calls foul on such behavior? Don’t even get me started on the list of epithets against her, but Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown (whose motto is, “Kumbaya Motherf*cker Central,” which gives me great pleasure) explains in detail.

Y’see, we’re all bitches now, unless we comply. This isn’t about sex — it’s about power. The only way I can see to object is to be a bitch and keep calling out such naked claims to power. Thus my new motto: BE A BITCH — DON’T LET THEM MAKE YOU THEIR BITCH.

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7 Responses to “We are all bitches now”

  1. servetus Says:

    I immediately thought #4 — this is “who cares” to women.

    All I can think, listening to the news this morning, is that the overwhelming experience of women at work must involve sexual harassment. I’ve been harassed in two separate workplaces and thought that my experiences were atypical — but the things we’ve been hearing lately suggest that it’s par for the course and / or getting worse.

  2. Didion Says:

    That was my first thought too, which is why I was surprised to find lefty friends on Facebook passing it around. I wasn’t surprised in the least to find the t-shirt for sale on a Herman Cain for President website. The shirt might even be more disturbing for its ambiguity.

    And yeah, when I think about things men at work have said to me, which I set aside out of some misplaced idea of being “professional” — I just want to cry. Especially when I think about my college students heading out into the workplace only to find this kind of behavior, with absolutely no viable verbal ammunition to shut it down.

  3. ladida Says:

    “Grope” does not denote playfulness. But yes on everything else. Thanks for these posts.

    • Didion Says:

      I take your point, although when you compare it to “He suddenly reached over and put his hand on my leg under my skirt and reached for my genitals” and “he also grabbed my head and pushed it toward his crotch,” the word grope seems rather quaint, as if he’d touched her in a clumsy and ineffective way.

      And “grope” doesn’t seem worthy of the National Restaurant Assn. paying out $80,000 to two separate women, either.

      Now, this is not to diminish the horror of being groped by one’s bosses and managers. It’s so upsetting because it puts a woman in an impossible position: if she reports it, people’s immediate response will be, how is she somehow responsible for this? What was she wearing, what was she doing? I think I saw her flirting with a man one time. She’s just a bitch with an ax to grind.

      Yet not to report it is to allow yourself to become their bitch. And I’ve known a number of women who knew they hadn’t done anything wrong, yet still wondered why they’d been targeted. “What am I doing wrong to bring on this kind of behavior?” asked one friend after such an incident years ago. It’s a similar question to that asked by women who slowly learn that their new boyfriend has one of the same terrible characteristics as a previous boyfriend — “what am I doing to attract the same kind of man, over and over?” Self-blame is rampant and totally misplaced. Sexual harassment is a crime — it is a form of illegal employment discrimination; it is abusive both physically and emotionally; and it is a form of bullying. “Groping” sounds merely annoying in contrast.

  4. servetus Says:

    Apparently getting groped by both customers and managers is a fairly standard experience for women who work as servers in restaurants, according to my current TA.

    Did you see this weird polling data? http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/08/who-believes-herman-cain/?scp=1&sq=who%20believes%20herman%20cain&st=cse

    and they say it’s not a postmodern world

    • Didion Says:

      I did see that story. I’m not quite sure what to make of a poll that would include data for people who hadn’t heard anything or very little about the case. I have to agree with some of the commenters — these polls are notably thin in data.


  5. […] what we are supposed to be doing is asking questions and teaching our students how to ask them. Even then, a mere question was more than enough justification to put me in a box. And no one protested or even suggested he had been out of […]


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