What will it take for you to get angry? And do something about it?

12 November 2011

How would you feel if Jerry Sandusky’s lawyer came out and said, “If there are any more boys out there who’re thinking about coming forward with sexual assault charges against my client, you should think twice”?

How quickly would he be censured? His license revoked?

Yet that’s exactly what Herman Cain’s lawyer did, except he (safely) delivered that threat to women. “Anyone should think twice before you take that type of action,” Lin Wood said, addressing sexual harassment victims considering coming forward with charges. “And I think it’s particularly true when you are making serious accusations against someone running for president of the United States, but I think it’s equally true if you are making those accusations against your next door neighbor.”

Think twice. As if women who’ve experienced sexual harassment haven’t already thought twice — as she weighed the costs of reporting a boss or co-worker. As she thought about feeling derided and violated, yet worried the backlash of her reporting would be worse. As she wondered whether he was serious when he suggested she’d lose their job unless she succumbed. As she got glares from the other women in the office who thought she was flirting with him. As she wondered how to find health insurance if she quit. As she received no help whatsoever from the human resources person to whom she reported it.

This isn’t about someone else. This is about you.

Wood’s threat — from a lawyer! — has to do with the public shaming women will experience if they come forward. Rush Limbaugh has already started piling abuse on Sharon Bialek, the most visible of the accusers. (Can you imagine if Limbaugh tried to make slurping noises about the boys abused by Sandusky?) But this isn’t just a question of verbal insults: I can’t imagine how many death threats have been thrown at Bialek and Karen Kraushaar.

The Cain campaign has raised $9 million since news of the sexual harassment charges came out on October 1. He thinks it’s really funny to recommend that Mitt Romney get charged with sexual harassment to help his poll ratings, because polls still place Cain at first, or tied for first, in the pack of GOP hopefuls.

Readers: what will it take for you to get angry enough to do something about this misogynistic culture? When will you say to yourself, this is enough — I’m willing to stand up for myself and other women?

Because at the rate we’re going, we’re getting to a place where no woman is a “good enough” victim; we’re all bitches now. No rape or assault will be enough to protect you from the charge of being a bitch for reporting it.

You know how to start? Talk about the sexual harassment you’ve received, and talk about why it put you in an impossible situation. Talk about how hard it was to talk about it. Talk about how the frustration is doubled when you feel both violated and silenced. If they’re telling us we are all bitches now, then they’re going to have to hear something in response. Basta!

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4 Responses to “What will it take for you to get angry? And do something about it?”

  1. servetus Says:

    Thanks for this.

    Everything about telling remakes you as someone’s sexual object — that’s what’s so horrifying about it — it’s like you’re claiming that identity. Except that if you don’t tell, you are also in the same position. If I’d have had any idea of this at a younger age …


  2. Thanks for your suitably incensed post. It’s feeling more and more icky that so little has been written about this creep’s blatant threat–but centimeters away from sexual harassment itself.

    • Didion Says:

      That’s exactly right: it’s yet another layer added on to the entire experience of harassment. Thanks so much for this, N. And I’m loving your blog — Archy and Mehitabel! haven’t read it since I was a kid, and I’ve got to find a copy again. I remember it turned me on to typewriting like nothing else.

  3. Didion Says:

    A nice piece by the legal journalist Dalia Lithwick on Slate, which concludes:

    “It’s no longer just a Republican war on women. It’s a war on the idea that any woman might ever tell the truth.”


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