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!

Read this story at the Village Voice about Debrahlee Lorenzana, who was fired from her job at Citibank.  They say it was due to her work performance.  She says it was because “her bosses told her they couldn’t concentrate on their work because her appearance was too distracting. They ordered her to stop wearing turtlenecks. She was also forbidden to wear pencil skirts, three-inch heels, or fitted business suits,” according to the Voice.  There is an extraordinary record of her complaints to the company’s HR department — she called them three or four times a day to report the harassment by her managers — which accomplished nothing.

The result?  As Twisty Faster notes succinctly on her blog, the one relevant question in the case — was Lorenzana discriminated against? — is completely lost, while everyone from journalists to bloggers to the trolls who comment online turns her case into questions about:

  • “Lorenzana’s Christian Louboutin heels
  • Lorenzana’s point on the sexbot continuum
  • Lorenzana’s aspirations to fame and fortune
  • That Lorenzana unlikeably tried to save herself by ratting out some women tellers for wearing hooker outfits 
  • Whether Lorenzana chooses to emit porn rays, or whether her natural self merely happens to conform precisely to pornulated beauty ideals.”

There’s nothing more depressing to me than the fact that this central question has been lost in everyone’s eagerness to hate the hot chick.  The uneasily sympathetic Voice essay offers a slideshow of photos showing how hot she is.  Jezebel turns it into a question of whether Lorenzana committed “girl-on-girl crime” by pointing out that the other women in the office wore far more provocative clothes than she did.  (Surely someone should note, here in the midst of the pile-on about Elena Kagan’s clothes, that women are encouraged to look sexy at work — that is, until they look as hot as Lorenzana?)  Some jackass at the Daily Mail makes fun of her name and accuses her of spending too much money on clothes.  WE MUST PUNISH THE HOT LATINA, AND THEN LOOK AT MORE PHOTOS OF HER CURVES.

Is she hot?  IT DOESN’T MATTER.  What matters is that she was harassed on a daily basis and her complaints ignored.  Remember Anita Hill’s case of nearly 20 years ago, when we were shown that a woman could describe daily harassment at the workplace and senators insisted she was crazy?   

It’s not that we haven’t been talking about sexual harassment.  My job requires me to take a compliance test on a regular basis that reminds me how to deal with harassment issues.  Lorenzana’s case makes me question seriously what would happen if I came forward with such a case.  Feminists have been so thoroughly sidelined in our media that this story simply becomes a vehicle for more attacks than she’s already received.

In my dream feminist world, Lorenzana would co-host a new version of CNBC’s “Equal Time” (ah, the early 90s…) with another female co-host on issues women face in the workplace.  They would give serious attention to sexual harassment cases like hers, discuss pay equity and the mommy track, single motherhood (Lorenzana is a single mother), the class-action suits by women against huge corporations like Wal-Mart and Merrill Lynch, and approach the subject of gender inequity in many fields, including academia.  In short, she would become a kick-ass feminist who takes no prisoners.  I can see the feminist comic-book superhero version of her now.