Herman Cain’s downfall is the most recent evidence that sexual harassment doesn’t mean anything to people in this country. In October, FOUR women came forward and said that Herman Cain sexually harassed them in the late 1990s. Sharon Bialek claims that while seeking advice about a job, she had dinner with Mr. Cain, and that afterwards, while in a car together, he put his hand up her skirt and then tried to pull her head into his crotch.
“That’s it,” I thought, when I heard her story. “He’s done.” The specific image of a man pulling a woman’s head toward his lap is so lecherous and visceral for women, I figured that this accusation would be the death knell of Cain’s campaign.
But no. Attention quickly went to Ms. Bialek’s attorney, Gloria Allred, who was accused of being an attention hound (the press wanted to focus on the unlikability of the victim’s lawyer, instead of the unlikability of Herman Cain) and then within no time we were being shown a new video about Mr. Cain, Libya and foreign policy. By November 14, Business Insider had announced that lack of interest in a Gloria Allred press conference was proof that “The Herman Cain scandal is dead,” a mere two weeks after the harassment news had first broken.
I know that we have a national media that has the attention span of a squirrel on crack, but could we not focus, for ONE MOMENT, on the basic creepiness and lack of character that Mr. Cain had shown?
As always, when accusations of harassment are made, the character of the women doing the accusing was called into question. Skeptics suspect motives of finance and fame. Really? In what world do these people live in that they believe that it is desirable to walk around being known as someone who was groped by Herman Cain?
For that matter, who wants to be known as a person who has been groped by anyone? We are each individuals who struggle every day to define ourselves in the most positive terms. To undermine one’s own reputation, to come forward knowing that one’s personal narrative is forever changed in the eyes of coworkers, friends and family, is an act of true boldness and bravery.
Especially when one has to contend with fiends like Rush Limbaugh, who when he heard that victim Karen Kraushaar wanted to organize a joint press conference with the other three women remarked, “Do they want to synchronize their menstrual periods? Why appear together?”
Yes, Herman Cain’s campaign is over, but the scandal that took him down was a 13-year extramarital relationship, not the harassment allegations. A consensual affair is what stopped people from funding his campaign.
An affair is a complicit act between two adults; it is not the same as a grown man pawing a woman and trying to coerce her face into his lap. It has been 20 years since Anita Hill sat in front of a hostile Senate and was dismissed as a delusional woman. Have we not progressed at all?
Where were the women’s groups decrying Cain? Where were the feminists? Women may not be the 99% but in 2010 we were 50.8% of the population and it is time that we say “Enough. We will not put up with this behavior any longer.”
As long as we keep slapping these men on the wrists and acting like they just ha ha “got caught with their hands in the cookie jar” the behavior will continue. We need to recognize that harassing women speaks to a moral problem in the individual doing it. We need the media to change its attitude toward the victims and we need to start calling the perpetrators what they are: creeps; low-lifes; skirt chasers; grabby-handed misogynists. Take your pick. Just stop putting up with them.
Carolyn Cohagan is the author of “The Lost Children” (Simon & Schuster, 2010) and the upcoming “Ida and the Unfinished City.”