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FIELDS: Digging for gold along the campaign trail
Sexual harassment motives are ignored, truth is unwelcome
Question of the Day
The war between the sexes will never be easy to win because there are too many incentives for men and women to lay down their arms and call for a truce, if not a tryst. Nothing is more powerful than that image of Adam giving up all for Eve. He chose to leave paradise and work for a living rather than lose the woman he loved. (Besides, he couldn’t spare another rib.)
In the Darwinian scenarios, a caveman pulls a cavelady by the tresses to show his toughness at the end of the hunt to show who’s boss. When Gloria Steinem announced that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” women began organizing consciousness-raising parties to bond with their sisters in sharing stories about a husband’s bad behavior - and to learn where they could find a good divorce lawyer.
The skirmishes between men and women have changed through the ages in myth, metaphor and reality, and the only constant is that everybody draws from his or her own quiver of possibilities. Herman Cain offers a large and irresistible target of opportunity.
Sharon Bialek took aim during a news conference at the Friar's Club, a rowdy redoubt of sexual innuendo. The 50-year-old blonde with Veronica Lake’s peek-a-boo hairdo and a long memory did the morning-after television shows in a low-cut pink blouse. She may not get paid upfront for her accusations, but her 15 minutes of fame and a sharp attorney may be enough to parlay it into a book and speaking fees.
What’s fascinating about her accusations is that reactions to them don’t break down according to men versus women, as we might have once expected, but red versus blue politics. Husbands and wives who belong to the same party view the harassment accusations in similar ways, and the femmes in the media divide according to their political leanings.
Andrea Peyser in the New York Post describes Sharon Bialek as having “the breathy giddiness of a gal who’s read too many bodice-rippers.” Michelle Goldberg hedges her bets in the Daily Beast: “I have no way of knowing, obviously, whether [Ms.] Bialek was telling the truth,” she writes. “I do know that it rings true.” She then runs down a litany of examples of women caught unawares in the workplace, seeking help from more powerful older men and how often it’s difficult to tell whether a man “is offering mentorship or lechery.” Really?
Sharon Bialek was too timid when “it” happened to tell the details of Mr. Cain’s “inappropriate behavior” to her boyfriend the pediatrician and her mentor the businessman. But after what must have been years of shyness therapy to conquer her squeamishness, she had no trouble telling millions in a television audience of a hand under her skirt when he asked her, “You want a job, right?”
Feminist lawyer Gloria Allred says she has taken the case pro bono, but she benefits handsomely from thousands of dollars worth of free advertising as a harassment lawyer. (Merchants call this taking “a loss leader.”) Nor was she reluctant to crack a tasteless joke in trying Herman Cain in the court of public opinion, describing his offense as a personal “stimulus package.” She would never have spoken that way before a judge; Herman Cain’s attorney was a sobering contrast when he said he would never put his clients in the spotlight of television.
No one can excuse authentic sexual harassment that makes a hostile workplace or leads to a woman losing her job when a boss hits on her, but the power balance moves in the women’s direction when a mere accusation results in a handsome settlement and more cash and fame in a brief career in show business.
The woman’s movement has gone through several stages since Betty Friedan described the life of a housewife as a “comfortable concentration camp.” This was followed by post-feminist complaints two decades later that women’s liberation only liberated men to delay commitment and marriage to enjoy the flight of Peter Pan to an adolescence extended into adulthood. Jezebel, a popular blog, describes these complaints as “The Rebirth of the Feminist Manifesto.” It’s an “estrogen revolution” that defends the “Slutwalk,” where young women dress like prostitutes in reaction to blaming the victim of abuse for dressing provocatively.
Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist.
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