Harassment scandal: How to draw lines
Almost two months after Harvey Weinstein was outed as a serial sexual predator, “idols are falling so fast it’s hard to keep track,” said Masha Gessen in NewYorker.com. Dozens of prominent men have already “lost jobs, deals, film roles, and more,” and there are scores of others facing accusations. In the court of public opinion, the “burden of proof” has clearly shifted “from the accuser to the accused.” Most people are cheering this cultural sea change, but there’s a serious danger of overreaction—“a sex panic.” In our eagerness to root out all harassers, the “presumption of innocence” is vanishing. It wouldn’t be the first time Americans have overreacted to “vaguely defined and wildly exaggerated” sexual threats, said Christina Hoff Sommers in the New York Daily News. We had a gay panic in the 1950s, with thousands of federal workers forced out of their jobs; in the 1980s, “a panic over satanic abuse in day-care centers put many innocent people in prison.” If we don’t distinguish between “truly unacceptable behavior and lesser annoyances,” men will fear any workplace interaction with women.
Well, that was predictable, said Caitlin Flanagan in TheAtlantic.com. Saying there’s “a sex panic” because women are finally rebelling against “having their asses grabbed” is no different than the Mad Men–era men complaining that women who slapped away their unwanted advances were “frigid” or “uptight.” Exposing men who treat women’s bodies as playthings is not “a witch hunt”—it’s a necessary and long-overdue corrective to an endemic problem. A lot of men say they no longer know where the line is, said Christine Emba in The Washington Post. It’s simple: Don’t hit on or touch co-workers and subordinates. Stop thinking of every attractive woman as a possible sexual conquest. Maybe that means a less sexualized culture, but it’s a small price to pay to allow women “to exist unmolested in their workplace.”
Both sides are right, said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com. There should be zero tolerance for harassment and abuse, but “the severity of our intolerance should run on a spectrum.” Making a suggestive comment at work is bad, and should have consequences, but it isn’t as bad as groping, which should have more serious consequences. For sexual assault and rape, offenders should go to jail. Drawing these lines, and deciding on appropriate penalties, is fraught with difficulty. But “taking harassment seriously requires serious distinctions.” ■