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Leslie Hendry

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No Pain, No Cain

Posted: 11/08/2011 11:10 am

Herman Cain is a United States presidential candidate. He is a businessman. He is 65 years old. He has been accused of sexual harassment, not once, not twice, but four times.

This is a great news day for some. Mitt Romney must be smiling ear to ear as Sharon Bialek's news came forward. Democrats are happy it's not their hand being slapped. For news outlets, sexual harassment claims legitimize soap opera-type coverage, and who knows if a Tiger Woods cascade is waiting to fall like manna from heaven. But to many who experience sexual harassment in the workplace, it is demeaning and it is painful when the advances escalate.

As a law student in my twenties, I watched the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings in awe. A few months before the Senate hearings, my boss requested we work and eat lunch at his house while on the job, and then he repeatedly had me stay late to update library books. When I said no to a ski trip with him, the company could no longer afford a law clerk.

Glued to the TV, I watched the interrogation of Anita Hill. The anticipation of how she would answer the gray-haired senators was like nothing I'd experienced. I was completely invested in this story. My stomach was in knots. I scrutinized her tone of voice, her facial expressions, her eyes, and her demeanor for clues to the truth. I was completely amazed by the narrative: the purported words spoken and actions taken against a lawyer by a United States Supreme Court nominee.

To this day I don't think Anita Hill was acting; I don't believe she was motivated by sentiment or politics. As a lawyer and law professor, she stood up against a particular working relationship that turned inappropriate and thus illegal. The interrogation of Anita Hill and each of her answers plodded a new path in American politics, gender politics, and race relations.

Anita Hill introduced us to a Supreme Court judge, or more accurately, the head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, who offered stories of sexual acts and pornography in the job place. A slew of women introduced us to Bill Clinton's philandering and abuse of power, and now four women have accused another presidential candidate of sexual harassment.

Humans are sexual beings and hence humans and sex are in the workplace. It's probably been like this since time immemorial. But the two do not cross accidentally. As women increasingly have an equal voice, they're saying they don't want a creepy boss to make advances towards them.

Adults in the workforce know what constitutes sexual advances and sexual harassment. Yet offenders correctly sense most underlings will not scream bloody murder on the first sexual innuendo or joke they tell, and unfortunately not even on the fourth or fifth. I'd like to think sexual harassment is a sign of the times, that young men and women today won't have the inclination, bad humor or repressed personalities to bring this behavior into their professional lives as they become successful.

Correct me if I'm wrong, I just don't see Mark Zuckerberg sexually harassing a colleague at a convention. It's just not his generation. But then again, I don't see Mark Zuckerberg running a pizza company.

 

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