What the Herman Cain Case Reveals about Harassment
When sexual harassment allegations against Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain began to leak out, my reaction was skeptical. I've been observing the political process long enough to know that many people consider sexual accusations—real or imaginary—a fantastic way to bring down a candidate they don't like.
It's not that I don't believe sexual harassment is a problem. On the contrary, it's a real issue that many women have had to deal with. Including myself.
I was 14 when a boy at my Christian school started insinuating himself next to me every morning, on the gym bleachers where we all waited for classes to begin, and saying filthy things to me in a voice too low for anyone else to hear. For weeks this went on, because I didn't tell anyone. I simply could not bring myself to speak the words. I was too grossed out, ashamed, embarrassed, disgusted—you name the unpleasant and unwanted emotion, I felt it. All I could manage to do was to distance myself mentally from the whole thing and pretend it wasn't happening. It was more than 20 years before I told my mother about it.
Of course, not all harassment is as clear-cut. Many a woman, in the office, at church, and elsewhere, has had moments of wondering, "Did he really just say what I think he said?" or "He didn't mean it that way—did he?" What comes across as a flirtatious remark or gesture could be exactly that. But it could also be the result of a man's cultural background, or what he was used to ...1