Early feminists had just cause to fight for equal rights. Their victories in many other areas notwithstanding, sexual harassment was stubbornly persistent. I’d identify the fall of Harvey Weinstein as the watershed event, the crucial turning point in exposing male sexual predators and holding them to account. That’s a good thing.
Once “movements” achieve their justifiable initial goals, however, there’s often a combination of vehemence and political inertia that keeps them in motion, even accelerating to excess. The #MeToo movement is a good example. Elements of that movement went off the deep end in Washington during the Kavanaugh hearings, with theatrical disruptions of the proceedings and abandoning reason to vent incoherent rage. Their insistence that any woman’s unproven allegations must be believed at face value at the expense of any man’s presumption of innocence and due process was an absurd miscarriage of justice.
Even traditional defenders of civil rights like the American Civil Liberties Union sullied its reputation and credibility. The ACLU has long argued that, in matters of jurisprudence, it’s better that 100 guilty people go free than that one be unfairly convicted. Kavanaugh was entitled to the same fundamental benefit of the doubt.
To be sure, rape is an extremely serious crime. But even a man accused of the kidnapping and murder of a child ─ arguably a more heinous crime ─ would be afforded due process and the presumption of innocence.
Much lower on the scale of seriousness is the level to which the battle of the sexes has been taken in regard to workplace relationships between men and women. 30 years ago a male administrator at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota was fired for making advances at a 21-year-old coed who was working for him as a summer employee. There was no sex involved, as both parties testified, but the student complained that her boss’s overtures were unwelcome. The administrator explained that he was in love, that his intentions were honorable and he believed the younger woman was receptive to his attempted courtship. She even allowed him to work on her car.
Following a 1980 opinion by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, courts ruled that “unwelcome” sexual advances can be construed as a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Fair enough. So presumably, “welcome” romantic or sexual advances are OK. But how can a guy know in advance if his advances are welcome? In the Duluth case, an appeals court ruled in favor of the administrator, concluding that he did not understand that his attentions were unwelcome. Consequently, his was “misguided infatuation” and he wasn’t guilty of sexual harassment. Nonetheless, he didn’t get his job back and his health insurance didn’t cover a broken heart.
In a later case, a more problematic precedent was set. Catherine Broderick, an attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, DC got fed up watching people in her office having affairs with supervisors. So she sued on the grounds that romantic liaisons enjoyed by fellow workers put her in an unfair work environment, on the premise that those having affairs were more likely to get promotions and raises than those who weren’t. The US District Court found in her favor, ordering retroactive promotions and salary increases, ruling that she had been “effectively” sexually harassed ─ one might call this “inverse” sexual harassment.
Workplace relationships have been the breeding grounds for countless marriages and happy families. Do we really want to limit courtship to singles bars?
In our current era of hypersensitivity, political correctness and shaming, malephobic vigilantes are extending their reach, imagining sexual harassment in the most ridiculous places, like the lyrics of Frank Loesser’s 1944 classic male-female duet, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” This past Christmas Season, broadcasters were pressured to ban it from their playlists. #MeTooers claimed the fictitious man in the song was sexually assaulting his girlfriend with his persistence in inviting her to stay awhile longer, for “half a drink more.” Be serious. This was more like a flirtatious, fond, welcome seduction, with the lady playing coy; a verbal dance as old as Adam and Eve. And the song doesn’t tell us how it turns out. They may well have gotten got married and had five kids.
Imagine the fuss #MeTooers would have made over the pinup photos of Betty Grable that American GI’s coveted during World War II. Do you suppose this pendulum will ever swing back in the direction of common sense?
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.