‘Me, too:’ It’s not all the same

The Star Democrat - - OPINION - © 2017 CRE­ATORS.COM

“Me, too,” says the girl who was raped when she was barely old enough to know the word.

“Me, too,” says the young woman who gets cat­calls every day as she twirls her um­brella on the way to work.

“Me, too,” says the woman who sleeps with the boss to keep her job.

“Me, too,” says the one who gives as good as she gets. The thing is, it’s not all the same. It’s im­por­tant for men and women to speak out about what trou­bles them, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing the op­pres­sions of gen­der. But that doesn’t mean it all fits in the same box.

Rape is non­con­sen­sual sex, usu­ally in­volv­ing force. But force can con­sist of a per­son push­ing an­other per­son down and get­ting on top of him or her, which, with the sound off, may or may not look like sex.

When you hear some­one deny­ing non­con­sen­sual sex, they’re deny­ing rape. “Non­con­sen­sual sex” just sounds bet­ter. When you hear some­one claim­ing to have been raped, he or she is claim­ing that the sex was non­con­sen­sual and that he or she felt forced. To prove it, the jury will have to buy the force part. If they set­tle, you’ll hear that it was a set­tle­ment for non­con­sen­sual sex. Or more likely, you’ll hear noth­ing at all.

Sex­ual ha­rass­ment — at least the kind that is un­law­ful — is some­thing that hap­pens at work, among em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees. It’s not what hap­pens on the way home. It’s not just any­thing that you find of­fen­sive or makes you feel un­com­fort­able. Much of that, sadly, is known as Mon­day. Or Tues­day.

Sex­ual ha­rass­ment can take two forms. The first, and the first to be rec­og­nized, was quid pro quo ha­rass­ment — this for that. Sleep with me (I’m be­ing rhetor­i­cal, ob­vi­ously) and you get the pro­mo­tion. Don’t sleep with me and you get fired. It’s hard to prove and not as com­mon as you think.

It’s also far less ef­fec­tive than you might think: More women sleep their way to the mid­dle, or the bot­tom, than the top. The jobs you get by hav­ing sex are the jobs you lose when some­one takes your place. Worse yet, th­ese days, the folks who didn’t get the chance to sleep their way to the bot­tom are now su­ing for the lost op­por­tu­nity, as if it were that.

All in all, it’s a bad ca­reer strat­egy and a tough le­gal case. The only up­side is if you win your case and re­cover da­m­ages for the job you didn’t get, the pro­mo­tion that went else­where.

The sec­ond form of ha­rass­ment, more com­mon and more de­bat­able, is hos­tile-en­vi­ron­ment ha­rass­ment. To qual­ify as a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment, the hos­til­ity is sup­posed to be se­vere and per­va­sive. And it’s not enough if the plain­tiff finds it se­verely and per­va­sively of­fen­sive. The rea­son­able per­son (“rea­son­able woman,” we ar­gued for years, be­cause “rea­son­able per­son” was au­to­mat­i­cally in­ter­preted to mean a man) had to have found it se­verely and per­va­sively of­fen­sive — orig­i­nally meant to be a tough stan­dard, close to con­struc­tive dis­charge, i.e., so bad you couldn’t work there. I’ve al­ways thought a bet­ter test is whether the de­fen­dant knew or in­tended to of­fend. But ei­ther way, the test is (in all but the most ex­treme cases) a some­what un­pre­dictable one. It varies based on who’s do­ing the judg­ing.

And then there’s the rest of the stuff: bad jokes, bad taste, bad talk, the kind of stuff we tell our kids not to say in the back­seat when they’re younger; and when they’re older, the stuff we cringe to hear com­ing from the tele­vi­sion they’re watch­ing in the next room. Is it re­ally a fed­eral case? Enough to cost some­one a ca­reer? This week it is.

But my big­gest worry — sorry, Woody — is not that men ev­ery­where are go­ing to be the sub­ject of a witch hunt (by whom? The other pow­er­ful men?) but that de­cent men are think­ing twice be­fore choos­ing a young woman to men­tor or take to pro­fes­sional lunches or in­vite to work on cases re­quir­ing out-of-town travel. I worry that young women, al­ready starved for men­tors, are go­ing to find them even harder to find. Un­in­tended con­se­quences. If only #MeToo meant they had new men­tors, too.

To find out more about Su­san Estrich and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit the Cre­ators Syn­di­cate web­site at www.cre­ators.com.

SU­SAN ESTRICH

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