In any argument, especially a righteous argument, it’s important to be careful in how you present your points, or you risk causing further damage to that which you are trying to solve. I’m afraid that’s what happened (for me, at least) in a recent blog post at The XX Factor, from Slate.com.
The original post, by “Who’s Sexually Harassing Whom?” by Susannah Breslin, delved into the writer’s own past in the restaurant industry. In addition to what she described as a rampant drug culture, both men and women used sex in the workplace to get themselves more money and better standing. Breslin walked away with this conclusion:
When it comes to sex—or sexual harassment, for that matter—the situations are often neither black nor white but decidedly gray. The idea that it’s possible to eliminate or police human sexuality in any context is a fantasy.
In the post “Why, Exactly, Is Sexual Harassment—er, Sexual Terrorism—OK?,” blogger E.J. Graff took issue with Breslin:
But I have to say, reading your post, I’m not exactly sure why you think sexual harassment is OK. Because it’s the least of it? Um, not always. And why should anyone have to tolerate the kind of sexual harassment that’s brutal, grinding, daily terrorism?
To me, these are two intelligent, reasonable points of view that should be considered and debated. That’s the only way we can hope to learn and improve, I feel.
My problem comes with Graff’s examples: holding a knife to someone’s throat in a demand for sex, then saying “just kidding”; throwing someone to the ground in advance of a rape, only stopping because another coworker interrupted; forcing a woman’s face toward an unzipped crotch; being grabbed and lifted by the crotch; and being stalked and threatened.
Sexual harassment is horrendous, but labeling these acts as just “harassment” (even “harassment that’s…daily terrorism”) belittles their more serious nature.
These are not the sort of acts I think of when I hear the term “sexual harassment” — they are acts of violent and sexual battery. They are criminal assault, and I feel that holding up such acts as examples of harassment in a dialogue about the dangers of sexual harassment risks trivializing the other, far more common forms of harassment.
Are they harassment? Yes, technically. However, by highlighting the worst end of the spectrum on this problem we increase the chance that people — such as judges, juries and especially the offenders themselves — won’t see what’s so bad about garden-variety harassment. After all, “it could have been worse…”
I understand the need in an argument — especially on such a passionate argument — to try to make your point with the most serious examples possible. However, in this particular case I feel that countering a tale about restaurant workers playing sexual games with a story about holding a knife to a woman’s throat accomplishes nothing besides enflaming the argument.
JOE BACCHUS, Web Specialist