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But even those tales — the ones about rape and assault — have been told by accusers who first interacted with these men in hopes of finding professional opportunity, who were looking not for flirtation or dates, but for work.And they have reported — they have taken care to clearly lay out — the impact of the sexual violence not just on their emotional well-being, not just on their bodies, but on their careers, on their place in the public sphere.
Lauren Greene, an ambitious congressional staffer who accused her former boss, the Republican congressman Blake Farenthold, of sexual harassment after he reportedly told another aide of his wet dreams about Greene and commented on her nipples, says that her complaints against her boss left her blackballed from politics, the profession she wanted to succeed in.In fact, the gender inequity that creates the need for civil-rights protections is what has permitted so many of these trespasses to have occurred, so frequently, and for so long; gender inequity is what explains why women are to harassment before they are even harassed; it explains why it’s difficult for them to come forward with stories after they have been harassed, why they are often ignored when they do; it clarifies why so many women work with or maintain relationships with harassers and why their reactions to those harassers become key to how they themselves will be evaluated, professionally. We got to where we are because men, specifically white men, have been afforded a disproportionate share of power.That leaves women dependent on those men — for economic security, for work, for approval, for any share of power they might aspire to.Many of the women who have told their stories have explained that they did not do so before because they feared for their jobs.When women complain, many were told that putting up with these behaviors was just part of working for the powerful men in question — “That’s just Charlie being Charlie”; “That’s just Harvey being Harvey.” Remaining in the good graces of these men, because they were the bosses, the hosts, the rainmakers, the legislators, was the only way to preserve employment, and not just their own: Whole offices, often populated by female subordinates, are dependent on the steady power of the male bosses.She now works part time as an assistant to a home builder in North Carolina, babysitting on the side to make extra money.
These are the economics of sexual harassment, but also, simply, of sexism.
In 1977, an appeals court upheld decisions defining sexual harassment as sex discrimination, barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The Supreme Court upheld this view in 1986, when it ruled in favor of Mechelle Vinson, the assistant bank manager who was assaulted and raped by her boss in the bank’s vaults and basements more than 50 times.
And if our typically prurient American interests have led us to focus on the carnal nitty-gritty, the degree of sexual harm sustained, the vital questions of consent, that’s fair enough; there has been, we are really absorbing for the first time, a hell of a lot of sexual damage done.
But in the midst of our great national calculus, in which we are determining what punishments fit which sexual crimes, it’s possible that we’re missing the bigger picture altogether: that this is not, at its heart, about sex at all — or at least not wholly.
Justice William Rehnquist wrote in the unanimous decision, “Without question, when a supervisor sexually harasses a subordinate because of the subordinate’s sex, the supervisor discriminates on the basis of sex.” entail behaviors that on their own would be criminal — assault or rape — but the legal definition of its harm is about the systemic disadvantaging of a gender in the public and professional sphere.