In the 1990s, when sexual harassment was similarly in the spotlight, we heard these same words and worries. They are just as wrong now as they were then.
It’s been 24 years since Vice President Biden, then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presided over one of our nation’s most shameful moments: Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings. Law professor Anita Hill was harangued by male legislators, her accusations of horrific harassment dismissed, as Biden assured Thomas he had “the benefit of the doubt”.
Still, afterwards, there were widespread warnings that workplace sexual harassment policies would result in a world where men couldn’t tell a woman she was pretty without fear of losing his job. In 1992, Erica Jong wrote in The Washington Post that men, “terrified of rejection by women they fancy,” will “now have to face court-martial by the sexual harassment commandoes.”
“It will be surprising if any erection ever survives this scrutiny,” she wrote.
The man-hating dystopia never came. Not only did erections survive unscathed, but sexual harassment continued to flourish. Today, we don’t see scores of men fired or denied justice because of innocent compliments or dirty jokes; instead perpetrators routinely go unpunished, their victims ignored and disparaged.
Renowned astronomer Geoffrey Marcy, for example, was found guilty this summer of serially harassing women over the course of almost a decade yet wasn’t fired or suspended from his prominent position at UC Berkeley. Instead, the school issued a “warning” against him and Marcy offered a tepid apology. It was only after faculty outrage and media coverage exploded that Marcy finally resigned this week.
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