Sexual Assault

#MeToo + Trump-centric Partisanship = Smear Job

Why are we illustrating ambiguous social misunderstandings as unwanted boob-grabs?

|

Take a close look at this Daily Caller tweet, particularly the stock photo used to illustrate the article:

The casual reader can be forgiven for inferring that the editor in question put his mitts on a gal's sensitive bits without her permission. And yet, as Shikha Dalmia has laid out here in her infuriating piece on fired Detroit Free Press Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson, the alleged sexual harassment in question—which was only investigated after a loose allegation from a pissed-off supporter not of Donald Trump but of disgraced Democratic congressional lifer John Conyers—did not involve any physical contact whatsoever, according to what we know so far:

The Freep's fishing expedition eventually turned up two interactions that HR decided were inappropriate. Both occurred in social situations outside of the workplace. One involved a "sexually themed" conversation and another an interaction with someone who was his co-equal in another department. We don't know much more besides that. And while obviously some graphic or threatening "sexually themed" conversations with colleagues would indeed be grounds for termination, that really shouldn't be the case here. After all, neither woman, according to Henderson, ever filed a complaint against him or even wanted the company to take any action, a version of events that Freep and its parent company, Gannett, has not disputed….WDET [a local public TV station where Henderson also works] has conducted its own investigation and come up empty, and is therefore not nixing Henderson's show.

Henderson characterized that second interaction thusly: "a co-worker who was a manager in another department reported two rejected advances that she said made her uncomfortable." That's his version, granted, but it sure doesn't sound like a grope.

Weaponizing something as potent as the #MeToo movement is inevitable. (The Conyers ally who first accused Henderson, Rev. W.J. Rideout III, also pointed the finger at local WXYZ-TV anchors Steven Clark and Malcom Maddox, the latter of whom has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Rideout himself was then suspended indefinitely by 910 AM Superstation, where he has a show, for making unsubstantiated allegations.) The motives for weaponizing will be varied—ranging from a pure desire to right wrongs, shield future victims, and create a better workplace culture, to an impure attempt to punish rivals, remove expensive employees, and secure financial gain.

The best way for the rest of us to avoid advancing particularly the latter phenomena is to pay close heed to the quality of evidence, respect due process when it applies, and avoid letting our own priors govern reaction. Alas, with the state of our Trump-centric politics and polarization, resisting that temptation may prove too arduous. Hence grossly inaccurate sexual-assault art in the Daily Caller, and headlines like this, from the American Thinker: "Vicious anti-Trump, anti-conservative Pulitzer-winning columnist and editor fired."

Meanwhile, as former Reason editor Virginia Postrel illustrated Tuesday in a terrific and subtle Bloomberg View column keying off the resignation of Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge (and libertarian legal favorite) Alex Kozinski after serial accusations of sexualized workplace impropriety, the rapid changes in workplace norms, however positive they might be, will inevitably produce victims who intended no harm. Excerpt:

[A] hang-loose norm that tolerates pornography, bawdy talk and sexual propositions bespeaks playfulness and freedom to some individuals. It makes others — not all of them female — feel excluded or threatened. As long as the dissidents are too nice or too cowed to object, the norm can stay in place even if most employees don't like it. What we're seeing in the current cascade is a critical mass of women rebelling against that norm, as well as against more serious offenses.

Make no mistake, however. Whatever new norms emerge will also exclude people, and not all of those cast out will be bullies, predators, or, for that matter, men. All norms draw lines. Norms that police speech and attitudes, as opposed to physical actions, are particularly likely to snare violators whose deviance is unconscious or benign. […]

A culture that marginalizes no one and nothing — a culture without norms — is neither realistic nor desirable. The real question is how to best accommodate the diversity of human personalities and goals while respecting the dignity of individuals.

People who don't pick up well on social cues and/or come from outnumbered minority populations are most likely to look conspicuously out of place during a changing/tightening of courtship-related mores and regulations. It is no accident that a grossly disproportionate number of campus sexual assault cases over the past few years have been brought against black students, many of them foreign-born.

Also running the risk both of being flagged for borderline behavior and stepping over those boundaries in the first place are would-be paramours who are socially and romantically awkward, no matter how professionally successful they otherwise might be. The more we get into the gray areas of people hitting on other people and being rebuffed, the more we are going to veer toward some kind of Nerd Penalty, and the likelier we'll see examples of weaponized injustice popping up among the righteous reckonings.

Advertisement

NEXT: U.N. Rejects Naming Jerusalem Capital of Israel, Inauguration Day Protesters Found Not Guilty, Trump Commutes First Sentence: P.M. Links

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Weaponizing something as potent as the #MeToo movement is inevitable.

    Will there be a significant backlash? That also seems inevitable.

    1. We need common sense #MeToo control laws.

    2. It’s already weaponized. Next it will turn on itself, destroy its supporters, and become just another hashtag meme that will be forgotten in 6 months.

      1. Or become a running joke on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

        1. The Curb Your Enthusiasm shtick is wearing thin. The last season was meh-low. Some good moments, but overall kinda disappointing.

  2. Is this kind of like how Glen Thrush was not fired from the New York Times despite multiple accusations and an admission of guilt or is that different? Because, it would appear that this ‘#metoo’ has already been weaponized and incidences are treated very differently

    1. Yeah, Third Wave feminism was birthed or lynchpinned on this very issue between Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. Even before that there was plenty of indication that, as a society, we were willing to let women (among other protected classes) get away with effective crimes of a sexual nature that absolutely would not be tolerated by a conservative heterosexual man. I fail to see how this is a new idea.

      I mean there was a time when I think we, as a nation, were exhausted by seeing various starlets’ hoohahs as they climbed in and out of vehicles and in-depth examinations of Janet Jackson’s nipple but, somehow, every single man at a Hollywood premier or sporting event’s intermission before and since, has managed to keep it in their pants. I’m not saying I want to see more guy’s junk or necessarily fewer vaginas, just that the social disparity and it’s ossification into law is nothing new.

      1. Apparently, it is more important to NOT show a panty-line,
        than to NOT show a hoo-hah.

    2. Funny, the same people who would scream that they don’t want “McCarythism” again are the ones cheering on that exact thing. McCarthy came to the table with far, far more evidence and grounds for accusations than many of these “metoo” accusations.

      1. Considering how prevalent communist ideas are in our education system and government today, he wasn’t that far off.

  3. Is that a photo of groping, though, or is he just a really bad pickpocket?

    1. Was the actor who posed for the pic immediately fired for sexual harassment?

    2. I just assumed it was a plastic surgeon legitimately checking on xer implants.

    3. He was trying to steal her heart.

  4. I think the notion of partisans selectively choosing what incidences to report on and which not to is proved pretty well in this piece

  5. Trump Trump TRUMP TRUMP-CENTRIC PARTISANSHIP

    Matt is fucking deranged. There is no “Trump”-angle to this story whatsoever.

    1. Like pretty much every liberal. Also a liar, a con artist, a fraud, a fugazi.

      “I’m a liberal.”
      -Matt “Welchie Boy” Welch

  6. If merely the act of asking a woman out is considered sexual assault, what exactly is left to continue the species in terms of courtship? We’ve already established that sexual relations, marriage, or companionship are not valid reasons to seek a mate. So honestly, what’s left? Just because the species needs to go on?

    I foresee a future of women shopping for frozen sperm from men they’ll never meet, and all sex is illegal because someone might claim abuse.

    1. Not to worry. The robots are coming.

      1. Yeah, but all the robots are going to have the morals of a Victorian housewife.

        1. “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do anal”

          1. More like “I am sorry, Dave, but federal law prohibits me from being used by minors. Please look into my eyes so I can scan your retinas to confirm your age and subscription status.”

            That’s right, sex robots will sooner or later be subscription only, like Photoshop.

            1. Sexbot Neutrality is a human right!

    2. That future is already here–Mindy Kaling just had a kid and didn’t list a father. January Jones did the same thing (although it’s rumored that Bobby Flay’s the father, just not acknowledged as such). This is going to be a new trend for aging, actresses who aren’t on the third-world adoption train but want to have a biological kid before their womb dries up and their looks disappear.

    3. Uhm, you know the answer to this. Its why the left loves Muslim immigration so much that even I (a pretty darn pro-open-borders type) look at them and go ‘let’s not go overboard here’.

      Arranged-marriages.

      But through the state instead of parents because that will solve everything.

    4. “How about we do it the old-fashioned way?”

      “Eww, you mean…fluid transfer?”

    5. In the culture I grew up in, men were expected to make the first overture. This obviously leads to rejection in a percentage of encounters but most women learn to do it with class if the guy is not being an asshole. Women like knowing they’re attractive to men even if the attraction is not mutual. But men have mostly had to suffer their rejection. If “What we’re seeing in the current cascade is a critical mass of women rebelling against that norm”, then women will have to become the aggressors because most of us can’t afford to have our careers destroyed for asking a woman out.
      I frankly doubt most women really want this outcome and the “critical mass” is only of the chattering class, not of the lovely women out here in flyover country.

  7. My wife recently – “why don’t I hear more about someone smacking the shit out of these assholes”

    1. My wife said the same thing. Guy’s being an asshole, smack him. It’s not complicated.

  8. I’m glad someone at Reason is discussing the Judge Kozinski situation, because I haven’t seen the Volokh blog doing it – Volokh used to be quite proud of being a former Kozinski clerk and promoted his former boss as one of America’s coolest judges.

  9. “Unwanted Boob Grab” was Tony’s nickname in junior college.

    1. I’m pretty sure it was just ‘Unwanted Boob’.

  10. Does anyone use the word “workplace” other than in discussions of sexual harassment?

    1. Do YOU want to talk about work any more than you have to?

      1. People talk about the office, the shop, the lab, whatever kind of place they work. “Workplace” is a neologism designed to make places people work sound qualitatively different from other places. It just strikes me as artificial-sounding.

    2. Why else go to work?

  11. Women will soon be complaining that they are no longer invited to social events after work.

    1. Too late. There are reported stories of women complaining that married bosses did not take them out to dinner, thus inhibiting the woman’s chances of advancement. The women claimed that dinners with just men occurred, so she had to get dinner ‘face time’ of else.
      So if you take a woman out for a business dinner, you are a rapist, if you don’t take her out you are an illegally discriminating bigot.
      Full disclosure, that was before the last round of sex/gender/science/feelings mash up, so maybe it no longer matters.

  12. So Henderson made a pass at a woman twice (or asked her out) and it made her “uncomfortable”? Really? Well of course being asked out by someone you are not attracted to is uncomfortable but is that now a crime? That is nowhere near the traditional definition of sexual harassment, which involve quid pro quo (sleep with or get fired, sleep with me for a promotion). Asking for a date can now get you fired? Wow.

    1. Just remember, the goal of feminism is to put ugly women on the same level of social acceptance as pretty women.

      Thankfully, once civilization burns to the ground we can go back to putting ugly women in their proper place at the bottom of society.

      1. There is there solution.
        Civilizayion itself is the problem. It allows common sense to be subverted.

    2. I don’t know why Matt, Shikha and cc2 are shocked by this. Virtually every employer’s standard sexual harassment policy for at least the past quarter century has listed “unwanted sexual advances” as a prohibited form of workplace conduct.

      cc2: “quid pro quo” is only one form of “sexual harassment” under law. The other form is allegedly being subjected to a “hostile work environment” without a quid pro quo component. I could bore you by quoting the legal definition of hostile work environment, but suffice it to say that the concept is sufficiently fuzzy that any person with a hungry plaintiff’s lawyer can get into court on virtually anything. And remember that it is the employer that gets sued, not the harasser, and employers have no sense of humor about being sued over what their employees do to one another. This means that employers adopt workplace harassment policies that go far beyond the legal definition of “hostile work environment” simply to avoid being sued. So yes: if you ask a coworker for a date, especially if you hold a position like editor, and the request makes the other person “uncomfortable,” you can very well face termination.

      A former law partner of mine once said, “there are millions of women in America, but there are only a handful that you have to stay away from, and those are the ones you work with.”

      1. Both interactions were in social settings–not at work. Workplace rules don’t apply.

        Both involved verbal exchanges. We REALLY need to kill this ‘words CAN hurt you’ world the self-esteem movement has built. It is destroying the entire concept of free speech and free thought.

        1. “Both interactions were in social settings–not at work. Workplace rules don’t apply.”

          Not necessarily. All that is necessary is for a plaintiff’s lawyer to allege that the conduct at the “social setting” either carried over into the workplace or had the continuing effect of making the workplace “hostile” by the “harasser’s” mere presence.

          I agree with you that it should not be this way. Unfortunately, it is. The worst part? All of these sexual harassment policies, lawsuits, and hysteria over trivia like making passes failed to prevent the Harvey Weinsteins, Bill O’Reilly’s, and Matt Lauers of the world from committing outright sexual assault. Yet we will see demands for even more of the same sexual harassment policies, lawsuits, and hysteria over trivia in response to them.

  13. So if were are to believe the stock photo, a woman who is groped at work immediately turns into a mime stuck in a box?

    1. I laughed!

    2. Perhaps she was trying to put up her particle shields but couldn’t get them up in time?

  14. I am so glad I retired years back, before the madness took full root.
    It seems that the only option is to approach a total stranger, politely inquire “Would you care to engage in meaningless promiscuous sexual activity with me?”; if the answer is no, never speak to that person again. If the answer is yes, get a witnessed and notarized verification and mail it to your lawyer.

  15. Wind long since sown, now reaping tornado.

  16. The stock photo is supposed to convey or headline the subject of the article (in a tongue and cheek way, I presume). The Daily Caller also like to use goofy looking still photos of MSNBC personality when reporting on that station. Twitchy does that a lot. Doesn’t Reason do the same thing?

    It’s a libertarian philosophy for a private business to freely associate or fire individuals, with or without formal due process. They stressed that very point on Roy Moore not that long ago. Due process is ultimately meant to protect us government abuse – or so the argument went.

    The problem lies with the mob, not the companies who would rather cut ties with accused individuals to spare their business. Theoretically a company might want to protect its assets of stand on principle by waiting on due process or formal legal proceedings. But the mob won’t stand for that. They’ll call for boycotts, dox the CEO, and spread negative opinion on Twitter.

    I’m convinced that Twitter is one of the worst things to happen to humanity in the modern era. It’s a glorified bulletin board that exists largely for flame wars.

    1. Glorified?

    2. Then the obvious solution is to eliminate this mob.

    3. The problem lies with the mob, not the companies who would rather cut ties with accused individuals to spare their business.

      Precisely. Companies will respond to public demand, and usually it doesn’t matter how misguided the general public is. The “common sense” public often holds highly erroneous views on a wide spectrum of issues.

      Twitter isn’t the root cause of the current anti-intellectual wave of mob behavior, but it certainly enables it.

  17. All things will pass, including #metoo and soon to follow #methree….

    Aaaaaaaaaaah
    Boys said
    She had,
    Like, Gods hands.
    Amen.

  18. Wouldn’t piss on this fire to put it out.

  19. #BringBackOurGirls

  20. The casual reader can be forgiven for inferring that the editor in question put his mitts on a gal’s sensitive bits without her permission.

    The casual reader may be forgiven, but not excused for abandoning critical thought because of political tribalism. That’s the big problem here, and not surprising considering how all issues are now being routinely tarnished by the current anti-intellectual wave.

    1. And about political tribalism. This has nothing to do with being “Trump-centric.” It has everything to do with an increasingly irrational public whittling complex issues down to hashtags and slogans, steamrolling all nuance in the process.

  21. Matt Damon got torn to shreds recently for -quite awkwardly- explaining that there is a difference between certain kinds of sexual misconduct.

    As we all know, all things are rape, and rape is all things. Let it be so, and such and such…

  22. But we must believe every accusation every woman makes. if not you are a male misogynist pig. All women are pure as the driven snow, no woman would ever lie to get even, get ahead or be vindictive. You have to realize only me are wicked, not any woman ever.

    Look at middle aged school teachers being sexually harassed by preteen boys. Poor things!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.