Monday, April 6, 1998

Week of 04/06/1998

Target: Sex in Society
Part 2 - When Sex Is Abused
- by David Matthews 2

"Screw or get screwed!"

Did I get your attention?

Usually, when you hear about sexual harassment, there’s usually an image of some leering, slimy boss pawing over some young nubile girl in a short skirt and tight blouse being asked for sexual favors if she wanted to continue working. No doubt there are some instances that meet the stereotype even today, but for the most part, what is perceived as sexual harassment is now becoming a question more of perception than a crime.

For instance, what constitutes sexual harassment? This is a question that I first raised two years ago with a story called "Is a kiss just a kiss anymore?" (available by request in the archive section). Clearly, the issue of what denotes sexual harassment has been muddied by knee-jerk reactionaries, limelight-addicted lawyers, and extremists who consider anything remotely sexual in nature to be sexual harassment. In some cases, even displaying the picture of one’s spouse could be considered "fostering a hostile environment" if the spouse in question is seen in a bikini.

At the core of sexual harassment is not sex, but power. The stereotypical lecherous boss does what he does not out of sexual gratification, but out of the abuse of power he has an employer. He knows that if he didn’t have that kind of power, beautiful women wouldn’t even give him the time of day. So he abuses his power and gives the ultimatum to the women who need their jobs: screw with me or get screwed by me!

But that little fact gets ignored by the more ambiguous facets like defining what is a "hostile environment." In reality, such a debate fosters more harm than good. In too many instances, normal relations between men and women are persecuted looking for those rare instances.

Case in point is the case of Paula Corbin Jones Vs. William Jefferson Clinton. On April 1st, the presiding judge in Arkansas, Susan Webber Wright, dismissed the charges against the President of the United States on the grounds that there was no case of sexual harassment. While certainly not expected by either supporters or critics of Bill Clinton, the decision has been spun by Camp Clinton to suggest complete vindication.

Not so fast Hillary. The judge dismissed the case because the core of the allegation - sexual harassment - was missing. That does not mean it didn’t happen, only that what went on didn’t meet Judge Webber Wright’s definition of sexual harassment.

While the case is far from being closed, the allegations have certainly caused more than enough damage to a group of women involved in the allegations of sexual impropriety against the president. Kathy Willey, whose husband committed suicide on the same day she was propositioned and groped by Clinton, is now being branded as a liar. Monica Lewinsky is a virtual prisoner by the media and attorneys, including her own, until either she is asked to testify, or until any and all charges against Clinton are dropped (which is rather unlikely). Every aspect of her life, right down to and including what she purchased in a Washington bookstore, is right now under a microscope. Every boy she dated, every teacher she studied under, what she wore as an intern in the White House, is all under scrutiny by the media and special investigators. If the case did go forward, even Paula Jones’ life would have been placed under a microscope. A former boyfriend already sold topless pictures of her to Penthouse Magazine, which published them twice. And Clinton attorneys actually contemplated to expose every aspect of Jones’ sexual history, a despicable defense tactic that was used in old rape trials.

Recently, a new name has been added to the list of lives ruined by Clinton - Elizabeth Ward Gracen. Gracen, a former Miss America, is an actress on the syndicated series Highlander. Now, she has been put on the defensive on her former relationship to the once-and-former governor of Arkansas. She is currently out of the country, and plans to stay in self-imposed exile until the whole mess dies down to avoid being dragged down any further than need be. But the damage may already be done to her.

In the intellectual bastion of politics, having your primal side exposed almost seems to be the kiss of death. With some notable exceptions, namely Senator Ted Kennedy and Rep. Barney Frank (both of Massachusetts), the realization that a particular person doesn’t live in some Stepford Pod existence is the subject of scorn. Sex is supposed to be kept behind closed doors, unless, to appease the appetite of religious zealots and anti-sex crusaders, they must delve into the subject just long enough to outlaw it. James Petersen, the author of Playboy’s History of the Sexual Revolution, conducted a tour of Washington DC that pointed out all the various and sordid secrets of politicians gone by, including the histories of the FBI building and the new Ronald Reagan Building. The press made little notation of the tour, even though their attentions were on the Paula Jones case. (Remember, of course, that the media is also an intellectual institution, and as such find it difficult to deal with reality, even though it is their job to report on it.)

Worse yet seems to be the only way to regain acceptance in this intellectual bastion - to join the ranks of the anti-sex crusaders. Donna Rice, the attractive model who was seen sitting on Gary Hart’s lap in 1988, is now Donna Rice-Hughes, a born-again anti-sex crusader.

Make no mistake, the denial of our primal side by intellectual institutions such as politics are no different in nature than the motivations behind sexual harassment. It is an abuse of power by those who can abuse it. In short, they tell us the same message - "screw with us or get screwed by us."

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