If political life went by the joke-teller’s rule--“stop me if you’ve heard this one”-- we’d never have heard about Sharon Bialek and Herman Cain.
Sharon Bialek is a plucky blonde with prominent bangs. She is a registered Republican and a college graduate. Represented by the perpetually self-effacing shrinking violet Gloria Allred, she came forward and read a startling statement about her interactions with Herman Cain. After losing her job with the National Restaurant Association in 1997, she traveled down to Washington to seek guidance from Herman Cain, whom she had met through her Restaurant Association work. On arriving at the Washington Hilton, Bialek found that she was in a far more impressively palatial suite than she had imagined.
When she met Cain at the Hilton bar, Bialek related, he asked how the room was. She told him.
“I upgraded you,” Cain allegedly said, with a smirk.
This sounds like the part of the evening when things begin going rapidly downhill. Bialek says she explained, over dinner, that she wanted a job and he said he would look into it.
Then he offered to show her the National Restaurant Association headquarters. Maybe, in Cain’s world, “I’ll show you the National Restaurant Association headquarters” is some sort of kinky euphemism. But what he allegedly attempted to push her head towards was definitely not the National Restaurant Association headquarters, and that doesn’t explain why he allegedly began reaching up her leg.
The Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson reported: “She recalls saying: “This isn’t what I came here for, Mr. Cain.”
The now-GOP presidential candidate responded, according to Bialek, “You want a job, right?”
Now it’s time to unpick the evening. Twitter is already ablaze.
If what Bialek says is true, as several on Twitter pointed out, that’s more than just harassment. Harassment is when the man at the copier wolf-whistles, and the old avuncular guy in sales tells that joke about two brunettes and a plunger. When someone gropes you, that’s something else.
But Cain did stop when Bialek asked. It was inappropriate — she had a boyfriend, he was married, and the imbalance of power was enormous — but when the dust cleared, he was out the cost of an expensive hotel room and his maneuver failed.
The worst thing about this story, if true, is how familiar the set-up is. I can imagine this working. The upgrade. The dinner. The feel-up. This is why people on Twitter already are saying, “""I upgraded you" and then we went to dinner"...and she was caught completely unaware. Women? Are you buying this innocent act?”
Maybe that’s the sketchiest part of all, that people say, “Well, she should have known what she was getting into. She should have met him for coffee, not dinner. She should have walked in wearing a bulky sweater with I AM NOT HERE TO BE GROPED, I SIMPLY WISH TO DISCUSS BUSINESS emblazoned on it somewhere. Just so as not to send the wrong message, you understand.”
Never meet a man for dinner. Meet him for coffee. Dinner, apparently, sends a message. Drinks send a message. Being blonde and good-looking and asking for help getting a job from an older man send a message. Being a woman sends a message.
“What did she think would happen?”
Well, I don’t know, maybe she thought they would discuss the possibility of her getting a job like professional adults.
It sounds odd and naive when I type it out like that.
The trouble is that this transaction still occurs. It’s not the first time someone has gotten the wrong idea in a situation like this, and it won’t be the last, because this approach has worked, and it will work again. It shouldn’t. But it does.
The assumptions that undergird this sort of behavior are assumptions we have yet to truly challenge. We still have this idea that being an incurable skirt chaser doesn’t impact policy-making. It’s a sign of virility, or something. Berlusconi does it, and Italy is
fine. still extant. Bill Clinton did it, and the economy thrived. We still think that women just need thicker skins to stand up to harassment, that those who can’t stand the heat should just get out of the kitchen, that Men Were Built To Behave This Way, that sleeping your way to the top is simply nice work if you can get it, not a form of exploitation. With ideas like this, what did we think would happen?
Cain immediately issued a categorical denial — “I have never harassed anybody ever”-- and complained that this was distracting from his “bold “9-9-9 Plan,” clear foreign policy vision and plans for energy independence.” What clear foreign policy vision? The one that suggested that China had better be stopped from developing nukes?
This denial should make it abundantly clear that this scandal is distracting from a campaign that is itself a distraction.
If only we’d heard this one for the last time.