The crowd at Wednesday night’s Republican debate roundly booed the mention of the sexual harassment allegations against GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain — and cheered when moderator John Harwood quickly abandoned the issue, saying, “Let me switch back to the economy.”
It’s telling that even one of Cain’s four accusers, Sharon Bialek, fell back on language that suggests harassment is not a real issue but one that ought to be hurried past on our way to more important matters: Tell the truth, she implored her fellow Republican this week, “so that you and the country can move forward and focus on the real issues at hand.”
Sharon Bialek, a client of lawyer Gloria Allred, becomes the first woman to publicly accuse Herman Cain of sexual harassment at a news conference in New York City.
The way politicians and the media have been talking about the allegations against Cain in the past week suggest that sexual harassment is an exotic, rarely glimpsed phenomenon — difficult to distinguish, and not worth the effort: It’s “frustrating” to be hearing so much about harassment, Liz Cheney, daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney (R), said on “Face the Nation,” when “what the American voters really care about is the substance.”
This is a conversation we have mostly not been having in the two decades since Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of creeping her out at work. But if we have no practice talking about sexual harassment, it’s not because it so seldom happens.
I asked some of the writers for the women’s blog that The Post is soon launching to ask the first few women they happened to run into one morning this week — at the gym, on the street or in line for coffee — whether they’d ever been sexually harassed at work. Of 23 women in eight cities, 16 said yes and seven no. Those who said yes included a 76-year-old Iowan who told Suzi Parker she used to work for a doctor “who petted my behind” and a 50-year-old Californian fired from her first part-time high school job because she refused to kiss her “greasy-haired” boss at the local movie theater.
A publicist in Kansas City told Donna Trussell that when she was a young temp at a public utility company, “my boss used to lean very close over my shoulder when he was training me and, within the first week, asked me if I wanted to go for a weekend trip out of town to the horse races. I would come home from work very upset and was told by my mother not to make a big deal out of it. The only thing that made it better was that he was also doing it to two other women in the office that he supervised, and I could talk about it with them.”
When writer Mary Curtis asked a former corporate banker at her gym in Charlotte whether she had ever been sexually harassed at work, the woman answered, “Which time?”
Only one woman, a 24-year-old in Dallas, said she had lodged a formal complaint. She told Judith Ellis Howard that when she was interviewing for a job three years ago, the interviewer asked whether she had a boyfriend. When the woman, whose first name is Amber, said she was married, the interviewer said her husband was lucky and mused aloud about a specific sexual act between them.