AS A PUBLIC SERVICE, I will pinch Phyllis Schlafly.
I will do this despite the fact that it is illegal and despite the fact that I have no real urge to do it (I have no real urge to pinch anyone), but merely to prove to her that there are times when a woman is pinched or touched or fondled or in some other way sexually approached when it is not her fault.
It was Schlafly, appearing in her role as spokeswoman for the 19th century, who told a congressional committee "that sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for the virtuous woman, except in the rarest of cases." As a result, she said, there was no need for more laws regulating that sort of thing. A little modesty would do the trick.
It could be that Schlafly has a point there. While there is no denying that sexual harassment is a problem, there is also no denying that it is very hard to regulate. What it often involves, after all, is a bundle of behavior and ways of communicating that range from explicit demands or statements to winks and smiles. One person's harassment may be another person's way of being charming and what one man may think is a come-on can be nothing more than a woman's way of being friendly.
But thee is such a thing in this world as sexual harassment -- sexual harassment so clean and pure and revolting that no one would deny its existence. These cases are on record. They have been through the courts and they involve not women who brought on the situation themselves, but men who demanded sex in exchange for either work or promotions. This sort of thing has happned in industry and it has happened also in academic life. More than one professor has had his mind changed about a grade for reasons having nothing to do with scholarship.
It appears that Schlafly would concede that from time to time these things happend, but when they do, she thinks it is because the woman brought on her own troubles. This is the worst sort of blaming the victim, the sort of reasoning that used to play a prominent role in rape cases. Then it was argued that if a woman was wearing something sexy, if she had maybe flirted a bit, she had brought on her own rape. That smiliar outfits and similar behavior had never in the past produced rape, did not seem to matter.It also did not seem to matter that a woman has a right to dress and behave as she wants without being raped.
Schlafly does not buy this. She would apparently hold a woman responsible for her own rape the same way someone else might hold himself responsible for his own mugging. What she is doing is finding the women who were sexually harassed guilty of being women. It is, in her view, something of a crime.
This is the theme of much of what Schlafly says. The current that runs through her statements and her positions is one that holds a very dim view of sex and sexuality. She sees it always as a threatening storm. It can be triggered by the wrong move, the wrong behavior and when it happens it is not only usually the fault of the women, but it should be punished as well. What she is is a scold.
In her view, women belong in the home. In her view, women deserve to be protected. In her view, women need to be coddled and treated like the sweet things in "Gone With the Wind." They are not deserving of equal rights because that would mean equal responsibilities and that, as we all know, is beyond women. Sometimes I wonder how Schlafly can stand herself -- weak, protected, lust object that she is.
When Schlafly speaks of the needs of motherhood, she is speaking of a real problem. When she refers, as she sometimes does, to the contradictions placed on women who want to be both a mother and have a career, she is making sense. But she makes their lives no easier for them by blaming them for their plight, for suggesting that they are getting their comeuppance for being, of all things, women outside the home.
When Schlafly speaks of the modern-day working environment, she doesn't know what she is talking about. When she blames women for being the victims of sexual harassment, she is doing nothing more than saying that they all would have been better off if they had stayed at home. I, though, can prove to her that there are times when it is not their fault.
C'm'ere, Phyllis. I have something for you.