The Profound Misogyny of a Popular Defense of Sexual Harassment
I’ve been chewing over this ridiculousness for about a day. For those who haven’t seen this, Darren Kavinoky trotted out one of the most tedious but frequently cited defenses of sexual harassment you hear: That it wouldn’t be considered harassment if the harasser was handsome. Then it would just be flirting. Kavinoky mentioned this in defense of Bob Filner, the San Diego mayor who has presently been accused of harassing 18 separate women, but you hear this line trotted out pretty much every time sexual harassment is discussed.
Every time you hear a man trot this out, by the way, you hear exactly why he’s such a fan of harassing women. After all, he’s a profound misogynist. He believes that women, as a rule, are such terrible, awful people that they will accuse a man they believe to be innocently attempting to flirt of harassment for no other reason than they didn’t like him. Not that women politely say no and move on. No, the claim is that most to all women—since most to all women have felt harassed or creeped on at some point—are so fundamentally terrible that they have to try to hurt men who didn’t do anything wrong just to hurt them. You know what believing an entire group is evil just because of something like their gender is, right? Pure, unadulterated bigotry.
It’s just really obvious in this case, because again, we’re talking about 18 separate women over decades. When you’re accusing just one woman or even just “feminists”, then it’s a little easier to hand wave away the fact that you are a bigot when you level this claim that women are so inherently broken that they falsely accuse at the drop of a hat. But in this case, the women are a pretty diverse group. The only thing they really have in common is they had the misfortune to meet Bob Filner….and that they’re female. So, it becomes super obvious that Kavinoky is positing that “making false accusations at the drop of a hat” is a universal trait of womanhood. But really, the claim is trotted out with such frequency it’s clear that everyone who makes this claim is making the same assumption: That women, by virtue of being women, are assholes who punish men for not turning us on by leveling false accusations.
I realize the pro-harassment guys will kick and scream when it’s pointed out bluntly. After all, they probably thought of it more just as an expression of their bitterness at women for not wanting to hop on their dicks as frequently as they believe they’re entitled to. (Which still makes you an asshole.) But there’s no way around it. Anyone who trots this line out is straight up saying that it’s more plausible to posit that 95-100% of women are shallow, terrible people who lie about good-hearted men for the hell of it than to admit there there’s a small percentage of men who push women’s boundaries for fun. That they find it easier to believe that all women are terrible than to believe that some men are terrible.
Sexual harassment simply isn’t bad flirting or flirting from ugly men. (Also, the whine assumes Filner has always looked the way he does now. He wasn’t super handsome when he was young, but he was hardly ugly.) It’s about using sexual innuendo and touching to make someone else feel uncomfortable. Even if the harasser would be pleasantly surprised and eager to have sex with his victim—which is less common than people suppose—that doesn’t mean his main goal is getting laid. It’s putting a woman in her place. I’ve been sexually harassed by men I would have deemed good looking if they weren’t being pigs. It’s no more pleasant than being sexually harassed by men I don’t find good looking. I’ve even been in situations where I was open to flirting with a particular man, but because he harassed me, I shut it down. Sure, it’s probably true at some point in time some woman has unfairly characterized a man’s well-meaning flirtations as creepy or harassing. But to claim that’s the preponderance or even totality of events that women claim are harassment is misogyny, pure and simple.