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Cain plays the “you know how women blow everything out of proportion” card

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, November 1, 2011 12:40 EDT
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So, after a day of floundering, Herman Cain has decided to respond to the revelations about sexual harassment complaints in the past with the "hysterical bitches" card. When outright denial isn't possible and claiming that she consented and regretted is implausible, the "you know women, always overreacting to every little thing, amirite, guys?" card is coming out. It comes with an attempt to downplay what happened, usually speaking. Anyone who reads MRA stuff regularly has seen this in action, though it's often more of the "it was just a scratch, I don't know what she was complaining about" variety. (This excuse came into play in the suicide letter of the MRA who set himself on fire at a courthouse. He minimized the fact that he punched his 4-year-old daughter in the face hard enough to bust her lip, and portrayed his ex-wife as a hysteric for taking that incident seriously and divorcing him.) This is Cain's version:

"And then I did recall one mention in the formal complaint that my general counsel shared, and that was, one day I was gesturing standing near this lady that she was as tall as my wife," he said, gesturing to his own chin. "Five feet tall. Because my wife comes up to my chin, and I was gesturing to this lady, standing next to her, almost shoulder to shoulder, saying you're about the same height as my wife. That was mentioned in the allegation, to my surprise. And so that was the only thing I could recollect that was mentioned as one of the possible things."

It's possible, of course, that's all he said to her. If so, that would be really strange. Most of the time, a one-off comment about someone's height isn't so elaborate. Elaborate discussions of height come up in the context of other kinds of talk, such as if you were trying to lure an unwilling woman into a sexual conversation about how height plays into the act of sexual intercourse, such as the sort you have with your wife. Just a guess. Until we get more details, we can't really know what was going on. I mean, Cain is a strange dude. Perhaps he roams the countryside coming up with reasons to compare people's heights to his wife. Who knows?

As for the Republican base that everyone is so anxious about, I know that this won't hurt him. Nona explained the 10-step process for getting people to side with the accused, even if they think he's guilty (see: DSK, Clarence Thomas, Roman Polanski), and this process works better on Republicans than anyone. Conservatism is about siding with the powerful over the oppressed, and that means that their natural preference is to side with men over women, unless they're trying to score political points against that man. Since Cain is their guy, there's no doubt how this is going to go. Plus, his entire image is based on this goofy notion that he's some sort of rebel against the supposed liberal establishment. Since they believe women and feminists especially control everything, someone who pisses off feminists by sexually harassing colleagues until they have to leave rather than deal with him is poised to be a hero. They won't say it out loud, but the "boys will be boys" excuse is how that belief will be communicated. 

I have one major complaint about the media coverage of this. The incident that's been dug up is being called "the accusations". This may be true in a technicality sort of way, but it really conceals what's going on here. It implies, falsely, that the women are only now coming forward about something that happened years ago, which allows conservatives to apply a Clarence Thomas framework, aka claim that they're only coming forward now because they're political operatives. In fact, the original story made it clear that the women came forward at the time, long before Cain was a politician, and that they got some kind of settlement in exchange for letting the whole thing go away. Which, considering when the incidents supposedly happened, was exponentially more than most sexually harassed women could have dreamed of. Honestly, it's more than most can dream of now, no matter what legal protections are technically in place. I'm not entirely clear on if the women involved have even been spoken to by any journalists. The Politico coverage of it refers to "multiple sources", but the only ones that are named are people who worked with the women. The women, in fact, are cited as having signed a non-disclosure agreement to protect Cain from them telling people what happened. My feeling is they probably did speak to the women—they have their names—and fleshed out some details from them, but because of the NDA, they can only report what non-involved people heard about it, as well as what was in the documents detailing their departures.

From these reports, we get a very different picture than what Cain's saying. It seems mostly that the women claimed that he came onto them in lewd and aggressive ways while they were on the road, perhaps figuring he could use away-from-the-wife-time to get some strange, but going about it in a way that was more alienating that seductive. If the allegations are true, then I'm really not surprised at all. He comes across as a creepy dude, and I have no trouble picturing him thinking he could harass someone into bed. This is a surprisingly common belief amongst creepy dudes, and probably it works occasionally, if the women they target start to believe the safest way out of the situation is to give him some sex so he'll quit bothering you. 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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