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Conservatives give up the pretense of disapproval of sexual harassment

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, November 7, 2011 13:20 EDT
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This primary season has really been remarkable, in terms of exposing the fantasies and motivations of the right, especially with regards to the strange enthusiasm for Herman Cain, even though he's probably not really running at all. 

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Even though a thorough examination leads to the conclusion that Cain is running  a faux campaign for reasons that we can only speculate about, he's wildly popular with the base now, because reactionaries frequently have ill-developed senses of humor plus an all-consuming rage at liberals that obliterates common sense, and thus can be easily pulled in to agreeing with Poes. As many people predicted, the sexual harassment charges aren't hurting him. Interestingly, the fact that there's so much evidence that something happened—I continue to arch my eyebrows at the notion that "innocent until proven guilty" is a factor in a situation where there's already a settlement (next we'll be asked to assume innocence after a guilty verdict—hey, you didn't prove-prove it!)—seems to actualy be making this better for Cain. Since denying that it happened is basically off the table for conservatives, denying that it matters is their only real gambit. They're far more comfortable scolding women to endure sexual harassment and abuse with a smile than quibbling over the facts, since doing the latter requires reluctantly conceding that men shouldn't grope and leer at their colleagues. Calling women who complain about sexual harassment hysterical bitches is emotionally easier for them, since that's what they meant to say all along. 

I sensed that this was going to be the narrative last week, when I wrote this at XX Factor:

Still, I think there's a counter-explanation for why GOP base voters could be rallying around Cain in light of these revelations beyond a simple disbelief that he said or did anything. After all, Cain hasn't really been so great at outright denials, and, of course, there's the problem of the National Restaurant Association settling with the women involved. My alternative explanation is that many conservatives have still not come around to agreeing that there's anything wrong with men saying lewd and harassing things to women they work with.

I had a couple of examples of where I thought this was going, but since then, there's been a real dogpile of accusing, without a shred of evidence, all of the women claiming sexual harassment of being hysterical bitches. The same day that I wrote that blog post, Media Matters put out a long list of conservatives dismissing the idea that there's any such thing as sexual harassment. Dahlia Lithwick followed up my post with a piece at Slate detailing how intense this narrative has become, saying:

Remember, we don’t know what happened, beyond the fact that several employees came forward with complaints and received cash settlements. That’s not a lot of information. Cain defenders could have stopped there. Instead, great swaths of them have opted to assert that there could never be a valid sex discrimination claim because the whole thing is just a racket. And they went even further: The same folks criticizing the National Restaurant Association employees who came forward with claims that they were uncomfortable in their workplace are willing to deploy the most archaic and gender-freighted stereotypes to get there. Sexual harassment can’t be “real” because the women who claim it are money-grubbing, hysterical, attention-seeking tramps.

Dave Weigel explained why he thought the "sexual harassment is just a fraud" argument has the most traction with the Republican base:

This one took a while to come out. It’s a hard conversation to start. Conservatives don’t like to admit it. But hell, time to say it: They just don’t think that the stuff Cain was accused of was all that bad. 

This week on Reality Cast, I interview Corey Robin, the author of The Reactionary Mind. His argument is fairly straightforward: reactionaries, who we call "conservatives", are people who angrily reject any attempt to make society more fair and equal. They cherish strict hierarchies. I recommend listening to the whole interview (and buying his book!), because he has a fascinating take on why liberals who distinguish between women's issues and labor issues are missing the point—for conservatives, it's all one and the same, because bosses and men both are seeing their supposed right to exert control over labor and and women threatened. With sexual harassment, you really see the two issues intertwined. At the end of the day, sexual harassment doesn't really make sense to conservatives. The point of having women, especially women down the food chain from you, at your job is so you can get your jollies with petty power plays, and if they knew their place better, they would take it with a smile. In the reactionary mind, sexual harassment isn't the problem, it's uppitiness. That Cain isn't going to be able to slip away from this situation with heavy denials is probably a relief to many; time to drop the pretense of giving a shit about sexual harassment in lieu of demanding a return to a workplace where you could pants your female coworkers and they couldn't do anything about it. 

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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