The vocabulary of bad behavior: Adultery, harassment, assault, and rape.

Source: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Herman Cain is imploding. If anyone’s still pretending this is a surprise, can we stop that right now? I would also be grateful if we could finally stop acting as if he was ever a serious contender for the GOP nomination. He wasn’t, and not just because he’s black. Cain was never a serious contender because he’s wildly ignorant, and borderline crazy. The GOP has a history of allowing these people (Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, Paul, Cain, etc) to toddle out onto the stage and push the boundaries of civil conversation a little farther out, squeezing out every last drop of anti-social outrage they can, and then tossing them onto history’s famous scrapheap, in favor of the one fella who has money and isn’t certifiable. In 2008, it was John McCain. In 2012, it’ll be Mitt Romney. Have we cleared that up? (No, it won’t be Gingrich. Stop that! He’s made too many Republicans mad. Much as they hate Romney, they hate Gingrich more). (No! Not Huntsman either! He’s too reasonable, and too poor. Maybe 2016, when they’re done purging the party of the crazy following what they already know will be Obama’s re-election). (Yes. That’s what’s going to happen. Can we get to the point now? Thank you).

Herman Cain’s silly White House run having served more as useful foolishness than reality, I don’t have any interest in discussing it as a political exercise. I do, however, have a very real interest in using it to continue the conversation we began earlier this month about the ways in which harassment and assault shape women’s days, and to move into the vocabulary we use in conversations about sexual violence, whether they are about Herman Cain, or Jerry Sandusky, or Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or the asshole down the street.

Cain stands accused of three things:

  1. Adultery
  2. Harassment
  3. Assault

One woman has said they conducted a 13-year affair, and Cain’s lawyer has all but admitted this to be the case. Several woman have accused him of harassment, and in the one case where the details have emerged, it became an accusation of assault at the very moment in which the accuser said he’d groped her inner thigh, and attempted to pull her head toward his crotch.

We (and here I think I mean pretty much everyone, not just Americans) have a terrible problem remembering that these are three different things, and that the latter two legitimately overlap.

Adultery means you’re bad at monogamy. Depending on your relationship, it probably means you’re a bad spouse. In most cases, I believe adultery to be an entirely private matter, but if you happen to be running for office on a platform of some kind of mythical family purity, it also means you’re a dangerous, damaging hypocrite, and your peccadilloes are justifiable fodder in my efforts to defeat you.

Harassment, however, and assault are something else altogether. Adultery presumes consent. Harassment and assault (and rape) presume a relationship of dominance, one in which one person is Subject/Actor, and the other is Object/Acted-Upon.

When men ask our cup size, or yell at us to smile, or suggest the workday might go better if we go down on them first – they’re not treating us as people, they’re treating us objects, tools through which they may express their own desires and their position of social dominance. They’re creating an environment in which women are set on a knife edge of, at the very least, discomfort, if not fear.

When men grab our breasts, attempt to kiss us uninvited, or pull our heads toward their crotch, they’ve not just ignored our humanity and treated us as tools, but they’ve acted on that bias, handling our very bodies as objects with which they may do as they please. The discomfort or fear is no longer in response to a vague, difficult-to-judge level of threat, but a reaction to events which say quite clearly that we’re at risk.

And it bears noting (and repeating endlessly) that as much as we may dislike adultery — harassment and assault are actual crimes.

As is rape.

Rape is on a continuum with harassment and assault, and while each step along that continuum is worse on increasing orders of magnitude, they start at the same root: The denial of another person’s humanity, the erasure of that person’s autonomy, the transformation of a blood-and-bone human being (a chamber maid, a co-worker, a boy who’s turned to you for guidance) into a thing.

I wrote about this with far greater heat when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of rape (and for what it’s worth: I still believe the accuser. Like I still believe Anita Hill), but I actually think we have a harder time drawing these linguistic lines when the crimes under discussion are lesser. We still find it far too easy to interpret harassment as boyishness, and assault as crossed signals. We still find it far too easy to presume that in matters of sexual congress, men are predators because they should be.

When we lump Cain’s adultery in with his (alleged) harassment and assault, when we lump Strauss-Kahn’s infidelities in with his (alleged) rape, when we somehow talk about these things in the same breath in which we discuss Sandusky’s serial rape of young boys — we further the problem.

Cheating for 13 years, or repeatedly, or on one ill-considered night — that’s a sex scandal.

Harassment, assault and rape, on the other hand, are crimes. Let’s be very clear about that when we open our mouths and start talking. We are all damaged when we fail to do so.

Open Thread for the wandering Horde.

So, Ta-Nehisi goes off to his fancy geek school to conversate, and we’re left high and dry? Never fear! The student lounge is open.

Also, and as always: If you’re not one of the folks who usually joins in the conversation at The Atlantic or in these alternate open threads, please feel free to jump in! We’re a very friendly, if overly-geeky, crowd. Pinky swear.

For my husband.


(Though if there’s anyone who needs to be reminded to live for today, it’s me…).

Just a few of the many things…

…at which I would be awesome, should the world want to give me the opportunity:

  1. Research assistant (such as this: ) but particularly as regards the contemporary Middle East.
  2. Communications assistant or contract writer for nonpartisan or left-leaning non-profits – Topics I’ve covered in this capacity in the past include: the elections in Congo, America’s terrorism detainees, the environment, corporate social responsibility, racism in America, child hunger, Middle East peace process, Islamophobia, US interfaith efforts, war in the Sudan, abortion rights, refugees, philanthropy. And then some.
  3. Contract writer for museums or publishing houses – as a graduate student by nature and reporter by training (and long-time book reviewer), I think I bring a good approach to work that must be essentially academic in nature, but not come across as academic. I’m thinking in terms of museum education programs, for instance, or readers’ guides (fiction or non-) for publishing houses.
  4. Essayist, regular columnist, feted thinker of big thoughts – still dreaming the dream!

If you or anyone you know happens to be looking for such an employee, my online portfolio is available at, and more information (as well as a contact email and charming headshot) can be found on the above About page.

I’ve been a freelance writer (doing pretty much all of the above, in some form or another) for something in the neighborhood of 20 years, which means some months are busier than others (November has been pretty good, for instance) – but I confess that I would like something a little more steady at this point in my life! Call me crazy.

Just, you know: sayin’.

Good stuff: No, really – BACK OFF THE CORN.

No, Teddy the porcupine will *not* share. And stop asking!


OMG, the noises! Especially the “take that!” at the very end! OMG!

You’re welcome.

Solving all your pizza/vegetable conundrums, in just 52 seconds.


You’re welcome.

And have a great weekend!

h/t BoingBoing

Open Thread for a long weekend.

Okay, I’m a bit late here, but there was picking up to do, and a book to be read, and leftovers to be ate. I was busy, dang it!

But here I am: An open thread, for your long weekend needs!


Play nice (which, if you’re new-ish, means follow these simple rules, all of which boil down to “be a person” – thank you!), and if you get stuck in moderation, I’ll get you out as soon as I can! (Curse words won’t do it, but posting from a new email address will).

A wee bit o’ grateful randomality.

I’ve been in a bad mood for days and days and days (with intermittent cheeriness when not required to think) for reasons that are simultaneously very solid and deeply boring. So. Not going to get into that.

BUT: I haven’t been required to think much today, as I have pottered about my Thanksgiving preparations, and even as I type I can hear my children and husband having a blast while they pick up the basement (having fun as they pick up — all in all, it’s not a bad life), and I’m really, really trying to come up with a post. Yet, as they say in… in… Yiddish, maybe?… “yok.” A big fat nothing. (Might be Turkish. I’m really not clear on this).

BUT THE SECOND: I just saw someone on Twitter saying they’re grateful this Thanksgiving that it’s President Obama and Vice-President Biden, rather than President McCain and Vice-President Palin, and as a shudder went down my spine, I thought: “Oooh, yes. I am very grateful for that, indeed!”

So. A random list of things that bear being grateful for, even if they might not be the first thing to come to mind:

  1. The fact that it’s President Obama and Vice-President Biden, not President McCain and Vice-President Palin. Pause to let that sink in for a bit.
  2. Firefly. Obvs. (For reference, click here, and also here).
  3. Nathon Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Gina Torres, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Morena Baccarin, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, and Adam Baldwin (the cast of Firefly). And mostly Joss Whedon (creator, producer, often writer and director of Firefly. Not to mention composer of the very, very shiny theme song to Firefly). And the fine people at the Horde who hounded me into watching Firefly.
  4. Indeed, the Horde itself. It is a rare and delightful thing to find and help form a genuine community of caring, crazy-smart, and ding-dang funny people on the internet, yet there it is. Even though I’ve been in too bad a mood to hang out much the past few days, I’m very glad to know they’re out there in the tubes.
  5. Which I suppose means I’m also grateful for the person of, not just the writing of, Ta-Nehisi Coates, at whose blog the Horde gathers, but that sounds a little weird, so we’ll just leave that as subtext. Though I’m happy to be openly grateful for his writing.
  6. My couch. (You don’t know this [well, most of you don’t] but my couch is the best couch in the universe, and the husband and I often comment — as the four of us sprawl across its sectional awesomeness — that it’s the best decision we ever made. Short of, you know, each other).
  7. The Black Keys – a most rocking twosome that I discovered this year and really, really love.
  8. These two straight guys kissing to protest the threat posed to Spain’s marriage equality law.
  9. The fact that Whole Foods got in a new shipment of that corn bread mix that my kids love.
  10. Oatmeal. With raisins and brown sugar.

I am, of course, very grateful also for the more obvious things (the kids and husband themselves, for instance, and friends and a beautiful home and my health and so on), but then, you already knew that, didn’t you? I’ll bet the couch thing hadn’t even crossed your mind!

If you’d like to leave your own utterly random list in comments, please do! And, while I’m at it – #11: My readers and commenters. Thanks so much for coming by, you guys. It means more than I think I can rightly say, but I take it as a real kindness. Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

“Over Netanyahu’s New Israel, the BS light is on”

Bradley Burston

The always excellent Bradley Burston in HaAretz, on the Israeli Knesset’s wave of “Black Flag” legislation designed to severely curtail a long list of democratic freedoms:

With the occupation came the overarching need to ignore, to confabulate, to misdirect. With the occupation came the self-protective urge for marketing, for rebranding, for selective vision, for a shrill form of self-esteem based on the idea that we alone, with our experience, can understand and thus speak the truth.

With the occupation, with the settlements, with the night raids and the administrative detention and the roads just for settlers and the buses just for settlers, with the destruction of Palestinian crops and the expropriation of Palestinian property and the cramping off of Palestinian life, came the need for something bigger than the words for lie and falsehood and deception.

With the occupation came the need for that word. For BS in all its forms. With the occupation came the need for playing the victim, for playing the saint, for playing the pompous preacher, for acting the misunderstood street punk, for denying demography, for fostering segregation, for intimidating the press, for discriminating against Arab citizens while noting that many of them work in high-tech, for building walls high enough that we can’t watch what we ourselves are doing.

“For building walls high enough around that we can’t watch what we ourselves are doing….”

Please read the rest, by clicking here.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

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