On wresting good from stupid: Herman Cain, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

A very quick thought:

Herman Cain was never a serious contender for the Republican nomination. He is, in more ways than I have time to enumerate right now, a clown, and he has never been more than a shiny object by which we the people have been duly distracted.

As such, it is my humble opinion that Herman Cain’s candidacy (such as…) has done actual, objective damage to the American political system and those invested in that system (just as we have been damaged by Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry, though considerably less than we were damaged by Ralph Nader), because all he has served to do is distract us and suck up wildly expensive time and resources.


With the revelation of what is turning into quite a slew of accusations of sexual harassment and/or assault (“Hey, baby, you’re lookin’ gooood tonight!” [or some such] being the former; grabbing a woman’s inner thigh and pulling her head toward his crotch [the actual accusation that Sharon Bialek has leveled] being the latter) we have an opportunity to wrest some objective good out of this mountain of stupid.

Every woman I know can tell a story of harassment or assault. Every single one.

For some, this has meant being yelled at on the street; for others, horrifying tales of violence and rape. It’s a huge range between the two, and I do not mean to conflate all the various kinds of harassment and assault, but merely want to say: Sexual threat or violence, or fear of same, is a constant in the lives of all women and girls. Full stop.

So here’s what we can do: We can take this Side Show Bob act that Herman Cain has been putting on for a few months, and turn it to our advantage. We can start talking.

We need to talk, and talk, and talk — we need to tell the truth and tell our stories and face the ugliness that always comes out when we tell our truth, but keep telling it anyway.

We, men and women both, need to face the fact of men using sexual innuendo, threats, and violence as a weapon against women on a regular, daily basis. Herman Cain (if he is in fact guilty of the acts of which he is accused) is far from the first, he is not currently the only, and he will not be the last man to treat other human beings as tools by which he has the right to express his power.

Moreover, if we are more honest and open about how often grown men do this sort of thing to grown women — we may be able to be more honest and open about how often grown men do this to female children (whether paying for it and calling the rape “underage prostitution,” or not), more honest and open about how often grown men do this to male children (whether in the Catholic Church, the Penn State locker rooms, or elsewhere), and more honest and open about how often grown men do this to each other (whether in prison, at frat parties, or anywhere else).

I am very, very clear on the fact that not all men are sexual predators, and I know that some women are.

But it’s mostly men — by a hell of a longshot — and far more men do this sort of thing than we admit. Indeed, I would submit that far more men do this sort of thing than are even aware of it themselves (if she was too drunk to say no? It was rape. As but one example).

So let’s take the awful, ridiculous, embarrassing moment in American political history that is Herman Cain, and turn it into something good: Let’s take the opportunity to be honest about the daily, lived reality of sexual harassment and assault.

Then, perhaps, Herman Cain will have actually managed to do some good for the American people. In spite of himself.


  1. Just a few weeks before the Cain sexual harassment allegations started, I was listening to a theatrical reenactment of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings. I was too young to fully appreciate what was happening at the time of the hearings. Revisiting them last month, I had to turn off the radio. I couldn’t stand to hear the questions being asked and answered. Now, I seem to be seeing it unfold in front of my eyes again.

  2. Ash Can

     /  November 9, 2011

    I hate to say it, but it’s immeasurably better that there’s more than one woman making accusations against Cain — better for the women themselves. I remember how horrendous the Anita Hill hearings were, and it’s unimaginable how Hill was able to go through what she did without turning into a serial strangler, let alone coming out of it as dignified and poised as she was and is. And she faced it all alone. Now, with the Cain situation, there are several women speaking up, and not one but two are not anonymous. There’s strength in numbers, and because of it, none of these women, thankfully, will have it quite as bad as Anita Hill did.

  3. My mom and I were talking about this the other night (my parents have voted Republican since Reagan and will probably continue to though they’re probably leaning more towards Huntsman than anyone else), and we were outraged at the attempts to justify the unjustifiable, to make excuses for what seems like consistent somewhat creepy-to-downright-predatory behavior and how the same conservatives who freaked out over Clinton (because there was a string of women there too) were making all these excuses for “their guy” (and I’ve also heard the vice versa from my dyed-in-the-wool Dem colleagues who say that what Clinton or even Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of was completely different). One allegation is harder for me to always get behind but when there’s so many (and doubtless others who haven’t spoken up), it’s hard for me to not think something was going on that was not right.

    And I hate this whole blaming the woman thing, digging up this stuff from the past that even if it’s true, doesn’t excuse what the other person did. It’s horrible to be accused of something that you didn’t do, but it’s hard for me to not think that he was taking advantage of his position and power.

  4. SWNC

     /  November 9, 2011

    “Every woman I know can tell a story of harassment or assault. Every single one.”

    I’ve never thought about in those terms before, but you’re absolutely right. That’s staggering. How fucked up is it that it’s an expected and normal part of womanhood?

  5. It is the one thing that is never a product of such events: dialog. No matter how famous, no matter how infamous, no matter how atrocious, we do not talk about it. The Penn State situation is a perfect example of the cloying miasma that grips discussion of appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior. Joe Paterno, product of a by-gone era, did the minimum he needed to to salve his conscience. It may turn out that he talked to Sandusky about the allegation, and was probably reassured by his assistant coach that it was “nothing,” or “baseless,” leading Coach Paterno to think nothing more of it, because he didn’t want to. Talk about sex and sexuality, in any context, is still aversive to a greater portion of Americans.

    At some point, we, as a citizenry, must stop and determine, for all time, how we will treat sex and sexuality in the human milieu. No piecemeal approach can hope to overturn centuries of parochial dogma and entrenched bigotry; there was must be a common and acceptable set of social behaviors regarding gender, orientation, sexuality, and they must be enforced by human society, not through law, but through human-to-human interaction, and the calling out of those who seek to continue to poison humanity with their phobias and fears.

  6. corkingiron

     /  November 9, 2011

    I’m not suggesting any causal link here, but our national police force, the RCMP, is having this discussion right now:


  7. One of the most damning things about all of this is that I don’t even think Cain is particularly egregious. This is common in high-powered circles. Men with power–financial, political, military–often exhibit this kind of behavior. Because they can? Because many women find power attractive, and so they come on to them and then the men grow to expect it and assume they are entitled to sexual access? I’m not sure. But Cain, Clinton, Edwards, Kennedy, King–they’re not outliers.

    So while I am fascinated by the show, I also think it’s terrifically hypocritical for the media to behave as if this behavior is not, in fact, endemic in powerful circles. God knows it’s endemic in unpowerful circles–look at the incidence of rape by fellow soldiers in the military, and those are situations where the power differential is much smaller.

    Cain’s behavior is not surprising. What’s surprising to me (although it shouldn’t be) is how the media is trying to convince us it is.

  8. dmf

     /  November 9, 2011

    more light, more information, and direct action, ever onward…