Monday, November 14, 2011

Did anyone read the Katie Roiphe piece in the NYT?

I thought this op-ed was particularly tone deaf (and really shallow for a piece in the NTY) based on my experience as a female attorney, but I'm curious to know what others think.


hanestagless said...

The op-ed gave me some thoughts on sexual harassment and the Herman Cain situation. First, I don’t agree with Roiphe that a harassment-free work environment becomes “drab” or “cautious.” In fact, my personal experience tells me the opposite. In one job, I had a co-worker who would occasionally make small, but still inappropriate jokes. Instead of adding ease to the environment, he added tension with tinges of embarrassment. We would remain in cubicles to avoid him because if we gathered together to chat, he would inevitably join. At another job that was harassment-free, everyone felt comfortable to be themselves. The work environment was fun, gregarious, and inclusive of everyone.

However, I do think that Roiphe raises an interesting point in the vagueness of sexual harassment. The term sexual harassment is broad and vague. For me, when I hear of someone charged with sexual harassment, my first thought is of “a comment about someone’s dress,” not of a demand for “sex in exchange for a job.” I wonder whether many others also initially think of the more benign side of the definitional spectrum when they hear the term sexual harassment. While all sexual harassment is unacceptable, there may be merit in creating more specific terms and distinguishing the various behaviors that constitute sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment in politics further indicates how society feels about it. As of Monday, national numbers according to the Public Policy Polling survey show that Herman Cain (25% of GOP primary voters) is second to Newt Gingrich (28% of GOP primary voters). Despite the string of women who have alleged that Herman Cain sexually harassed them, he still remains in the running to be the Republican candidate for President. I acknowledge that these are only allegations. Nonetheless, that he still has a strong backing for President seems indicative to me that we (or at least GOP primary voters) feel sexual harassment, particularly in politics, is trivial. While it garners attention in our 24-hour news cycle, in the end, voting numbers suggest it’s just not all that important—at least not compared to saying “Oops” during a national debate.

I don’t know whether our indifferent view on sexual harassment is a consequence of its prevalence in the workforce, our desensitization to it in the political arena, or its “vague, subjective, and slippery” definition as Roiphe describes it. Regardless, we should not tolerate it, especially from our governmental leaders. If we want to eliminate sexual harassment and declare that it’s not OK, then we can start with our vote.

AMA said...

I think she's missing a huge point in that sexual harassment is not the "heart and soul" or "fun" of a work environment. Is she saying that without derogatory jokes in the workplace things are lifeless? Furthermore, she ignores the fact that women, rather than men, are usually the targets of sexual harassment, creating an undeniable and inappropriate power dynamic that should not be present in any office. While I would like to think that sexual harassment isn't as serious as it once was and that people should loosen up, the fact of the matter is that sexual harassment is still a big problem and that it does make women uncomfortable, shy, and angry. I don't think we should be tempted to write it off as a thing of the past or part of a "lively" office because it's not. If Ms. Roiphe feels great in that atmosphere, then fine, but I'd venture to guess that most women would not feel the same.

picador007 said...

Thanks for your thoughts!

Rose Sawyer said...

The Katie Roiphe piece reminded me, more than anything else, of this [1] article from the Education Week web site. The gist of the Education Week article -- titled "Judge Posner on School Law [sic] and 'Spoiled Kids'" -- is that "students today are 'spoiled and coddled' and should 'learn to roll with the punches' and not be hypersensitive about political or religious messages in schools they might find offensive." (Internal quotes by Posner.) Additionally, Posner stated that "you have to take a certain amount of buffeting to live in society."

In my mind, the problem with making statements like "women should be less sensitive" or "children should be less sensitive" is that sometimes those statements are true, but sometimes they are not, and when they are not, the consequences can be dire.

If there's one thing that law school has taught me, it's that for every bright-line rule there is an exception.

I do not believe in undue sensitivity, in part because I like humor and frank discussion. The broad point that both Roiphe and Posner make is valid -- if everyone was always politically correct and tactful, life would be painfully boring. The rare, successful office romance would never get started. Opinions would rarely be challenged, and would therefore rarely change. "Your mom" and "that's what she said" jokes? Out of the question.

That said, at a certain point humor or frank discussion crosses an inappropriate line. The problem is that this line is all too often subjective. We know when it's been crossed, but our certainty is rarely easy to explain. Sometimes it flat-out defies rationality. And, to make matters worse, people do bring frivolous, false, or self-serving claims -- abusing the system.

So: do we adopt laws that are under-inclusive, thus fostering no remedy for those who are wronged? Or do we adopt laws that are over-inclusive, thus enabling those who would bring actually "hypersensitive" or false claims?

I trust enough in our legal system that I'd rather the latter.