I've read this story twice... and I don't see it. So as much as I hate coming to the defense of a conservative politician (albeit a Canadian one), I find myself siding with the chief human resources officer in Canada's House of Commons: this wasn't a case of sexual harassment. It was inappropriate, it was crude, it was stupid. But it wasn't sexual harassment. It certainly doesn't seem like something that should bring a person to tears six months later.
Backing up: Tory MP James Bezan was getting his photo taken with Liberal MP Sherry Romanado during a public event with an unnamed third person. They weren't alone in a room, Bezan wasn't blocking the door, no one was trapped. They were at a public event with other people around, including a photographer. Take it away, Globe & Mail...
"While standing for the picture, I made an inappropriate and flippant comment by saying, 'This isn't my idea of a threesome,' which was intended as a partisan comment about being in a photo with a Liberal member of caucus," Mr. Bezan said. "I realized that this comment was inappropriate and attempted to apologize the following day, but was not afforded that opportunity."
It happened in May. Bezan apologized the next day, according to numerous reports, he apologized again two times after that (including once in writing), and voluntarily took a sensitivity training course after an investigation by the chief human resources officer found no evidence of wrongdoing, recommended no sanctions, and closed the case. Romanado went public about the remark this week — six months after it was made — and called it "inappropriate, humiliating and unwanted." Back to you, G&M:
Quebec MP Sherry Romanado rose in the House of Commons on Monday and accused Mr. Bezan of publicly making comments months ago "that were sexual in nature." "These comments have caused me great stress, and have negatively affected my work environment," she said... Ms. Romanado refused on Monday to provide further details of the encounter, which she said had occurred in May. "It's been an incredibly difficult seven months," she told reporters, appearing close to tears, after a national-defence committee meeting.
If there isn't more to this story than a single off color joke that was followed up with repeated apologies — and if Romanado is as upset by this lame joke as she claims to be (if this wasn't a calculated political move (politics ain't beanbag, as they say, and a female politician is still a politician)) — then it's impossible not to side with the oafish clod in this story. It also reminded me of this section of Laura Kipnis' recent essay in the New York Review of Books...
The political demand of the moment is for men to be better men: we want them to give up the toxic masculinity and vestigial behaviors that impede women’s equality. But are there vestigial aspects of femininity too that are similarly maladaptive for the modern workplace? The question came to mind as I read Carlson’s account of an experience at one of her early jobs: she was riding alone in a car through rural Virginia with a cameraman who suddenly launched into a discussion about how much he’d enjoyed touching her breasts when he put a microphone under her blouse, and kept talking about it, in a “graphic monologue,” for the entire trip back to the office. Carlson’s response was “sheer terror,” she writes. Shaking, she pressed herself against the passenger door, praying she wouldn’t have to jump out of the moving vehicle. Once back at the office she was trembling so badly her boss noticed and asked what had happened; feeling sick to her stomach, she told him. (The cameraman was eventually fired over something else.)
It may not win me any popularity contests to ask this next question, but what stopped Carlson from just telling the cameraman to shut up? True, she was a young woman in her early twenties, and recently hired. And he was out of line. But he wasn’t her boss. He hadn’t threatened her, unless talking grossly about her body is threatening in and of itself. He hadn’t groped or fondled or kissed her against her will (all of which I firmly believe should sever a man from his paycheck).
One answer to the question may be that Carlson was socialized female, and a certain delicacy about sexual matters is a long-standing attribute of traditional femininity. (Which makes raunchy jokes by female comedians funnier than those of their male counterparts: more social taboos to violate.) But if we’re demanding that men overcome their gender socialization, are there aspects of femininity we might wish to ditch too? Cowering when a man mentions sex transforms it into the equivalent of the master’s stick: he merely has to wave it to keep you in line. It’s the internalized submission of a colonial mentality—and in fact, left-wing feminists, a dying breed in these Lean In times, used to propose regarding women as “the last colony,” including those of us residing in the advanced metropoles.
I think Kipnis downplays the fear of sexual violence and said so on my podcast last week. As I said in a recent Savage Love Letter of the Day...
Men don't move through their lives deflecting near-constant unwanted sexual attention, we aren't subjected to epidemic levels of sexual violence, and consequently we don't live the daily fear that we could be the victims of sexual violence at any time and in any place.
There are lots of examples of women who were assaulted or killed after telling a man to shut up. Gretchen Carlson may have reasonably feared an escalation — and possible violence — if she told that cameraman to shut up. (And now I've come to the defense of Gretchen Carlson!) But being wrecked by a single, stupid, ill-advised, off-color and, yes, demeaning joke — one that the teller appears to have regretted immediately and apologized for unprompted — would seem to count as "cowering" at the mention of sex.