Sexual Harassment and the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle


I’m not terribly interested in the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain, but I am interested in the reaction to them. I’m particularly fascinated by those who claim that sexual harassment is non-existent, nothing more than a way for man-hating women to get revenge. People like John Derbyshire, who says the same thing is true of racial harassment:

Is there anyone who thinks sexual harassment is a real thing? Is there anyone who doesn’t know it’s all a lawyers’ ramp, like “racial discrimination“? You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up. Is this any way to live? …

There has never in the history of the world been a people better mannered and less inclined to insulting acts of prejudice than today’s Americans, yet we’re supposed to believe that the nation is seething with “harassment” and “discrimination,” women being groped in every business office and crosses burning on every lawn. For Heaven’s sake. Aren’t there any grown-ups around?

Of course there are; you are clearly not one of them. An adult — that is, a rational person — would recognize the fallacy of the excluded middle being used here: Either Herman Cain is guilty or sexual harassment is always a frivolous charge by silly women trying to hurt their perfectly moral male co-workers. I have no idea whether Herman Cain is guilty of what he is accused of; neither does anyone else outside of Cain and the women who have accused him. We have almost no facts at all to go on at this point, so it would be irrational to reach a firm conclusion.

But even if he is 100% innocent of the accusations, it would hardly follow logically that therefore there are no genuine cases of sexual harassment — and even less that there is no racial harassment. Sexual harassment certainly isn’t as bad as it was in decades past; the number of women holding positions of power has no doubt diminished its frequency substantially. But to pretend it no longer exists? What mental world could one possibly inhabit to believe that is true?

There is a rational middle ground between the caricature he builds — “women being groped in every business office and crosses burning on every lawn” — and the delusion he prefers, a reality where no one is ever harassed for their race or gender. He simply doesn’t live in the real world; he lives on Planet Wingnuttia.

Comments

  1. says

    You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up. Is this any way to live? …

    And, if she doesn’t have a case, she’ll lose. So, what’s the problem? Oh, the problem is if you actually are harrassing a woman, which is illegal, and she can prove it. Unless you’re a big shot like Strauss-Kahn or Clarence Thomas who can get away with it, that is.

  2. says

    John Derbyshire’s vision of ‘every business and every lawn’ indicates the vivid imagination of one who never opens his locked bolted and chained door.

    That aside: Two things lead me to believe that Herman is guilty: that his reactions are inconsistent, and that he immediately deflected the story to Perry. The circular firing squad has commenced.

  3. danielrudolph says

    @ 2, that and the fact these women made complaints back then and didn’t first mention it when he ran for president.

  4. lofgren says

    Yeah, the fact that there were apparently multiple, unconnected settlements, Cain’s deflection and obfuscation, the inconsistency of his statements, and (I hate to say it) the playing of the race card all make the accusations more plausible.

    It also doesn’t help that Cain has mischaracterized the scandal, making it sound as though it never went past the “he said, she said” phase. Hasn’t he ever heard that it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup?

    Still, this has to be the first time ever that republicans are bending over backwards to defend a black man from accusations of inappropriate sexual advances. That might be progress or it might be a sign that the one thing they fear more than empowered brown men is empowered women.

  5. Aquaria says

    You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up. Is this any way to live?

    And well she should. What are you doing talking to females under 18? That’s who you can refer to as “girls.” If you call adult women that, I don’t blame them for lawyering up. You’re lucky they don’t give a sexist sack of shit like you a knee to the groin for demeaning them that way.

  6. says

    You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up.

    Derbyshire must not understand the difference between a genuine compliment like “Wow, I like your new hairstyle” and objectification “I can’t get over how hot you are” in a workplace environment. The latter creates at minimum an uncomfortable environment for an employee, and when done repeatedly, crosses the line into overt sexist behavior.

  7. Sastra says

    You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up. Is this any way to live?

    Why do I feel that this defense was probably proceeded by the phrase “Hey, Baby, nice tits?”

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    And Derbyshire, having spoken up against creationism (including “intelligent design”), is often considered the most rational of the National Review posse.

    Stick a fork in ‘em, they’re done.

  9. lofgren says

    Why do I feel that this defense was probably proceeded by the phrase “Hey, Baby, nice tits?”

    I would like to live in a world where such a statement would not be demeaning. Your tits, I like them. This does not reflect a devaluation of your other attributes, physical or mental, nor do I regard it as my prerogative to treat you with less respect or deference than anybody without tits or having tits that I am not especially fond of. I just want to let you know that your tits are especially appealing to me. Can you really hold them – IT, I mean it – against me?

    Anybody who believes this is that world probably has so little empathy, they might as well be sociopathic.

  10. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    Still, this has to be the first time ever that republicans are bending over backwards to defend a black man from accusations of inappropriate sexual advances.

    Clarence Thomas.

  11. matty1 says

    What are you doing talking to females under 18? That’s who you can refer to as “girls.”

    I have a horrible feeling I’m picking a fight when I don’t want to but this surely can’t be an absolute. My male friends and I frequently refer to one another as boys or lads and I have female friends who call themselves girls in some contexts. Obviously its no way to act in a working environment or with people you don’t know well but not all informality is demeaning.

  12. lofgren says

    Clarence Thomas.

    Yeah, that occurred to me the second after I hit submit. I was kind of hoping nobody would notice.

    Although it still leaves the second interpretation as valid, which was frankly the one that seemed more likely to me at the time.

  13. Who Knows? says

    I’ve read a number of stories and opinion pieces about this and the one thing that strikes me is the number of people who do not seem to take the issue of sexual harassment seriously.

    So much so that Cain’s defense is that what happened, really wasn’t all that bad and the real victim here is Cain for having this issue arise in the middle of his campaign. Cain is even lawyering up and considering filing suit against Politico for publishing the story.

    The only real difference between this guy and most of the others writing about it is this guy just comes right out and says what everyone else is thinking.

  14. says

    Aren’t there any grown-ups around?

    Of course there are; you are clearly not one of them. An adult — that is, a rational person — would recognize the fallacy of the excluded middle being used here…

    Whenever I think about such blatant fallacies as this one, I’m glad I was raised properly so that I would recognize fallacies when they’re being employed, even if I didn’t know the common names for them. There’s a reason why internet trolls are commonly accused of being teenagers or even small children. Of course, the world is full of adults who still think like children.

  15. says

    I really shouldn’t be surprised, but I thought denying the existence of sexual harassment was like, so 1990s. I thought that even the biggest douche-bag conservatives had finally conceded that battle, and then quietly dropped the whole thing and pretended like they never had a problem with it, sort of like they did with desegregation. I guess I stand corrected.

    Sexual harassment is almost invariably an abuse of power, an act of the privileged taking advantage of the weaker and more vulnerable member of a relationship (typically a boss/subordinate relationship). So it makes perfect sense that conservatives are all in favor of protecting that form of exploitation. Silly me for assuming they had risen above such indecency.

  16. says

    And Derbyshire, having spoken up against creationism (including “intelligent design”), is often considered the most rational of the National Review posse.

    My impression is that The Derb’s views on evolution, like every other facet of reality, are tailored to meet his ideological prejudices. He’s basically a Social Darwinist.

  17. says

    I have a horrible feeling I’m picking a fight when I don’t want to but this surely can’t be an absolute.

    Why don’t you try using the N-word and say “I saw a rapper on TV use it; I thought it was OK” – let me know how that works for you.

  18. carolw says

    Derb (Derp?) has also opined that “girls” basically expire after they hit 20 or so, so hitting on teenagers is A-OK.
    Sick bag, please.

  19. d cwilson says

    Okay, so who wants to volunteer to go through Derbyshire’s comments on sexual harassment dating from, oh, say the mid-to-late 90s.

    I have a $20 bill sitting in front of me with the words “In God We Trust” crossed out with a sharpie for anyone who can find a quote from him denying the existence of sexual harassment during the time when Clinton was being sued for sexual harassment.

  20. Who Knows? says

    d cwilson, not me. I thought I would give it a go. On of the first things I came across was a hit piece on Chelsea Clinton by that asshole. You’re going to have to cough up a lot more than $20.00.

  21. Aliasalpha says

    @Sastra

    Why do I feel that this defense was probably proceeded by the phrase “Hey, Baby, nice tits?”

    and followed by “How could it be harassment, I said they were NICE!”

  22. Childermass says

    If Cain is to be president then I do care quite a bit if he is guilty or not.

    As for his actual guilt, if he had been at least somewhat consistent in his story and been able to make a firm denial from the very start then I would be undecided. His own statements make it seem very likely that he did do something inappropriate. And I rather doubt that any payout would have been done for a single “you look nice.”

    Maybe Cain should say what he was accused of in the first place and release any alleged victim from any nondisclosure clause. It might be the only way he can get this behind him.

    And for any other candidates out there: Admitting past wrong doing with the admission that it was wrongdoing is far preferable to lying about wrongdoing and us finding out that you did it. And if your sins are so bad that admitting them would exclude you from winning the election, then don’t run in the first place.

  23. Aquaria says

    I have a horrible feeling I’m picking a fight when I don’t want to but this surely can’t be an absolute. My male friends and I frequently refer to one another as boys or lads and I have female friends who call themselves girls in some contexts. Obviously its no way to act in a working environment or with people you don’t know well but not all informality is demeaning.

    Yeah, and it used to be common for whites to call black men “boy.” Say it to one now and tell me how that goes for you.

    I don’t care what you and your ignorant friends do. Men need to view calling women “girls” the same way as they would calling a black man “boy”. There’s additional baggage at play when men call us “girls” that isn’t at play when white men call other white men “boys”.

    Do you understand that–at all?

  24. Aquaria says

    Why do I feel that this defense was probably proceeded by the phrase “Hey, Baby, nice tits?”

    I see him doing more of this number (because it’s happened to me):

    Making huge presentation. You know how the men you work with are a bunch of sexist jerks, so you dress as businesslike as you possible can. You check and double check and triple check everything you have, because if you make one mistake, they’re going to write you off as an idiot.

    And you make your presentation. What’s the question at the end? Just guess.

    “You look totally hot like that. 34D, right?”

    This is when you don’t care if you don’t have a job after it. You have to knee the guy in the groin.

  25. Who Knows? says

    And you make your presentation. What’s the question at the end? Just guess.

    “You look totally hot like that. 34D, right?”

    Or the assertion that the only reason a woman is getting promoted is because she’s fucking her way to the top. I’ve heard that said about a woman that works where I do. It’s really stupid because she’s quite brilliant and a very effective manager.

  26. matty1 says

    I withdraw and apologise, I was trying to say that what is not OK in some cases is OK in others. You are absolutely right to give priority to the reverse that just bcause a word is acceptable in one context does not make it ok in others.

  27. says

    Sexual harassment is almost invariably an abuse of power, an act of the privileged taking advantage of the weaker and more vulnerable member of a relationship (typically a boss/subordinate relationship).

    And it’s probably worthwhile to note that women are not immune to this either. My guess is that as the gender gap evens out (assuming it ever does, or that it happens before the zombie apocalypse) men will increasingly be on the receiving end of sexual harassment. And I fully expect that right wingers will use this as an argument for why women shouldn’t have (paid) jobs or positions of power.

  28. says

    Update- after reading the comments on Derb’s post, it seems I predicted the past perfectly. It’s almost like I’m psychic or something!

  29. says

    I will cop to using the words, “girl(s)” and various terms including those words when speaking to women–very ocassionally and never with any intention of demeaning or denigrating anyone. I don’t do it often but, yeah, it happens. I don’t think I’d be dumb enough or unconcious enough to use such a word or term in the workplace, particularly when speaking to someone who was an adult, a co-worker or, especially, a subordinate.

    My gut tells me that HerMAN has been copping feels and making sexist/sexually harassing remarks for years. His wealth and position have likely insulated him from criticism when the the behavior was below a certain level of repulsiveness.

    I’d suggest that Mr. Cain “walk a mile in their shoes” and let everyone he meets, who is white, call him, “boy” for a couplea weeks–see how he feels about that.

  30. Womens Self-Defense says

    Lol, you sound like you have a lot of experience kneeing people in the balls Aquaria

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