His campaign has been most threatened by the harassment story, which is already spawning stories about the story — analyses of Cain’s inept and inconsistent responses to the allegations, anticipations of responses to his responses by the alleged victims, race baiting and references to the Clarence Thomas debacle.
This isn’t surprising: only a minority of voters understand the tax code well enough to debate it, or know much more about foreign affairs than Herman Cain, while nearly everyone is able, willing, and eager to talk about sex. But it is discouraging and reflects poorly on popular feminism as well as politics.
Feminism, at its most thoughtless, engendered an overbroad and unduly subjective definition of sexual harassment that includes speech and behaviors ranging from offensive remarks to actual assaults. Feminism, at its most thoughtless, equated every trivial discussion of sexual relations with political discourse and framed every allegation of sexual misconduct as presumptively true. Anti-feminists, reacting in kind, learned quickly to frame every allegation, leveled against right-wingers, as presumptively false.
Ms. Kaminer seems to place agency for a story’s play on our noble TV networks with radical feminists. They are to blame for the overplay of this story, making it the focal point of the past few days. Though I am largely ignorant on the subject, I do not believe any of the top positions at any of the cable news networks are staffed by radical feminists, that such an ideology may even be a deterrent to being hired. This story gets play because it is first about sex, second about race, and third, perhaps most importantly, it is easy to talk about in terms of both the glazed faux intellectual conversation as well as heated argument of any TV debate. These are the determinants of what gives a story such play, with radical feminists having no say in the proceedings.
Ms. Kaminer, again:
I’ve experienced harassment; I know that rejecting sexual advances can hurt your career, although I also believe that laws should not prohibit merely offending people or making them uncomfortable. I do mean, “so what difference should these charges make in the current presidential campaign?”
It is absurd that some issues, such as sexual harassment or hiring illegals, may come to the forefront, while others, the impact of your tax reform plan, are left in the background. However, the emphatic condemnation of sexual harassment in these public discussions helps solidify mores against this behavior.
I see this similar to discussion and condemnation of someone of prominence using slurs against those who are gay or of a particular ethnic group; that a public stigmatization takes place over the behavior of a public figure sets a harder line that such actions are wrong by anyone anywhere.
Finally, Ms. Kaminer implies that the perspective that makes a man think he has a prerogative to harassment is the only droit du seigneur he has; as this unfolding story seems to reveal, the prerogatives that Mr. Cain seems allowed to him go beyond this.
Ms. Elizabeth Wurtzel, also of The Atlantic, in a separate column laments the lack of coverage given to such issues as the gender gap in wages, the gender gap among corporate executives, the ridiculous Protect Life Act in Congress, the personhood law in Mississippi, etc. rather than the coverage given to a sexual harassment scandal, whose attention is given not due to the injustice, but the sex:
All these noisy, obnoxious mostly-male pundits are terrifically excited to be raising Cain. Suddenly they care about sexism — even though day in and day out they ignore the assault on women’s reproductive rights (which goes straight into the bull’s eye of misogyny) that is perpetrated by the Republicans in Congress.
Again, the agency lies with the network, and not the pundits. The same group of obnoxious men will be brought to talk about various issues which they have no contact or experience with, whether it be persecution of muslims and gays, poverty, prison reform, etc. Their role is to speak in the guise of passion without demonstrating any passion which would imply any commitment to systemic change, which might be perceived upsetting to the TV viewer at home. That it is always the same group of men, and almost always men, demonstrates the innate conservatism, in the original sense of the word, of network news, no matter how provocative or radical the topic. These mostly male pundits are there for the same function as any prostitute: they provide mercenary friction.
I do not believe the rules are that different from topics assigned by a magazine. Ms. Wurtzel has previously written about Sarah Palin and Elizabeth Edwards, who were the topics of that particular day. Should she put her foot down against this tyranny where the subject du jour becomes the only subject that can be talked about, and write for The Atlantic about the gender wage gap, about restrictive pro-life legislation, or any other topic that is improperly segregated as a “woman’s issue” in the way men’s concerns never are, her work would receive my grateful vote.