You may have noticed that a lot of the coverage about Herman Cain’s alleged misconduct with women casts the controversy as a “he said, she said” kind of story.
As of Wednesday, however, it’s a “he said, she said, she said, she said, she said” story, so let’s retire the false equivalence. One of the four women already has gone public with a news conference. Another woman reportedly is urging fellow accusers to join her for another news conference.
Cain’s in a heap of trouble, which was clear during his Tuesday news conference. What a surreal performance by somebody who wants to be president of the United States — standing in front of all those U.S. flags as he talked about himself in the third person. Insisting that he was the victim. Assuring reporters that of course he’d submit to a lie detector test, if he saw the need for it — which he doesn’t.
At this point, Cain could wrap himself in Old Glory and sing his denials to the tune of “God Bless America” and no one would think him any weirder than he was when he was standing on that stage.
His problem isn’t just that he’s been accused of multiple incidents of sexual misconduct. Oh, how I wish charges of sexual harassment, if proved true, were enough to derail a powerful man’s career. It’s Cain’s arrogance toward the American people, particularly women, that will drive the nails into his political coffin with the force of a Craftsman 12-volt Hammerhead.
So far, the most damning accusations against Cain have come from Sharon Bialek. She held a news conference Monday to give her account. The details were sordid, the alleged scenario horrifying. If Cain did indeed try to shove her face into his crotch, he committed sexual assault, not harassment.
Since her news conference, there’s been plenty of coverage about Bialek’s pretty face and blond hair, her status as a single mother and her longtime financial struggles. As if any of that makes her discardable or less believable. She has said no one is paying her for her story, but that hasn’t prevented the Cain campaign and too many news outlets from picking her apart like a piece of pulled pork.
If a woman is being sexually harassed, she should be willing to report it, the argument goes. If a woman is willing to report sexual harassment, she’d better be able to prove it, the other argument goes.
It’s just one big party for women in the workplace.
I want to share a story I never have told publicly. Most of my closest friends never have heard it.
In the mid-1990s, I was a newly single mother in a new job when my boss’ supervisor, a man on his third marriage, sat me down to let me know he was there if I needed him. I was uncomfortable enough with the discussion to ask, “Aren’t you married?” His response: “Yeah, but we’re not close.”
For months, he regularly commented on my appearance and openly speculated on the state of my loneliness. Once, he leaned over my desk and said, within earshot of colleagues, “Enough of this. What I want to know is, When are we going to rent a hotel room and get away from all this?”
An anonymous colleague reported him to human resources. I was in the middle of a custody battle for my daughter and scared to death I could lose my job. When the head of human resources called me into her office, I lied and said everything was fine.
A few months later, I saw that same supervisor place his hands on the shoulders of a young female intern and whisper in her ear. She looked terrified. To this day, I recall that moment and my face burns. I watched and thought, “I could have prevented this.”
A male colleague, who was also a friend, saw it, too, and persuaded me to join him in filing a complaint. This time when I was called into human resources, I told the truth. So did a number of other women. The supervisor was fired.
I know that some will find it hard to believe that this in-your-face feminist ever could have been a frightened reporter unwilling to stand up for herself.
Here’s what else I know: There are a lot of women out there who know exactly why I was afraid, and we’re the ones who aren’t laughing about the accusations against Herman Cain.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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