The sordid, tawdry and pathetic ongoing sagas of New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner represent the latest incidents of powerful men in positions of authority behaving abominably with women.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you are well aware that Weiner, a former congressman, has made himself into a public laughingstock -- and national punching bag -- by repeatedly sending mobile-phone photos of his private parts, as well as sexually explicit messages, to various women. All of this occurred before and after his resignation from Congress, thereby humiliating his long-suffering wife.
Filner's case is far more involved and uglier. "His Honor" of San Diego did not send pictures of his crotch to cyber-strangers, but he did make numerous unwanted sexual comments and even physical demands upon at least eight real-life flesh-and-blood women under his authority.
To add to the horror, Filner is an unattractive 70-year-old man bothering women who are decades younger.
Both Weiner and Filner are under enormous pressure to either step down or resign. As of Monday, neither had acquiesced to such demands. The Filner case is worse than Weiner’s, however.
Weiner, as a New York City congressman and mayoral candidate holds a much higher profile than Filner does. Plus, Weiner’s “offenses” were enabled by “high-tech,” in stark contrast to Filner’s more old-fashioned” practice of groping, molesting and bothering women around him. Consequently, Weiner’s misbehavior has attracted greater national media coverage.
But I would like to focus on what Filner has been accused of because these are more tangible offenses. In a broader context, men like Filner have proliferated across politics and corporate America for decades.
In the 20-plus years I have worked in offices and newsrooms, I have witnessed all forms of sexual harassment -- from mild (but unwanted) compliments to aggressive demands for dates and sex. In the past, as men dominated the ranks of corporate management and women existed in a rather vulnerable position, they were usually helpless against such aggressions.
I concede that -- due to tougher corporate policies against such behavior and more awareness and sensitivity to the plight of women in the workforce -- incidents of sexual harassment have decreased dramatically over the past two decades.
In general, such harassment involves a powerful male figure (that is, a manager or executive) who pushes for sexual favors from younger (and attractive) women in positions of subordination. It is one of the most psychologically violent and unpleasant experiences for a woman in the workplace to be subject to such obnoxious, debilitating behavior.
But this paradigm does not define all such encounters. Sometimes men are the targets (or, if you prefer, “victims”) of such harassment and the perpetrators are women. Without going into detail, it has happened to me and also to a number of other men I have worked with or known.
As more women enter the American workforce and join the ranks of management -- an inevitability since females already far outnumber males in college campuses -- female-to-male sexual harassment is likely to increase.
Yet the wrinkle is that most people think of men as the culprits and women as the victims of these unpleasant social interactions. Such incidents are either not taken all that seriously or simply ignored.
Indeed, the belief goes, what young man would “complain” if a female colleague or supervisor made sexual advances toward them? Granted, there are times when such things are quite flattering and pleasant, but not always. What if the man is uninterested? What if he is already involved with someone else? What if he feels his job is threatened if he rejects his female superior? After all, is that not the exact same set of options that female victims of harassment face?
In an office, or any workplace, the battle between the sexes will always come up. Given that workers spend an inordinate amount of time on the job (in many cases, more than they spend with family or loved ones); flirting and relationships are bound to occur. I have seen many “office romances” blossom, some leading to marriage.
But that is something quite different from acts of “harassment” in which one party is either uninterested or under some form of duress. And now more than ever, the party on the wrong end of this equation could be a member of the fairer sex.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.