Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and Dan Quayle were in a spelling bee, and Quayle won because he knew that “harass” was one word, not two.
So that’s an old joke, but the subject is pretty serious. First of all, what exactly does harassment mean? The definition is remarkably fuzzy after evolving over the years.
Originally, only “quid pro quo” offers were forbidden. That means employment or favoritism in exchange for sex. For example, one of my former colleagues had a salary nearly 50% higher than mine. I was busting my ass every day, though I had no idea what her job involved. Later, I found out that the district manager banged her. Was she exploited? Mainly the joke was on the company paying her a hefty salary for doing probably nothing.
This is reprehensible conduct. People shouldn’t have to compromise themselves for employment. On the other side of the coin, if the offer is accepted, it’s essentially soft prostitution. So the boss is a sleazebag and his employee is a hooker. However, it’s enforced like prostitution laws in Sweden and Canada; only the “johns” risk getting busted.
Later, a Supreme Court case ruled that a hostile work environment constituted illegal discrimination. What the plaintiff had endured on the job was disgusting. I’m not a lawyer, but it was already illegal for three reasons that I can see. Despite that, the Court created a new frontier of the law, eventually becoming a bonanza for attorneys.
The definition of “hostile environment” they created is fairly blurry, depending on the “reasonable person” doctrine. The Court should’ve known that the law is a blunt tool, and that enforcing matters of propriety and taste is very tricky. During the previous decade, they’d effectively capitulated on pornography, allowing it to become mainstream. Obscenity failing the “Miller Test” is still technically enforceable, but authorities seldom bothered after the 1980s. Meanwhile, the hostile environment doctrine started expanding, eventually enforced to the point of scrupulosity.
Does saying “nice dress” create a hostile environment? A reasonable person would laugh at that, but lawyers might launch a DEFCON1 lawsuit. Technically, only acting like a pig should get anyone in trouble. However, throwing an employee under the bus for the tiniest peccadillo becomes an expedient measure. Another preventative measure is not hiring women.
The Clarence Thomas brouhaha became the mother of all media circuses. It was a fairly normal Supreme Court nomination until National Public Radio intervened, and you know what that means. NPR’s Nina Totenberg revealed a leaked sexual harassment allegation. Insider information reported by the media can be rather dodgy; “anonymous sources in the Pentagon” could mean a general, the janitor, or the reporter’s fertile imagination. Even so, there was a real person behind it, and Anita Hill took the stage.
Following that, this politically-charged event became a classic “he said / she said” case, where neither side really could prove anything. Did Clarence Thomas formerly talk about dirty movies, Long Dong Silver (a porn star with a prosthetic shlong), or a pubic hair on a soda can? Even if nothing was embellished, Anita Hill wasn’t too offended to follow him to his next job in the EEOC. There, he promoted someone else as his chief of staff instead of her. Perhaps that’s when the jokes he used to tell stopped being funny retroactively?
Still, all that took place (or not) before the “hostile environment” doctrine was developed. This type of workplace douchebaggery was handled by ordinary disciplinary processes, and wasn’t a special category that could launch a DEFCON1 lawsuit. Therefore, he was criticized on ex post facto standards about his alleged bad jokes. He had to play the race card to escape the “high-tech lynching”. As far as dirty tactics go, it was basically fighting fire with fire at that point.
In the wake of that, flirting at work became taboo, even when it was well-received. Following the sexual revolution, society had gone through a tremendous cultural shift. By the 1990s, morality was optional; basically “anything goes”. However, the workplace was now a special exception, where conditions reverted to Victorian standards.
A much larger brouhaha began when Bill Clinton got busted for hanky panky at the Oral Office. Granted, his presidency was one scandal after another, from the travel office business in the beginning to pardoning deep-pockets contributors in the end—not even to mention his earlier career. “Loose cannon on deck” is one of the nicer ways to describe him.
This certainly wasn’t the only bimbo eruption, but “Fornigate” spun out of control because the evidence was overwhelming. All plausible deniability was shot to hell when the blue dress tested positive for residue of Big Mac sauce. Several people who Clinton got to be character witnesses for him—including Al Gore and even Cupcake herself—ended up looking pretty silly. Still, the impeachment was close, but no cigar.
Chubby Bubba only escaped it because Democrats circled the wagons. (Better yet for him, the year of wrangling left everyone too exhausted to investigate the far more serious charges by Juanita Broaddrick.) Throughout, the Democrats were in a bind. By their standards, workplace nookie was strictly forbidden. A few years ago, they’d tried to shoot down Clarence Thomas merely for bad jokes. Further, they were shackled to the ball and chain of feminist ideology, a major constituency.
This further reinforced the taboo against workplace relationships. However, Republicans weren’t making a crime of getting BJs on the clock. The problem was Clinton lying under oath. Many Democrats argued that it wasn’t really a big deal; it was only about sex. However, this position never became a permanent revision to liberal doctrine. Because of this omission, an even more noxious leftist (a pretty tough act to follow) would find himself hoisted on his own petard much later.
It goes nuclear
In 2017, Harvey Weinstein got busted for acting like a pig. Still, that was business as usual in Hollyweird; for decades nobody did anything about it until his movies started bombing. (His weird political posturing probably didn’t help.) All his feminist street cred counted for nothing.
After that, the #MeToo movement settled many old scores, and eventually became a witch hunt. Several more liberal celebrities became friendly-fire casualties of feminism. Political figures were targeted too: Roy Moore, Jesse Jackson, Carl Sargeant (driven to suicide), and even Bush the Elder. Actual harm to the complainants was often absent, likewise real evidence.
Still, it’s unclear why this merits a special category. Hostile environments certainly can happen without any sexual element. Workplace bullying is serious business too. I’ve been sexually harassed on the job—so yeah, “me too”. Being approached repeatedly by the ugly bisexual CEO was grotesque. Still, one of his underlings constantly screaming at me was far worse. When she got me fired, no longer being forced to tolerate her bipolar issues was a blessing.
It’s perfectly legal for mentally unstable supervisors to berate employees daily and threaten their livelihood. That’s quite common in “kiss up / kick down” corporate cultures. If saying “nice dress” is worse and needs special protection, then someone should explain why.