For a while, we were hearing a lot of stories about how the crusade against sexual harassment had gone a bit over the top. A first-grader got disciplined for “sexual harassment” in school for kissing a girl on the cheek. A manager got fired over an office discussion of the previous night’s Seinfeld episode featuring some risqué humor. A guy got in trouble for bringing to work Esquire‘s annual “Women We Love” issue with a cover shot of some actress in lingerie. Etc., etc. Well, those stories have largely faded from view, but if you think they’ve gone away, think again.
Via Overlawyered today, with an excerpt from the Press of Atlantic City:
Two secretaries will share a settlement of around $450,000 from the Atlantic City, N.J. school district and its insurer after filing sexual-harassment charges. Carol Lee and Jennifer Torres sued following
a comment Assistant Superintendent Thomas J. Kirschling made to them and two others in July 2002. At some point mid-month, Kirschling said “I ride them hard and put them away wet.”
The two secretaries sent him a memo saying they were outraged. He later explained and apologized, according to a subsequent memo.
Kirschling was apparently using a rural idiom that means someone is tired or worked hard. The phrase is taken from the need to cool down a horse after strenuous exercise. Only a mistreated horse is stabled while it is still sweating.
After the women complained, the district assigned an outside attorney to investigate, but that probe inadvertently lapsed….
The school board approved the settlement at a meeting last month, although some members considered the amount excessive. “Board member John Devlin said ‘It’s nuts, though, just for that comment.'”
Harassment hysteria: still crazy after all these years.
As with many other things, feminists identified a real problem when they spoke up about sexual harassment. Of course it’s good that women — and men — now have a legal recourse if they face a “sleep with me or you’re fired” situation, or an intolerable atmosphere of sexual insults at work. But in the wake of the Anita Hill episode (a turning point, by the way, in my alienation from “mainstream” feminism), the War on Sexual Harassment turned into a ridiculous hysteria preoccupied with petty or imagined slights and hostile, in strangely neo-Victorian fashion, to any sexual expression — even sexual humor — in the workplace.
The damage is still with us. Damage to human interaction in the workplace, of course, and to companies and institutions that have to field these absurd complaints — but also to women’s equality. Because if you ask me, the image of women promoted by such stories is not a very flattering one.
By the way, the best book ever written on sexual harassment is Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism by Daphne Patai. See my review here. And my own 1998 article on sexual harassment, politics and culture here.