Now Who’s Keen on Cain?

Herman Cain has a problem. I hope we find out what it is soon. The left-right crossfire is getting downright dangerous. If it turns out that the sexual harassment allegations are true, Cain’s biggest regret may be that he didn’t take lying lessons from Bill Clinton.

The left is not too keen on Cain because he is a conservative. Worse, he is a conservative of color, which for reasons I can’t quite fathom, makes him even worse than a “regular” conservative. It is impossible to embarrass the left in the area of sexual harassment since Clinton, so I expect a full-scale assault regardless of the facts. It is an easy a way to get rid of a nuisance.

The right is taking an interesting, if revolting tack. Some are saying that all women who claim sexual harassment do so falsely and in search of financial reward or fame. If you think this never happens, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. If you think such claims are always without merit, I have to wonder about your attitude toward women in general.*

And that is why this is such an intractable issue at work. The nuances of sexual interplay are complex and subtle, with one side often sending mixed messages and the other missing the message completely even when it’s not mixed. Or something like that. See what I mean? Saying “Nice suit!” can mean, “I’d like to see you without it,” or it could be a perfectly appropriate reinforcement to someone who needed to bring his/her fashion standards up a notch. Cases like this are difficult and will always be so.

Shoving one’s hand toward someone’s crotch is rarely appropriate. I tried to think of a case in which I would do so toward either a man or a woman. Nothing. OK, maybe if someone’s crotch were actually on fire. But even then, I think a polite but urgent, “Hey, your crotch is on fire!” would work. No sense taking chances on being misunderstood.

Quid pro quo is another example of behavior that is off-limits. That is Latin for “tit-for-tat.” The meaning of “tat” has never been quite clear to me, but you get the picture. Having power over someone’s career demands strictly above-board behavior and it is never appropriate to trade promotions, raises, or the last bagel on the tray for sex.

It is possible that Cain settled a meritless complaint as advised by counsel to avoid unnecessary publicity. This is done often from what I gather–a sad statement in itself. It is possible that he behaved badly and settled a legitimate complaint as advised by counsel to avoid unnecessary publicity. That too would be sad, but for different reasons. It is possible that he shoved his hand up someone’s skirt (and there was no fire) or that he never met the woman whose crotch he didn’t touch. No one knows but him and whoever, if anyone, got harassed and/or touched inappropriately.

Sigh.

Every election cycle brings new allegations of behavior by politicians that would embarrass human beings, and most of them prove to be true. Is that because politicians are so bad or because all of us have lost our sense of decency?

It is truly sad commentary when we sit in the middle of a world collapsing around us and the news is filled with dalliances and alleged dalliances. Since this has been the norm for, oh, a couple thousand years, I don’t expect it to change anytime soon. That doesn’t keep me from wishing for a few things.

Number one, I wish men would act like gentlemen, not oafs. Pursuing someone politely and non-threateningly is fine; ***-grabbing is not. Number two, I wish more women would send their philandering husbands packing, as did Maria Shriver when Arnold revealed his affair and child with a housekeeper.

Last, and I hope I do not offend here, I wish more people of both genders would place their self-respect above job retention. I know it is tough to jeopardize one’s employment by sternly rejecting an inappropriate advance, but in the end, the reward is richer. Likewise for the predatory man or woman who is tempted to trade a moment of excitement for a lifetime of integrity.

Our politics and workplaces will get better at precisely the moment we get better as individuals. Some have further to go than others. As of today, we don’t know how far Cain has to go, but I have a feeling we will–very soon.

_________________________________

*Though let’s remember that occasionally this happens to men.

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About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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