Herman Cain scandal: Conservatives aren’t just defending him; they’re denying the very existence of sexual harassment.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Nov. 4 2011 6:44 PM

Never Happened

Conservatives aren’t just defending Herman Cain. They’re denying the very existence of sexual harassment.

Republican presidential candidate and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain.
Herman Cain's defenders have dismissed the sexual harassment claims against him without knowing the whole story

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

I have no idea what Herman Cain did with the two, or maybe three, or possibly now four women who have raised allegations of improper sexual behavior about him. I don’t know whether any of them will come forward and run the risk of being labeled a slut for their efforts to do their jobs without being treated like pole-dancers. I do know that—as Amanda Marcotte so eloquently explained this week—the very same people who insist that we don’t know what actually happened all those years ago seem to know exactly what happened: nothing.

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

Sexual harassment is now nothing. Welcome to the era of gender harassment denialism. The harassment skeptics claim that harassment, like racism, used to exist but is now over. Twenty years ago, when charges were leveled at Clarence Thomas, supporters of the accused refused to take the accuser seriously. Now supporters of the accused refuse to take the accusation itself seriously. We have gone from not knowing what sexual harassment is to not believing it still happens. All in less than 20 years.

Remember, we don’t know what happened, beyond the fact that several employees came forward with complaints and received cash settlements. That’s not a lot of information. Cain defenders could have stopped there. Instead, great swaths of them have opted to assert that there could never be a valid sex discrimination claim because the whole thing is just a racket. And they went even further: The same folks criticizing the National Restaurant Association employees who came forward with claims that they were uncomfortable in their workplace are willing to deploy the most archaic and gender-freighted stereotypes to get there. Sexual harassment can’t be “real” because the women who claim it are money-grubbing, hysterical, attention-seeking tramps.

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Hope it never happens to one of your daughters, friends. It would suck if someone called her a humorless hooker, even before learning her name.

Why not start with John Derbyshire, who put it this way in the National Review: “Is there anyone who thinks sexual harassment is a real thing? Is there anyone who doesn’t know it’s all a lawyers’ ramp, like ‘racial discrimination’? You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up.” In Derbyshire’s America, “girls” see litigating as a shortcut to riches. Evidently we can’t procure riches the old-fashioned way anymore.

Laura Ingraham, who—recall—also has no idea whatsoever what happened between Cain and his accusers, is equally certain that each of the women involved is just greedy: “We have seen this movie before and we know how it ends. It always ends up being an employee who can’t perform or who under-performs and is looking for a little green,” she said on her radio show. Exactly. Like my mom always said: If you can’t marry a rich man, your next best option is to sue one.

Or take the legal stylings of Kurt Schlichter, who asserts that “the only things you need to file a lawsuit are the filing fee and a printer. Facts are optional. … Where sexual-harassment law once protected women from being forced to be the playthings of crude lechers, it’s been transformed to enforcing a prim puritanism that drains the humor and humanity from the workplace.” The humorless line is the route Sen. Rand Paul chose to deploy as well: “There are people now who hesitate to tell a joke to a woman in the workplace, any kind of joke, because it could be interpreted incorrectly.” You catch that? Humorless puritanical women have weaponized sex-discrimination law as a part of their global war on humor.

Rep. Steve King doubled down on this theme, calling sexual harassment “a terrible concept,” and lamenting the tendency “to define an action by the perception of the perceived victim.” Not clear whether the civil justice system is better off for examining only the perceived perceptions of the drunken harassers, but I take it that King is generally more confident that men are more perceptive about all things than the women who work for them.

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