Vance McAllister May Be an Embarrassment, but He's Not a Sexual Harasser

What Women Really Think
April 9 2014 2:13 PM

Vance McAllister May Be an Embarrassment, but He's Not a Sexual Harasser

Sex scandals: the old reliable of the news media business. A congressman might hustle for months trying to get even 30 seconds of news coverage for proposed legislation, but as Rep. Vance McAllister has discovered, 30 seconds of kissing someone who is not your wife on camera means guaranteed hours and, if it really blows open, days of coverage. It's no surprise, then, that Rep. Jackie Speier would want to muscle in on that coverage by linking the kissing scandal to her desire to pass a law requiring sexual harassment training for congressional representatives and their staffs. 

In a short speech before the House on Tuesday, Speier argued that the McAllister scandal just shows how badly anti-harassment legislation is needed. "Regrettably this week, another one of our colleagues was discovered engaged in inappropriate action with one of his staff," she explained after chastising her colleagues for treating Congress less like a dignified body and more like a "frat house." She then went on to describe her frustration at watching Anita Hill's testimony during Clarence Thomas' 1991 nomination hearings, where Hill was treated with undue contempt by a bunch of male senators who seemed to believe that women routinely make false allegations for the lulz. Speier worries that not enough progress has occurred since then, and her colleagues need a little more education about the issue of sexual harassment. 

Advertisement

Speier is right, of course, that sexual harassment is a serious problem and that if "over 60 percent of the corporations in this country" have sexual harassment training, as she claims, then it absolutely makes sense for Congress to require the same. But I question the wisdom of tying this kind of legislation to the McAllister scandal, and I worry about the term "sexual harassment" being used as a catch-all phrase and losing its meaning. Sexual harassment is unwanted and harassing attention of a sexual nature—the sort that Hill famously described receiving from Thomas. Right now, there's no reason to believe that McAllister's married kissing partner, Melissa Hixon Peacock, was doing anything but enthusiastically consenting.

This difference is not trivial. Anti-feminists already love to accuse feminists of being uptight prudes for speaking out against coercive and harassing sexual behavior. It's probably wise to avoid giving them ammunition by tying the word harassment to a situation where both parties appear, on tape at least, to be throwing themselves into it whole-heartedly. 

"It is not OK to fondle a staff member," Speier declared. Sure, most of us would probably agree. Fondling your underlings is an unprofessional breach of basic workplace ethics. But if that staff member is freely and happily fondling you right back, it's not harassment. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 12:43 PM Watch Rachel Dratch and Tina Fey Do a Second City Sketch in 1997
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.