WaPo’s Richard Cohen Reveals How Even Smart Men Can Be Really Dense


What is it about otherwise highly educated and articulate men (a description not to be equated with my agreement on positions taken by said men) that leads them to excuse at all costs the poor and sometimes outrageous behavior by other men toward women?

Yesterday, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen managed to smear two women specifically and all women generally in what I am sure he thought was a semi-cute “I’m tired of Clarence Thomas, but these women are out of control” column.

In it, he first says:

Thomas stands nearly alone on the court in his shallowness of his scholarship and the narrowness of his compassion.

OK, we got it.  He’s not here to defend Thomas’s court positions.

But Cohen then psychoanalyzes Thomas based on conjecture about his childhood, and trashes Anita Hill indirectly by claiming, through what proof I don’t know, that she “lacked sophistication and judgment.”

Evidence?  He offers none.  He is a male Washington Post columnist after all.

He then goes on to trash Lillian McEwen, the lawyer, and former prosecutor and administrative judge recently profiled in the Washington Post, which (yikes!!) gave her more column inches than he gets. 

Apparently, size does matter to Mr. Cohen. 

About McEwen, he states:

[Her] revelations — so banal as to comprise a virtual exoneration — are that Thomas was obsessed with women, likes them big-breasted, and indulged in a critical viewing of pornography.

Then:

But when it comes to [Thomas's] alleged sexual boorishness, he stands condemned of being a man.

And Cohen apparently knows of what he speaks because he declares that:

I was young and boorish once myself and have turned out to be a veritable saint.

Breakin’ it down: “Clarence is a guy.  Guys look at boobs, make jokes, ask your bra size, ogle you. Hey, it’s a guy thing.  He ‘just stands condemned of being a man.’  Boys will be boys.  I did it too. We can’t help ourselves.”

Here’s a shocking revelation, Mr. Cohen.

Women also find people around them attractive on a regular basis.  But I have yet to encounter a study that reveals that as large a share of men suffer sexual harassment in the workplace as women or heard of a man claim that a female (Supreme Court Justice or other kind of) superior asked about his (athletic jock cup) size.  These incidents are apparently relatively few and far between, would you agree?

Women have long endured sexual harassment and worse on the job, in part because their hold on employment was, for so long, tenuous and based on the whims of male bosses.  Many women have had, and still have, to grin and bear it for lack of an alternative or for fear of retribution.

But research reveals just how pervasive such harassment is.  And perhaps not surprisingly, both women who worked for Clarence Thomas fit the bill of “most likely to be harassed.”

A study presented at the 104th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in 2009 revealed that nearly fifty percent of women supervisors, but only one-third of women who do not supervise others, reported sexual harassment in the workplace.

In more conservative models with stringent statistical controls, women supervisors were 137 percent more likely to be sexually harassed than women who did not hold managerial roles. While supervisory status increased the likelihood of harassment among women, it did not significantly impact the likelihood for men.

“This study provides the strongest evidence to date supporting the theory that sexual harassment is less about sexual desire than about control and domination,” said Heather McLaughlin, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota and the study’s primary investigator. “Male co-workers, clients and supervisors seem to be using harassment as an equalizer against women in power.”

A 2003 analysis by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that 67 percent of African-American women reported having been proposition on the job, compared to 45 percent of white women.

This does not “prove” anything about Thomas.  But what it does underscore is that sexual harassment is a humiliating, isolating, depressing and marginalizing form of abuse by men in power or seeking to control women.  And if they “can’t help themselves” they should get help and also take serious stock of their emotional maturity.  If they can’t help themselves, they should not be sitting on courts responsible for setting laws that govern abuse and harassment.

Having been sexually harassed as a young professional in my first “real” job by my own boss, I can tell you it is not fun. i was asked about my bra size, was subject to remarks made about my clothing and looks, and eventually invited to “explore things further” (when I can assure you there were NO “things” to explore) in an office in which the boss was known to have had affairs with several past female employees.  I do not consider my attempt to retain my dignity a sign of my “lacking sophistication and judgment.” Rather, like in most situations when there are competing needs, pressures and considerations (like, say, paying the rent?) you make daily calculations about how best to handle these situations and keep your dignity intact until you are finally in a position to get out, or more likely these days because the stigma is at least marginally less onerous, be able to file a complaint and not be made out to be the criminal yourself.

Indeed, it is an endurance test of the greatest degree to do high-quality work in an environment from which you can not wait to escape. 

Those men, and women, who excuse the behavior attributed to men in power like Thomas as just “being a man” effectively suggest that men are too immature to act as professionals and that professional women are doomed to harassment.

This is the assertion of a veritable angel?

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