Do Women Really Want to Be Treated Like Anita Hill?

Fred Thompson says females who observed her fame make sexual harassment accusations because they crave the limelight

fred thompson.jpg

Fred Thompson, the actor, former senator, and onetime presidential candidate, has written an article about the politics and policy of sexual harassment. "In typical fashion, Congress took a situation where women had no protection for legitimate grievances and created a solution rife with unintended consequences. Now businesses are regularly making payouts for the flimsiest of reasons," he wrote. That's a common perspective, and there is some truth to it.

"It's obvious" he continues, "that these alleged victims and their lawyers -- no matter what they may say publicly -- are champing at the bit to come forward for their day in the limelight and the inevitable book deal. Who can pass up being the new Anita Hill, who to this day periodically receives glowing newspaper profiles?"

That is nutty -- and not just because the vast majority of women would regard going through Anita Hill-style scrutiny with horror. (As Dave Weigel puts it, "My idea of frothy fun would be to make accusations of sexual harassment against a powerful person, become a notorious figure whose life and character came under microscopic examination, and then spend the rest of my life living in a legal system shaped by the man I accused.")

A moment's reflection is enough to realize that the vast majority of sexual harassment claims are lodged by people who'll never be in the limelight, and that for the vast majority of women who make sexual harassment allegations, a book deal is anything but inevitable. The idea that a "glowing newspaper profile" is some sort of invaluable prize, and that receiving one years after having gone through a media firestorm means one is coming out ahead, says more about how Fred Thompson sees the world than the mindset of people who levy sexual harassment accusations.

And as anyone who has covered campaigns knows, the vast majority of victims, even if they feel compelled to share their story (most don't), feel embarrassed by what happened and would much prefer to keep their identities secret. That is why so many do keep quiet until other victims come forward and are trashed. Then the calculus changes. Much harder to stay quiet when your silence is making things harder on someone else who went through what you did.

Thompson does offer an astute assessment of how Herman Cain has handled this issue. "There's a type of guy well known to every defense lawyer. He's a very successful man, usually a businessman, politician, or other public figure, who owes his success in large part to being a forceful communicator as well as very smart," Thompson writes. "Often you cannot persuade him that he should not go before that grand jury to 'just answer a few questions.'  He cannot believe that he can't persuade them of his innocence, because he believes he's innocent. Just as he cannot believe the perjury indictment that is returned later."

What concerns me as much is the public's inability to persuade that type of guy that he is unqualified to assess, for example, an overhaul of the tax system or American foreign policy.


Image credit: Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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