The Bill Cosby story, and the time I got sexually harassed in the Senate

I was watching Erin Burnett’s reporting on the ongoing, and growing, sexual harassment accusations against comedian Bill Cosby, and it got me thinking of the time I was sexually harassed while working in the US Senate.

My harasser was a woman working in George H.W. Bush’s Department of Transportation; and at the time several people, including her boss, didn’t take my complaint seriously. After all, I was a guy. And how can a woman sexually harass a man?

I’m writing about this because I was reading the other day about one of Bill Cosby’s accusers, and how she continued to see him after he had allegedly drugged and had sex with her, and I found myself wondering why she didn’t stop seeing him and call the cops. Then I thought back to what happened to me, and how one’s reaction, and reflexes, are decidedly more numb than you’d expect when experiencing something like this.

I was a legislative attorney working on commerce issues and foreign affairs, and I need to call a deputy assistant secretary at DOT who I regularly worked with, and ask him about something. I called, got his secretary Ally, who I’d spoke with a million times before, and asked if he was available. Ally said he wasn’t. So I asked her if he was going to be quick, and whether it was worth holding. In response, Ally said to me: “That depends, what are you holding?”

Now, I had a collegial rapport with this woman, as we spoke practically every week. We weren’t friends; we never shared with each other any details of our lives; but I’m a friendly guy, and am always happy to be politely chatty with anyone I speak with (it’s a midwestern thing).

I knew what Ally meant, but at the same time couldn’t believe that I was understanding her correctly. I must have misunderstood, so I ignored what I thought she’d said, instead said something else about talking to her boss — I don’t even remember now what it was — and got another definitively more sexual response that left no question what Ally was getting at.

I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t even believe it was happening. And it wasn’t funny. It really wasn’t funny. I was pretty much mortified. And frozen.

All I could muster was telling Ally to tell her boss that I called and have him call me. That’s when Ally said to me:

“Well let me breathe heavy for you three times before you hang up the phone. Here goes: Huuuh, huuuh, huuuh.”

I sat for a second. Said nothing. Then all I could muster, in a hushed voice, was to say: “Stop it, Ally. Stop it.”

Ally giggled and hung up.

I just sat there. Speechless. Confused. Numb.

The legislative correspondent who worked for me walked in, saw my face, and with great concern asked me what was wrong. I told her. She then said: “Let me guess: You feel dirty, like it’s your fault, and you’re afraid to tell anyone.”

I did tell someone, after she urged me to. I went downstairs, told our office manager, and our chief staff, and then was left to call the deputy assistant secretary at DOT myself, to explain what had happened. As I recall, he laughed.

So when I hear people, or even hear myself, question why alleged victims of sexual harassment don’t speak up more often, I think back to my speechless self dealing with Ally at the Department of Transportation.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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67 Responses to “The Bill Cosby story, and the time I got sexually harassed in the Senate”

  1. lynchie says:

    In the case of Sandy billions of dollars flowed into the area. Many of the homes lost on Long Island belonged to the rich and they had no flood insurance but were quickly replaced. In New Orleans you never had a sense of them helping the poor who were wiped out. In fact a friend who survived it told me it was more like a quick way to get rid of the blight and allow rebuilding so the rich would have a further reach into the city. Whole neighbour hoods were levelled and trucked away. My wife put it best. If you have money you have influence, if you are poor you are well and truly fucked.

  2. Houndentenor says:

    I think sometimes race is attached to stories where it’s really about money and privilege. Cosby is no different than white stars and CEOs who pull the same crap. He’s rich and influential in his industry. I thought something similar about Katrina. The problem for the people stranded there was more about them being poor that about them being black. We would certainly not have allowed such horrors to continue at Martha’s Vineyard or Bridgeport. There were similar delays (not as bad, obviously, hardly anything was that bad) along the coastal regions of Brooklyn and Queens after Sandy. I can even remember an instance in the early 2000s when Con-Ed purposely turned off the power in Inwood and Washington Heights so they wouldn’t have a citywide blackout affecting midtown and lower Manhattan. Justice of all kinds is for people who can afford it. Everyone else is fucked. We could change that if poor and middle income people would at least vote, but they don’t mostly. It’s hard to know what to tell people who won’t even use the one bit of power they actually have.

  3. lynchie says:

    To me this exhibits a sense of entitlement. Cosby felt he was so famous that no one would dare challenge him or call him out and that if done he would use his position to bluff his way through. Like my old boss he owns the company what can anyone do, and to be honest Cosby and my old boss and countless others are hardly called out. I especially love the racist/bigoted comment, some push back and the “I’m sorry if I offended anyone” apology which isn’t. The class structure is alive and well in America. The affluent. The racist. The homophobic. That is the America we live in and to me it is getting worse.

  4. Houndentenor says:

    I’m pretty jaded at this point but one off the things that never ceases to surprise me is the outright stupidity of racist people. I’m white. That doesn’t mean that my significant other is white too. Or that my good friends don’t belong to other ethnic groups. I find it offensive that someone would assume that because I’m white I’m as racist as they are. Well, I’m not, and even if I were I’d have the good sense to be ashamed of it! I think I’d rather someone call me faggot to my face than hear them refer to a perfectly nice person who just left the room with a racial slur.

  5. lynchie says:

    I guess the real reason is they don’t for one second think any one will disagree. They view the world through greed, bigotry and racism. Your being worried about your family doesn’t register because of their selfishness. In my case being the owner he felt empowered to shit on anyone he chose. Well not all of us took it a number got other jobs. Doesn’t change his attitude but I exacted a bit of revenge by sending the racism to his customers.

  6. Houndentenor says:

    I heard and saw that kind of crap from middle management types, frustrated white guys who had well exceeded their level of incompetency but were angry that they still weren’t moving up the corporate ladder. As I was a musician working in the corporate environment I often felt like an anthropologist as these were clearly not my peeps. I don’t think anyone dared send out such material on company email because they would have gotten in trouble for that. I also met plenty of liberals (including executives!), but also a lot of right wing assholes. In the 90s I heard plenty of jokes about how ugly Hillary Clinton is and the like. My worst experience wit that was during a hurricane. The right wing **** that sat next to me complained constantly about why the news was obsessed with this story that “no one cared about” knowing full well that I was beside myself waiting for news from immediate family exacuating ahead of the storm. Lovely people these conservatives.

  7. lynchie says:

    Off the subject a tad but the same applies to bigotry and racism. At my last job the CEO made to attempt to hide his contempt for Obama and for blacks in general. There wasn’t a week that went by that he did not distribute cartoons, articles and the like on Obama. I make to secret of the fact I am a liberal and giving people a help and a chance to get a head. In meetings went out of his way to comment on why hiring a black sales rep or employee was bad because you all know they are lazy, shiftless, have untold out of wedlock children, are gang bangers, etc. He included latinos and hispanics as well. Now he owned the company having been given it by his father, also a racist but less blatant. There was no one to complain to, HR was a joke. My only recourse was to save all the articles and cartoons and when I got another job I anonymously sent the file to every one of the companies he did business with. These were in email format so he couldn’t deny it and showed who else he copied on the emails. Did anything change? Don’t know but I felt better. The sense of being helpless and powerless when dealing with a boss or a person who can effect your income and career is paralyzing to say the least.

  8. BeccaM says:

    Aye… and our society is fucked up in so many other ways as well.

  9. Houndentenor says:

    I’m impressed by any woman who goes through with filing charges and participating in the prosecution of her rapist. Those women get put through the ringer like the original experience wasn’t bad enough. And for what? It’s not like there’a guarantee that he’ll be convicted. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad they do it because there’s the potential to stop a criminal before he can do the same thing to someone else, but there’s a lot of slut shaming, even of victims where it was clearly rape. (I realize it’s always rape if there’s no consent but there are cases where that’s harder to prove than others. Even in what should be clear-cut cases, it can be difficult.)

    And while we’re on this topic, the fact that we have hundreds of thousands of unprocessed rape kits (including old cases where we could now run the dna) shows just how little we really think of rape victims in our society. Talk is cheap. Our values are shown in our actions and if we were really serious about prosecuting rapists, the absolute least we could do is run all the dna. and we don’t. Some days I’m ashamed to be a homo sapien. This is one of them.

  10. BeccaM says:

    My turn to say, “Bingo.” Dead on correct, in every respect.

  11. BeccaM says:

    And it still happens. Not only vilifying women for not coming forward when they knew they wouldn’t get anything but reprisals anyway, but now it’s “If he did that, why did they ever have dealings with him again? Why did they go back?”

    As Liz says above, it’s a power thing. Cosby had the power to make or break careers in showbiz. Like many serial abusers, he also knew how to make people do what he wanted, even after he’d hurt them (allegedly…). There’s gas-lighting, and minimization, and all kinds of ways to make a victim doubt themselves. There’s also the classic abuser behavior of committing an assault (sexual, physical, psychological or some combination of those), and then coming back a few days later all full of apologies and explanations. “I’m really sorry” — followed by whatever excuse is needed. “I was drunk.” “You were so hot, I couldn’t help myself.” “I’d had a really bad day.” “But I meant no harm — you took it all wrong. I misread your signals.” (This last one is a humdinger because it combines a nopology with some backhanded victim-blaming.)

    Yes, there are lots of bad reasons for going back and being anywhere near an abuser, much less being in a position of vulnerability with them again. But that doesn’t negate the crime itself.

  12. Denver Catboy says:

    No, we don’t have to be robots and no one expects that.

    Your entire position is based on a flawed and incorrect thesis.

    There ARE people that expect that if they don’t want your affection, you are to show none. These people DO expect that people will be robots, at least to them, and because HR doesn’t want to offend them, the base rule pretty much is, in many places, that any form of affection that offends anyone is off limits. Because you can’t be sure, and for many people, just the accusation is enough to ruin your career, you have to curtail it all. Hence my comment about robots.

    You don’t get it. I agree with you that the rule is keep your affection under wraps to anyone below you in the org chart. By extension, that means anyone above you in the org chart as well, because they’ll never reciprocate (as they can’t show affection to those lower on the chart). As for the part about ‘if there’s any doubt’, there ALWAYS is doubt, because you never know. You may offend that touch-me-not, or worse, you may run into an opportunistic jerk who will blackmail you and scream sexual harassment if you don’t give in.

    My beef is our society makes this necessary, and exacts a cost. Who knows. Maybe your soulmate might work at your firm, but because of the extreme risk of a sexual harassment complaint, you never reveal to him/her that you like them. This is the cost our society exacts, and I personally think it’s unfair. But it is the only way we can do things, because America is filled with selfish jerks (the actual root cause of your ‘don’t know you shouldn’t wear clubwear to work’) and prudish morons. And sometime a jerk is a moron as well, making it four times as bad…yes, I squared that. ;P

    Anyway, I think we’ve hashed this enough. We both agree that you have to squash your affection at the workplace. All you want to do is quibble on what the end result of that is. I won’t agree with you that this doesn’t require for us to be robots. That’s OK. No matter how you slice it, soulmates will be missed and sexual harassment will be the cause. Good day, madam/sir….

  13. Badgerite says:

    It is true that sometimes, just an allegation of this kind can immediately lead in some people’s minds to guilt without any attempt to look at or even require evidence. I don’t think that serves the ends of justice any more than immediately discounting an allegation does.
    It is a fine line and in a situation like this it is not easy to find the right balance or the truth.
    Sorry about your incident. It’s amazing how some people cannot distinguish between what you could do in a bar and what is appropriate in a work place but some people can’t or won’t.
    You for sure deserved better treatment.

  14. Houndentenor says:

    No, we don’t have to be robots and no one expects that. What it does mean is that should behave appropriately in the workplace. If you’re an adult and you don’t know what that means someone (actually multiple someones) have failed you along the way. It shouldn’t be necessary to explain to adults that some behavior and language is not appropriate in the workplace. (It also shouldn’t be necessary to explain to some younger women that club wear is not appropriate office attire.) What has gone so wrong in our society that people don’t know these things.

  15. Denver Catboy says:

    You made my point nicely.

    Hard and fast rules have to be made because people want them. Just about any behavior you do can be seen as inappropriate. So, we basically have to be emotionless robot drones, which incidentally will be what we are eventually replaced with.

    Like I said. Ideally people would grow up and gain some critical thinking skills, but since that is too much to ask, we have the alternative instead…which is your hard and fast rule.

  16. stillgrace2 says:

    Thank you, Mr. Aravosis, for telling your story. I hope it helps bridge the blatant and obvious gaps of misunderstanding that exist in the politics of abuse.

    Bill Cosby believes he is still in power and possesses the ability to make the attention on his criminal behavior go away. That is evident in the way he tried to bully the AP reporter. He’s probably saying to himself “this too shall pass.” He instructs his lawyers to blame the media and vilify the brave women who have come forward. He’s just waiting for the negative press to die down so he can go on his merry way, trying to revitalize his career.

    I don’t want that to happen. It may be too late to prosecute the monster (unless he commits the same crimes again), however, I want him to be held responsible for his criminal behavior. I want the world to see him for what he is- a criminal, a serial rapist who uses drugs to incapacitate his victims. Shame on the people that cheer him and give him standing ovations.

    Your story helps with understanding what a victim goes through, and why (especially when the perp is in a position of power), victims may not immediately report the crime. For that, I thank you again.

  17. Houndentenor says:

    I’ll give you a hard and fast rule. If there’s any doubt whether your behavior is appropriate or not, don’t do it. Not in the office. And especially not with people who are below you on the org chart.

  18. Houndentenor says:

    It’s entirely about the power dynamic. I have an illustration of a non-sexual nature that illustrates this point.

    Many years ago I worked for a high level executive in lower Manhattan for a few months. He smoked a pipe. Yes, this was quite some years after smoking in office buildings had been banned, but being a senior executive has its privileges. (His office are was about 1/4 off the top floor of the building.) He liked to smoke his pipe during meetings but he always asked if anyone minded. I have no doubt that he believed that people were free to object knowing that he would not hold it against them. But I also heard directly from people in those meetings (some of which I had also worked for or whose assistants I knew) that some did mind but didn’t feel they could say anything. And this is the problem when there is a power imbalance. A boss might feel that the sexual comments are welcome because they are not objected to while the employee does indeed mind but doesn’t feel free to say anything. And in a job market of the sort that we’ve had for about 14 years now, you can’t just up and quit a job because it could take months to find another one. So they just put up with it until they can’t. In the entertainment business (since the main topic is Cosby) I don’t doubt that people put up with years of this because if you are nobody and the other person is somebody you don’t dare be on their bad side, especially if they are the only big name on your resume.

  19. I do think the question is fair. As it would be fair for someone to ask me why I didnt’ shut her down after her first “what are you holding?” comment. I remember being in a discussion about a panel I was going to beon, a good decade ago (it’s a long story), but the bottom line is that we were doing a panel about women and the Internet, and the female panelists told me we couldn’t include in our discussion a discussion of what the problem is, definining the problem, explaining if there is a problem for women online, and if so, what it is (whether it’s harassment or some kind of glass ceiling for writing on blogs). Why is it offensive to have this discussion? Because they’d already had that discussion 1000 times at conferences, and in any case it’s offensive to ask women to explain/prove that they’re being harassed, discriminated again. That last point threw me a bit. It’s offensive to ask a woman to explain how she’s being harassed, to in effect “prove” that her allegation is true? I asked about how this theory worked with workplace sexual harassment and was given the same answer — you don’t ask a woman to prove her case, if she says it’s true, it’s true. As a lawyer, I had a problem with that rule. I dont expect courts to make convictions on hate crimes, or anti-gay job discrimination, simply based on the fact that a gay guy claims it happened. The gay guy needs to “prove” it happened, because guess what, sometimes the gay guy is lying, or at the very least misinterpreted what was going on. Anyway, your comment got me thinking of that. There’s a fine line between taking an accusation seriously and investigating it, vs just assuming it’s true because it’s a horrific allegation.

  20. Bingo, on so many points you raised.

    1. If you go to a gay men resort in Palm Springs, where guys ogle each other, then you are proverbially “asking for it” — you likely went in the expectations, and hope, that some ogling would happen (and that’s fine). It’s like going to Folsom and complaining that there’s nakedness there! Uh yeah, that’s why people go. I did not call my chief contact at the DOT’s secretary with either the expectation, or desire, to be asked about my member. Consent is a huge factor here.

  21. Oh, how about the time Strom Thurmond copped a feel on my elbow, thinking I was the blonde woman next to me? That was one of my funnier (perhaps my only funny) sexual harassment story.

  22. And, I suspect the “flattering” aspect comes up when you’re not asking someone if they’re holding their member in their hand, but rather are complementing them on their clothing. When you think of it, even holding doors open for women by not for men is sexist. Or serving them first. I could imagine how these kind of things could open a larger debate as to “yes, they’re sexist,” but at the same time the guy doing it is not in the same category of Bill Cosby or Ally (above).

  23. Agree. It’s just too many women at this point.

  24. TheOriginalLiz says:

    First and foremost – sexual harassment, like rape, isn’t about sex – it’s about power. It’s not a complement, it’s a bullying tactic. And, unfortunately, it works.

  25. Denver Catboy says:

    One of my biggest complaints about society is selfishness. This Ally girl was selfish in thinking she was irresistible and could ‘have any guy she wanted’.

    Another aspect of what you experienced, I suspect, is the revulsion at being an object to be possessed. Women usually are on the receiving end, but occasionally a man gets to experience this. The worst part about this? Decent guys and gals, who just want to be seen as individuals and not a pair of breasts or a penis to be discarded, are the ones who suffer the most. Two self-absorbed pricks go after each other? They both get off, and then the loser of the power exchange goes and finds someone else to take their anger out on.

    I’d say they deserve each other, but too many of us get caught in the crossfire.

  26. Denver Catboy says:

    Hi, Sam. An unwanted sexual advance in a context where it was not called for is indeed boorish, and probably desperate. But it’s also sexual harassment.

    Maybe if she stopped with the bad innuendo, you could say it’s not sexual harassment. But if John kept going like it didn’t happen, and she has to get more explicit, then it becomes harassment – aggressive pressure or intimidation. And in John’s recollection, it happened 3 times. Once is harmless flirting. Twice, after being ignored, is harassment. Three times is just confirming it.

    As for dealing directly with it? Do you really think that would have had a better outcome? She obviously knew she was making John uncomfortable. That was her whole goal. All he’d accomplish by telling her knock it off is confirm to her that she’s getting under his skin.

    Guy or girl, no one deserves that sort of treatment.

  27. Denver Catboy says:

    I don’t think it’s so cut and dried as you think it is, and this reply is a good way to get a Pot/Kettle retort.

    To me, sexual assault is much more complex than the offense threshold being too low.

    First, remember what sexual assault really is about. It’s not about getting your jolleys. Instead, it’s all about the power trip. Making the woman into your personal living blowup doll or man into your personal dildo is about showing them who is the superior. Getting your jolleys is just a pleasant side effect of that.

    Second, it’s about our society’s obsession with sex. If sex was not such a big thing, and there was no shame in being a living blowup doll or dildo, we’d not be facing sexual assault. If sex was normal, we’d have more office romances, more sexy-time in the supply closet, and more flirty behavior, and assault would be channeled somewhere else, including the assault that has no qualifiers and involves straight-up violence.

    But with both together? Sex is turned into a weapon and added to the power-crazed jerk’s toolbox. And because those jerks exist, we have to have draconian codes of conduct which rubs some of us (porky pig in particular, it seems) raw. While I do see where Porky is coming from, I do understand why the limits are necessary. Doesn’t mean I, or he, won’t chaff at them from time to time though.

  28. Badgerite says:

    So are you. It is a question. And a valid one. But it only applies to one of the women. And there are others. So. I can’t say as I know or even think that they are lying or anything. I think they have a right to tell their stories and be listened to respectfully. And I think that has happened. But that certainly does not foreclose questioning one of them about what she says. I do think there is value to these women in telling their stories in public if what they say is true. But I don’t know whether they are true or not.

  29. Badgerite says:

    Yeah. The analogy doesn’t apply to Bowman’s story. She said she woke in Cosby’s brownstone in panties and a man’s t-shirt. She didn’t “live there”. And she never had to return. And there were incidents after that until finally he tried to forcibly rape her when she was awake and aware. To me, that damages the credibility of the person making the allegation. If the allegations were hers alone, I would be highly skeptical. But they are not hers alone. I don’t dismiss the difficulty of bringing these kinds of allegations against someone as powerful as Cosby was at that time. And I also don’t say she is lying. Because I don’t know that. But I do know that any attorney at trial would ask that question. And your analogy would not suffice to answer it.
    But, as I said, that is just one of the women. And there are many.
    I’m guessing the Cosby lawyers advised him to settle the civil lawsuit brought against him because of those women. He could definitely have lost the lawsuit. All a civil case needs is 51 percent of the evidence on the plaintiff’s side. And even if he won the lawsuit, he would lose as well . If this really did happen, then there is a value to airing the allegations for the women involved. It can have a restorative value for them to be listened to and believed.
    As part of the public, I have no problem with them telling their stories. But what they expect from the public beyond that is unclear to me.

  30. Denver Catboy says:

    Good point on it depending on the situation and the person.

    There are no hard and fast rules on what is appropriate, but we as humans WANT hard and fast rules. That’s why some places are pretty draconian on their PDA, as are some people.

    For instance, I’ve worked with some pretty touchy feely people, and I’ve worked with people who are strongly opposed to being touched in any way. Company policy has had to account for the touch-me-nots, so the rules come down pretty hard on any form of personal contact which could be perceived sexual harrasment. To protect yourself, it’s wise to err on the side of caution and mercilessly crush any flirting reactions you may have. Those who are naturally flirty will feel oppressed in such an environment, and are likely to complain on whatever venue they can.

    What’s the answer to this problem? Ideally, it would be for people to pay attention to who they interact with, and keep the paws off those who don’t want to be touched, but realistically, that’s impossible. Sad, but true.

  31. Houndentenor says:

    Isn’t that the entire issue with harassment? Someone used their position knowing you’d probably just have to take it because what were you going to do? I think it’s appalling how unsympathetic people are. It’s time this was openly discussed because part of the power of the abuser is in making people think they are powerless and alone.

  32. Houndentenor says:

    If you want to know why women would wait so long to come forward with accusations against someone as powerful and well-liked as Bill Cosby, you only have to listen to and read the comments made about these women now. It’s horrible. I don’t know what happened but I also can’t dismiss over a dozen separate yet similar complaints against the same person and neither should anyone else. I agree that the “court off public opinion” is not the appropriate way to determine the truth, especially in the current media culture, but the shitty way these women are being treated makes me ashamed of my species.

  33. Houndentenor says:

    Yes, but the person making the comments has no idea whether the person they are saying them too will laugh them off or be upset by them which means they shouldn’t say them at all and if the person isn’t offended then they just got lucky. You don’t have a right to decide for other people what should or shouldn’t upset them. The comments Jon describes are clearly inappropriate and I rather doubt that was the first or last time something like that happened.

  34. Thom Allen says:

    A couple of interesting and different perspectives in an article by Michelangelo Signorile. Not everyone views the same act as sexual harassment – some think it’s flattering.

  35. judybrowni says:

    Uh huh.
    Hypocrisy, much?

  36. Eebadee-eebadee-thatsallfolks says:

    No. I’m just put off by your scattershot anger that you spew all over the internet and your making all kinds of wrong assumptions about me. Your vulgarity is less offensive than your torch-and-pitchfork mentality.

  37. Eebadee-eebadee-thatsallfolks says:

    Yes. Again, I agree with everything you wrote. Cosby is indefensible if what we’re hearing is true (although I’m sure a pricey attorney will defend him if needed). What the receptionist did to John is indefensible. The rules for basic decency aren’t that hard for most people to figure out, and based on my work experience, 99% of people seem to have figured them out. And I’m not really concerned about false accusations since people get falsely accused and convicted of things all the time, as DNA has been revealing. That’s just the way the system works.

    Where I’m coming from personally is I remember growing up thinking I was the only gay person in the world, before I had even learned the word ‘gay’. I remember when there were no obvious gay or lesbian characters on TV or movies (I couldn’t figure out subtext back then). Everything was obligatorily heterosexual. There was nothing in the school library (no internet back then). Nobody talked about it. The only thing one heard was jokes about “queers”, although I was surprisingly old before I figured out that a “queer” and a “fag” were the same thing and I was one of them. Eisenhower-era America really wasn’t all that different from present-day Saudi Arabia if you think about it. That’s the world I grew up in,

  38. BeccaM says:

    A parable: Let’s say you’re walking down a particular street. You’re mugged and beaten. The cops might seem sympathetic or might not, but one of them suggests, “Hey, there are muggers on this street. You shouldn’t walk down it.”

    You reply, “Yes, but I live here.”

    Cop says, “You should move elsewhere. If you get mugged again, you’re just asking for it.”

    You say, “I was just mugged! That’s supposed to be illegal!”

    Cop answers, “Oh I dunno. You don’t look like you put up much of a fight at all. You could’ve gotten those bruises anywhere, or maybe you inflicted them on yourself. You sure it wasn’t just an aggressive panhandler, and now you just regret giving him your money?”

    This is the situation faced by countless women — and men — who’ve been on the receiving end of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault. “Gee, maybe YOU should go away. And besides, you’re overreacting and exaggerating. You probably invited it.”

  39. BeccaM says:

    How incredibly wrong you are. It’s sad really, because as 2karmanot notes, attitudes like yours are exactly the problem.

  40. judybrowni says:

    Oh wow, did I say “fuck?”

    And you took offence — which according to you is wrong. According to you, that’s “Puritanism.” You drew a line, which according to you, shouldn’t be drawn.

    Hoist by your own petard.

  41. BeccaM says:

    At this point, given the lack of progress and the vehement objections of those who think they should be free to yell obscene remarks at passing strangers, ‘the other end’ is the least of our worries. Reprisals against those who truthfully report sexual harassment are way, way, WAY more common than people being falsely accused of it.

    I’ve been in the business world for close to three decades now. The rules aren’t that hard or onerous if one actually gives a damn how the other person feels and if one is willing to pay attention to clear communication.

    Situation: Is the situation where one can reasonably have a higher expectation of purely non-sexual professional behavior and interactions? Workplace, yes; gay resort, no.

    Invitation: Has the person, through their own statements and behavior, made it clear they’re open to invitations for intimacy, romance, and/or sexual interactions? Asking someone out to dinner or drinks is an invitation; asking a mere acquaintance if he has his dick in his hand right now and breathing heavy at him isn’t.

    Consent: Has the person consented — or is able to give non-coerced consent — to intimate talk and sexual behavior? The problem with Cosby, apparently, is he actually LIKED not having consent from the women he raped. If the allegations are true (and there are too many of them not to at least suspect it), he enjoyed having it such that women could not say no, either through situational coercion or flat-out drugging them.

    This isn’t puritanism, not by a long shot. The ‘concern’ over false accusations is a red herring. And as far as I’m concerned, the only ones who have anything to worry about are those who like to sexually harass others and are having a boo-hoo sad over the mere suggestion maybe they shouldn’t do it. Or be allowed to do it.

  42. BeccaM says:

    I think you’d be surprised, John, at how commonplace it was (and often still is) for us women to be dismissed, ignored, or even to suffer reprisals if we report sexually harassing behavior. Basically, having it be laughed off is the least of it.

    Things’ve gotten better than when I first entered the workplace in the mid-80s, but sexual harassment is still unfortunately more common than you might suspect.

  43. Eebadee-eebadee-thatsallfolks says:

    Yes. I totally agree with everything you wrote and every example you gave. I agree that harassment at work is awful and should not go on. I could even agree that maybe no remotely sexual anything should ever go on at a workplace.

    My concern is where are the limits on the other end? At what point is it considered unreasonable to take offense? It wasn’t that long ago that any hint, however veiled, of homosexuality brought down the censors. In fact, we’re still not out of that era in the US, and Russia and India seem to be going back to that era (in the real world, ironically at the same time that Kim Kardassian is tweeting her privates to the entire digital world). If somebody came out at work, and somebody else was offended by “teh gays always shoving that stuff down our throats”, could the mere act of coming out be considered harassment?

  44. BeccaM says:

    The logical conclusion of anti-harassment line of thinking is that
    everybody must be completely asexual at all times in all public settings

    No, that’s not the logical conclusion at all. Here are comparison examples of the kind of behavior that is okay and what is not okay:

    Okay: “Hey, would you like to go out to dinner after work?” Considered okay if (1) the person being asked is single and (2) the person doing the asking is not this person’s boss or subordinate. This is just an invitation, without any particular pressure, and could turn into more if both persons involved were interested.

    Not okay: “What color underwear are you wearing? Did you know I fantasize about you behind closed doors?” Coming from someone who is not your lover already, this is an intrusion. An uninvited and creepy one at that. And coercive harassment if the person making these statements is your boss.

    Could be okay in the workplace: Offering someone a brief hug, but circumstances matter. If they’re your friend and they just suffered a loss, for instance, is probably fine. But not if they make it clear they do not wish to be hugged.
    Not okay: Forcing a hug on someone who isn’t even a friend, especially if the hug lingers and hands wander.

    Okay: Giving a neck-rub to a good, close friend.
    Not okay: Giving a neck-rub to a mere acquaintance or a total stranger.

    Okay: Telling the person next to you at a bar (and who appears not to be with anyone) that you think they look amazing and hot.
    Not okay: Yelling the same thing to some woman or man who is just walking down the street and minding their own business.

    It’s about boundaries of accepted behavior and obtaining informed consent before going beyond them. In John’s example in the post, we had someone who had NO reason to be engaging in sexually-charged phone banter. She was barely an acquaintance. If, on the other hand, they had an existing sexual relationship, that’d be a different matter.

    You bring up gay men resorts in Palm Springs. Being there is itself a signal of availability and the setting is one where sexual behavior is both expected and encouraged. It’s different in the workplace. Or in random public settings.

    You see, the problem is there are people in the world who want to jump from “We barely know each other” to “Let’s go fuck right now” without any of the steps in between. Places like a club or resort or bar — that kind of behavior isn’t necessarily out of bounds. But do you want to hear something like that from your boss? Or from a police officer who just pulled you over? Or from some random acquaintance with whom you had nothing but expectations of professional behavior?

    There are lots of ways of expressing interest in someone that don’t attempt to bypass that person’s right to say they’re not interested in response. It’s all about consent, both explicit and implicit.

  45. Eebadee-eebadee-thatsallfolks says:

    … and then you accuse me of having the dirty mouth.

  46. judybrowni says:

    Uh huh.
    Yeah, sure.

    Victim blaming, you’re a peach.

  47. dcinsider says:

    Yeah, me too. Intimidating. I like that.

  48. judybrowni says:

    Fuck you, and the disingenuous horse you rode in on.
    Just because you have to shut your dirty mouth at work is not “purit

  49. judybrowni says:

    My first professional job, back in the early ’70s, my boss who screwed anything that moved (including hitchhiking teenagers) did the classic, “Sleep with me, or you’re fired.”
    A couple sleepless nights, until I handled the situation without giving him sex, or getting fired. But before I figured out how to tamp him down on my own, there was no one to complain to or get help from — in fact, everyone assumed I had,/i> slept with him.

    I felt dirty and helpless — had to handle it all on my own.

    In the late ’70s I was subjected to sexual harassment on two other jobs: one where the boss told the guy off (because it was a government installation and he didn’t want to take the flack, if I went over his head) and the other where I was told, “The other girls like it!”

    Uh huh.

    It was scary and ugly, and I had to take the chance that I’d be fired, if and when I did complain.

  50. Hue-Man says:

    Back in my corporate days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, an assistant came timidly into my office to talk about her unease at a senior employee’s conduct – she felt that he was always standing too close to her and patted her on the shoulder.

    How close is too close is a cultural and personal issue as is “physicality”. It’s not up to the junior person to “develop a thicker skin” but for the senior person to respect boundaries – which is the conversation I had with the senior employee. He wasn’t aware that he had crossed a line and learned to take a step back and to keep his hands to himself.

    I consider banter and flirting the same way – the person who is offended shouldn’t have to endure it.

  51. Eebadee-eebadee-thatsallfolks says:

    Yes, I know I’m still young in Palm Springs. I only go there on vacation. ;-) I just meant that I don’t get hit on now in my daily life anywhere near as much as I did when I was in my 20s and 30s.

    As far as confusing and conflating, I think that is how the law thinks; the dividing line for acceptable behaviors ultimately ends up at one’s own property line (and even there civil liberties are being increasingly eroded). Don’t think that because you limit some type of conversation in the workplace that it is a win-win: you have effectively placed constraints on one person’s behavior or speech in order to avoid the offense of the other person.

    But, ultimately, my real concern is that deep, deep down, the anti-harassment line of thinking is really puritanism, and in the end, I think that puritanism is the greater danger/evil.

  52. Hue-Man says:

    “A pundit made a “surprising and emotional” admission on CBC News’ Power & Politics Wednesday, alleging he was sexually harassed by male MPs years ago as a young staffer on Parliament Hill.

    MediaStyle president Ian Capstick made the revelation to host Evan Solomon during a panel discussion about two [male] Liberal MPs who had been suspended from caucus earlier in the day over allegations of personal misconduct [involving two female NDP Members of Parliament].

    “I have been both sexually touched and harassed on Parliament Hill during my time as a political staffer by male members of Parliament,” Capstick said.

    “At the time did I think it was awful? Yes. Did I laugh it off with friends of mine in a kind of machismo way and maybe even suggest to others that, ‘Gee I hope you’re not next.’ I most certainly did. Why did I do that at the time? Because I felt powerless.”

    Solomon then asked the former NDP press secretary if he considers what happened to him as sexual harassment.

    “Most certainly, sexually harassed on a regular basis by a single member of Parliament – and in another member of Parliament’s incidents, sexually touched in a way I had to tell that individual it was inappropriate.””

    “Capstick’s husband Shawn Dearn praised his decision to go public with what happened to him.”

    Politicians by definition have outsized egos, have an irrepressible drive for power, and don’t believe the rules apply to them (“Do You Know Who I AM?”). The political environment they work in is similarly power-based and as Capstick says, the powerful prey on the powerless.

    There is one late-night talk show host who is retiring next year that I refuse to watch because he has been shown to be a compulsive predator. There can never be “consent” when the power positions are so entirely unequal.

  53. nicho says:

    You are conflating and confusing a lot of different issues. If you are at a sex club in Palm Springs or at Folsom Street, then you are choosing to be in a sexually charged environment. But even there, if I continually forced my attention on you when it was clear you didn’t want it, then I am harassing you.

    Having someone be interested in you doesn’t make you a victim. Having someone make inappropriate comments, and act in an inappropriate way, does.

    What John is talking about is making inappropriate sexual comments in the workplace. You can choose not to go the Folsom. You can choose not to go to PS. Or, if you feel uncomfortable, you can leave. But you do need to go to work every day. And you should not be subjected to comments and behavior that makes you uncomfortable.

    There is a difference between finding someone sexually attractive and making them uncomfortable about it. There are straight men I find attractive, but I don’t “ogle” them or make suggestive comments because I know it would make them uncomfortable.

    And as far as not being hit on in Palm Springs because you’re over 50 – in Palm Springs, 50 is “chicken.”

  54. Eebadee-eebadee-thatsallfolks says:

    Ugh. I know that harassment goes on in workplaces because I’ve seen it and I know people who have experienced it, and I don’t want to diminish the experience of anybody who has been harassed, and I certainly don’t want to defend Bill Cosby.

    But here’s why all of this makes me uncomfortable: The logical conclusion of anti-harassment line of thinking is that everybody must be completely asexual at all times in all public settings, outside of private encounters in closed rooms, lest somebody get offended. In the end, that thinking all comes down to sex is bad and horrible, apparently just one step down from murder, and anybody that has even sexual innuendo “inflicted” on them is a “victim”. It’s supremely ironic that the community that spawned the Folsom Street Fair would hop on this kind of thinking. And where’s the line? I have known people that are extremely uncomfortable with hugging; not just that they didn’t want hugs but it bothered them to see other people hugging and they would prefer if nobody did it. Sorry, but I think some people just need to develop a thicker skin in order for society to be able to function. There are always going to be some people who have no boundaries and say inappropriate stuff and you just need to firmly tell them you’re not interested. That’s uncomforable to do because it is rejection, but something tells me that those extremely inappropriate people are already used to getting rejection.

    I think sex is good, not bad. I like going to gay men’s resorts in Palm Springs and such. I love it when a guy ogles or hits on another guy he finds attractive. I’m in my mid-50s now so that rarely ever happens to me anymore, but I never in my life felt insulted or threatened or “victimized” in any way when somebody let me know they found me attractive. In fact, even when I wasn’t even remotely interested in the other person (such as when it was a woman), I admired their courage to let me know they were interested in me. I love seeing PDAs and being in places where gays and lesbians feel comfortable enough to do PDAs and flirt in public. I grew up and lived most of my life in the rather puritanical small-town Midwest, so maybe I appreciate those places more than some people who maybe take them for granted.

    Having somebody be sexually interested in me does not make me a “victim”.

  55. 2karmanot says:

    Thanks for the perfect illustration that attitudes like yours are the ‘problem.’

  56. Badgerite says:

    I believe you just made the point of the people who are questioning the Bowman woman’s account. The first incident she alleges was rather severe and not only verbal. The question would be, why did she have any further contact with Cosby after that? It is a question, though. Not an accusation. But it is a question she would have to answer under cross examination at trial in a court of law. Not so on the internets.
    That doesn’t, of course, mean the accusations aren’t true. What it means is that they have never been tested in a court. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  57. heimaey says:

    Yeah it’s tacky and gross. Sorry but if the other person isn’t in on the joke (assuming she was just teasing which it doesn’t sound like just that) then it’s gross.

    I’ve never been sexually harassed so I’m either too unattractive or too intimidating. I’m going with intimidating.

  58. mikeyDe says:

    No, I don’t think reporting it would have helped. I was working at the government agency under contract. Not long after I left the president of the contracting company was imprisioned for fraud, an indication of the calliber of management there, and later the company went out of business. After the first comment, I asked Frank Kameny for advice; he suggested getting another job. I felt it was my own fault and took it as a lesson learned — I shouldn’t have danced with my then ‘lover’ now husband at the company Christmas party — we were young and naive. BTW, although I remained openly gay, I never again attended a company Christmas party unless it was held during office hours — nothing good ever came out of a company Christmas party.

  59. nicho says:

    Thank you. You just illustrated the problem that John is trying to address. Had the positions been reversed and John made those comments to her, he could have, and probably would have, been accused of sexual harassment and could have lost his job. But because she did it to him, he was “overreacting.”

  60. nicho says:

    I worked in an office where there was an older woman who would actually get physical in addition to making sexual comments. It wasn’t unusual for her to come into my cubicle to tell me something and actually rub her boobs against the back of my head. I complained and was laughed at. She was just being “cute.”

  61. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t her first time at the rodeo. And yes, working for a decently senior political appointee with the administration, this had the potential to go very badly. And that’s horrible what happened to you. Do you think reporting it would have made a difference, it being the 1970s? Im not sure saying you shouldn’t have, but curious how they would have reacted. This was the 1990s, and it basically got laughed off.

  62. Thanks, and it wasn’t just intimidating (as she was the gatekeeper of my key administration contact for my job) — it was revolting. The reason I’m writing about this is because I was surprised, and still am, at the extent the experience disgusted, and immobilized, me.

  63. After someone’s secretary – working for the federal government, and who I don’t even really know, makes jokes about my penis, then proceeds to pant on the phone to me, it’s not sexual harassment, and I’m supposed to call her back?

    The EEOC seems to disagree with you:

    PS It’s not boorish. It’s a bit mentally unstable.

  64. dcinsider says:

    Glad you spoke up. That actually took guts.

    And there is a lot more gay on gay sexual harassment than any of us care to admit.

    Let that be a lesson to the gay Cosby’s out there that think it is OK to say something inappropriate to a younger openly gay colleague, because, you know, wink, wink, we are all in the club. Don’t do it. It is still sexual harassment, and it makes you look creepy.

  65. mikeyDe says:

    You did the right thing informing her boss. He needed to know this could happen again and maybe blow up in his face. That he laughed it off is not to his credit. I wish I had reacted as you did when something similar happened to me in DC in the seventies. My supervisor informed me I was passed over for promotion because I was openly gay. She advised me to go to library school because ‘there’s lots of your kind working in libraries.’ I was stunned but said nothing. Weeks later she told me her son wanted to buy my bicycle (I had posted an ad on the agency’s bulleting board) until he heard ‘you are a homo.’ Instead of reporting these inappropriate comments to her boss, I looked for another job.

  66. heimaey says:

    I’m not sure you’re in the position to tell John whether he overreacted. He was upset by the event and she was using her sexuality as power and he felt threatened. Was he going to be raped? Probably not, but that doesn’t make it right. Would you or I have handled it differently? Maybe, but we can’t speak for him. Anytime someone uses sex in a position of power it can be intimidating whether it’s male to female or female to male.

  67. Sam Jay says:

    You over reacted. It was boorish, perhaps a bit desperate behavior but it was not sexual harassment. You should have dealt withy it directly to her and not made a “federal ” case of it.

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