Once upon a time, many years ago, in college, I had 3 roommates; 2 guys and another girl. I had known the guys for several years and the girl more recently. They didn’t know each other at all. All was well until the guys sense of humor and teasing became too much /not funny for her. She moved out. That seemed OK. We got another roommate.
Then she filed a restraining order and everything went beyond insane.
My best friend, one of the guys’ girlfriends, and I became labeled as supporters of the enemy, the evil male harassers. The female roommate was labeled a feminist hero or a crazy bitch depending on your crowd. It was confusing. And horrible. Nothing made sense. I loved my friends. They were just being silly guys. Or was I blind to the pain of another woman?
Eventually it all ended. And life went on.
Until a few weeks ago. A politician I had admired for many years was accused of sexual harassment. I was stunned. And again, confused. This guy’s credentials were impeccable. He was a huge supporter of women’s and gay rights. He had dedicated his career to fighting for those in need; the poor, the sick, animals, and the environment.
And I had more than admired him from afar. I had volunteered on 2 of his campaigns, one quite recently. I had spent several hours in his company and never heard or saw anything that seemed inappropriate. The more time I spent with him the more I liked and admired him.
Yes, he had a wickedly funny sense of humor but nothing those of us with funny friends or coworkers or family members haven’t experienced. Maybe just funnier.
And I started to wonder...was it wrong to think there is a difference between physical touching, exposure, or having ones’ job threatened and hearing jokes we don’t think are funny? I hadn’t heard any inappropriate humor from him but it doesn’t seem unreasonable that it might have occurred. I can’t think of one job I ever had in which off color humor didn’t occur. Hasn’t every adult who has worked? Sometimes you laughed and sometimes you groaned. Is that so terrible?
And does even thinking that, much less saying it out loud, put me on the wrong side of this issue? Does questioning what I read, does feeling confused make me insensitive to the pain of others? If I didn’t know this person, if I didn’t like his politics, would I ever question the statements of another woman? Have I thrown away all my feminist ideals because once again the accused is someone I know and like?
Is there even an answer?