Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Working toward a fair and equal society

In Quentin Tarintino’s “Kill Bill,” Uma Thurman and her fellow femme-fatales solve their problems by brutally cutting people apart and severing limbs. While no doubt an entertaining notion of female empowerment, it’s about as far-removed from reality as the term can imply. Reality instead gives us the situation of actor-turned-political-candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger, who faces nearly 15 accusations of sexual harassment.

I realize that the accusations were publicized very shortly before the election and were done so in a manner that could easily be construed as a partisan attack against Arnold. I have no illusions that whatever his involvement in bringing the allegations forth, Gov. Gray Davis exploited them in an attempt to gain momentum against his chief opponent. I agree that this is America, and therefore, in absolute terms, Arnold is considered innocent until proven guilty. Finally, I am aware that the recall vote took place nearly two weeks ago, ending with Arnold successfully elected governor by the voters of California.

I realize all these things, yet they are little consolation when faced with the reality of the situation: 15 women brought forth claims of harassing behavior against a political candidate elected to his state’s highest office. Arnold himself even admitted that there was some basis to the women’s accusations and that he had done things in the past he now realizes were wrong. Despite all of this, there was astonishingly little public outcry concerning Arnold’s actions. Most people just assumed the situation was another typical case of partisan bickering and dismissed it as such.

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If this were an isolated instance, it might be possible to dismiss it as one of many bizarre antics in the California recall. As most of us are well aware, however, charges of sexual harassment against officials in high office are nothing fresh or novel. The 42nd president is the obvious example that comes to mind, recalling his alleged behavior in the company of Paula Jones and Jennifer Flowers. Add up all the other entertainment and sports celebrities who have charges brought against them, along with the tremendous dark figure of crimes that go unreported, and you have a serious problem that no one out there seems to be doing enough to solve.

Sex has the distinction of being a prevalent force in our society that is simultaneously ambiguous. Sex is used to sell nearly every conceivable product and service, but always in a suggestive rather than straightforward manner. The line between acceptable and offensive is often so divisive that the idea of a common social standard is nearly laughable. Fortunately, we in America have something else we can agree on: the protection of individual rights and liberties.

Sexual harassment is as clear a personal violation as can possibly be. While individuals often claim that they are engaging in playful and flirtatious desire, there is nothing about unwanted groping, fondling or explicit discussion that fits into either category. Sexual misconduct is a gravely serious offense, and it would not be erroneous to equate sexual harassment to a crime near the level of a non-lethal stabbing.

Maybe the most disturbing aspect of sexual harassment is that a debasing and humiliating action toward one individual is often performed carelessly by another. Harassment often follows the form of a powerful individual taking advantage of a subordinate by taking authority from a professional level and applying it to a sexual one.

Laws exist to punish those who commit these offenses, but it is imminently clear that such laws are not as effective as necessary.

In order to punish individuals who commit these crimes, we need to support the people who come forward with accusations. Women who have been mistreated ought to be able to bring grievances without fear of losing their jobs or careers. Men need to stand behind these women, make sure that their claims are investigated fully and avoid unfairly stigmatizing women who bring forth such allegations. Greater efforts to educate people of the nature of sexual harassment can also be made. If we can throw millions of dollars on an ineffectual elementary program to fight drugs, certainly we can find the time and money to educate children on what sort of personal behavior is illegal.

It is true that false accusations can easily be made and that investigating the truth can be very expensive and time-consuming; however, our mothers, sisters, daughters, families and friends all have the right to work and live without the oppression of sexual harassment and the right to a system that fairly examines their claims instead of brushing them aside. This is not just a crusade for women; making this a reality requires the active participation of both genders. It may take time and effort to achieve these goals, but the reward of a fair and equal society makes the effort more than worthwhile.

Rob Welygan ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in history and political science.

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