Questions And Observations On A Fascinating Sexual Harassment Episode I Can’t Even Think Of The Right Word To Describe…

 

From the Washington Post today:

While debating a land-use bill at a committee meeting on Tuesday night, Pennsylvania state Rep. Matt Bradford laid his hand — for just a moment — on the left forearm of the colleague sitting next to him.

That colleague was conservative Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who interrupted Bradford mid-sentence with a personal bit of information.

“Look, I’m a heterosexual. I have a wife, I love my wife, I don’t like men — as you might. But stop touching me all the time,” Metcalfe told Bradford, who then began laughing.

Several other members of the committee, which Metcalfe chairs, giggled and smirked.

“Keep your hands to yourself,” said Metcalfe, a Republican from Butler County. “If you want to touch somebody, you have people on your side of the aisle who might like it.

“I don’t.”

Questions and Observations:

  • I love this story!

I wish I had made it up as an ethics hypothetical!

  • What difference does it make that Metcalfe is a conservative?

Would a liberal legislator who felt uncomfortable by an unwelcome touch have his complaint reported in the same way?

  • If a female legislator reacted this way to the touch of a male legislator, wouldn’t this be cheered?

Isn’t this how those women groped by President George H.W. Bush should reacted the moment it happened?

  • Public embarrassment is a great and powerful deterrent.  It’s also often not very kind and rude.

Which was this?

  • Stipulated: the crack about the other side of the aisle was borderline gay-bashing.

Also stipulated: if Metcalf thought this was appropriate, it would have been just as appropriate if the unwelcome toucher was a member of his own party.

  • A touch of this sort, in the workplace, can constitute sexual harassment.

If Metcalf remained silent, and then, 25 years from now, when Bradford is running for President and there is an allegation from an anonymous source that he had harassed another man, would it be fair and ethical for Metcalf to then come forward and say that he was sexually harassed by Bradford during a committee meeting in 2017?

55 Comments

Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Romance and Relationships

55 responses to “Questions And Observations On A Fascinating Sexual Harassment Episode I Can’t Even Think Of The Right Word To Describe…

  1. Gregg Wiggins

    If I were writing the story I would not have described Metcalfe as “conservative”, but it would be relevant to point out that he is Pennslvania’s equivalent to soon-to-be former Virginia legislator Bob Marshall when it comes to homophobia. Which may influence his political positions, but which is more relevant than left versus right or Republican versus Democrat in this particular exchange.

  2. La Sylphide

    I’m curious, Jack, how a touch on the forearm in front of a whole group of people could be considered sexual harassment (perhaps it could be, I don’t know.) . I see the gesture more as a form of condescension. Bradford admitted that he often places his hand on Metcalf’s forearm to get him to calm down. If I were a female legislator (hell, anything) and a male colleague touched my forearm to try and calm me down? I wouldn’t see it as sexual harassment. But telling a woman to “calm down’ is not usually in one’s best interest.

  3. Wayne

    It was handled! (Excuse the pun). Metcalfe had every right to say what he did. Obviously the are gay congressmen on both side of the isle but I suspect that there are more on the Democrats side since they are the party of gay rights.

  4. Steve-O-in-NJ

    Both were being stupid, Bradford for touching another official to bait him, most likely, and Metcalfe for overreacting. Like it or not, it plays differently depending on who touches who. As it is, Metcalfe just comes off as hypersensitive and borderline homophobic. For a guy to spurn the teasing touch of another hetero guy, especially with all this extraneous stuff about loving his wife just comes off as someone who can’t take a joke. For a guy to spurn the touch of a gay guy has to be handled very carefully, for all practical purposes the same way you might handle the flirty touch of a woman. In that case it would be ok to say “I’m not like that,” or “I’m flattered, but I gotta say no to that,” or that you’re happily married, but that’s as far as you can go without being accused of being a homophobe. For a guy to spurn the touch of a woman has to be handled similarly, but there’s room to be a little more stern, since a grown woman should know better than to chase or flirt with a married man. There’s room to sharply ask “what are you doing?” or say “Seriously? I’m a married guy, keep your talons to yourself.” If the woman has any shame, she’ll step back maybe say something rueful, and get going. No one will think the worse of the guy. Worst of all, though, is a guy flirting with a married woman, because at that point not only do you disrespect the woman, but you trespass in another man’s domain. At that point not only is the woman empowered to loudly tell you to get away, but she’s empowered to slap you or otherwise publicly shame you, and the husband or boyfriend has every right to come after you physically, or maybe even take your life.

    • charlesgreen

      Steve-O, nice analysis. Being a social being is not easy; there are all kinds of rules, and to behave “rightly” we have to be adept at contextualizing. These are great examples of the perils of misreading, and of various ways to handle differing situations.

      To me the bottom line is – one size never fits all. You can’t just draw simple behavioral lines and say “this is right” and “this is wrong.” This is also why there are judges, to handle the infinite variations on basic laws when they come face to face with infinitely variable social realities.

      In other words: you gotta be smart, not just a good memorizer of rules.

  5. Neil Dorr

    Jack,

    There never seems to be any rhyme or reason to why some things are bullet points and others aren’t. Some of the bullets are questions followed by unbulleted questions while others are observations followed by questions, and still others are just thoughts followed by other thoughts..

    Why not just call them all “musings” or “points to consider” instead of pretending they’re organized by importance or relevance.

    Finally: “What difference does it make that Metcalfe is a conservative?”

    Who said it does?

  6. Neil Dorr

    Also, as I’ve been huffing large quantities of paint, I may have missed this, but I’m curious what this story proves? That legislators have a sense of humor?

    • That sexual harassment is too amorphous a concept for anyone to be smug about.
      That the concept is gender neutral, but if a man cried SH based on a man’s touch, he’s a homophobe
      That the media applies double standard (not that any more proof is needed)
      That this exactly the kind of encounter that if the touchee waited 40 years to complain about, the toucher might as well be Dustin Hoffman for all the chance he’s have…
      That those who ask why didn’t those women groped by Al or HW didn’t just interrupt the photo op and say, Hey, perv, get your hand off me! should know that this is what that sounds like…


      Seriously, did I really have to spell all of that out?

  7. luckyesteeyoreman

    Dang! What a disappointment! I thought this post was gonna be about a victim of inappropriate touching that happened when those reach-out commercials were being made. (I support Metcalfe’s homophobe rights.)

    • luckyesteeyoreman

      But I do think Metcalfe should have said something besides:
      “If you want to touch somebody, you have people on your side of the aisle who might like it…I don’t.”

      Maybe if he had just said, “If you want to touch somebody, don’t touch me,” that probably would have been more politically correctly homophobic.

    • luckyesteeyoreman

      Second try…

      This:

      “Ironically, labeling homophobia a mental disorder has something in common with the erroneous classification of homosexuality as a sickness prior to 1973. In both cases, a diagnostic label is used to stigmatize a disliked pattern of thought and behavior. Using the label misrepresents what really is a subjective value judgment as a scientific, empirically grounded conclusion.
      “Moreover, by equating psychopathology with evil, it also reinforces the stigma that historically has been attached to mental illness.
      “Yet another problem with labeling homophobia a clinical disorder is that doing so frames heterosexuals’ hostility toward homosexuality as a purely individual phenomenon. This limits our ability to understand the social processes through which sexual prejudice develops and is reinforced. It encourages us to focus on the prejudiced individual while ignoring the larger culture that stigmatizes homosexuality.”

      I am Happy. That is, an “out and proud” “homophobe.” I support Happy rights. I oppose discrimination against Happys, which attempts to stigmatize Happys as second-class citizens. We are a global movement. Happy is OK. Happy does not necessarily mean hostile or hateful toward all homosexuals. Happy means self-aware. In my case, that is a heterosexual whose irresistible impulses and inborn, genetically coded responses to behavioral stimuli include a response to overt homosexuality that can only be described as “fear.” Fear does not = hate. Fear is not evil. The fear which a Happy person like me experiences is not some sociopathy that suggests or mandates a need for some kind of mental health treatment, as if a Happy person is mentally ill. Some Happys are hateful toward those whose behavior provokes the Happy response of fear. That is not who I am. To cause me to hate requires more than simply provoking the fear that is the signature significance of my Happyness.

      Happy normalization denial is in the same class as Holocaust denial.

  8. Ash

    humans, great apes, are social creatures.
    humans are also fallible.
    not all humans are quick on the uptake.

    do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

    hence, metcalfe is an asshole. so are people that behave like he does.

    • luckyesteeyoreman

      That’s a value judgment on Metcalfe that vaguely suggests you are a bigot. Not all assholes are bigots, but almost all bigots are assholes.

    • Agreed. Disliking the touching is fine. Some people have body odor. Some people tell impolite jokes. Others smoke in your presence. Be polite and firm if nedded, move away from the offender without making a scene.

      How you respond to such an occurrence defines the depths of your ‘assholery’

  9. Chris

    I’m lost. The touch wasn’t sexual. It doesn’t even sound like Metcalf truly thought it was sexual. If anything, *Metcalf* sexualized the situation with his boorish comments.

    How can non-sexual touching ever be considered sexual harassment?

    • There are successful lawsuits based on such touches. Manager have been fired or suspended for such touches. Remember, legally, nobody has a right to touch anybody without their at least implied consent. You can’t say “the touch wasn’t sexual” if the touchee perceived it as sexual. Also, what is or isn’t “hostile” can depend on the specific victim.

      Yes, this was ridiculous. But it illustrates how the whole concept of “sexual harassment” is dangerously blurry. Hence the last sentence: If Metcalf remained silent, and then, 25 years from now, when Bradford is running for President and there is an allegation from an anonymous source that he had harassed another man, would it be fair and ethical for Metcalf to then come forward and say that he was sexually harassed by Bradford during a committee meeting in 2017?

      • Chris

        You can’t say “the touch wasn’t sexual” if the touchee perceived it as sexual. Also, what is or isn’t “hostile” can depend on the specific victim.

        I just watched the video. If he perceived that as sexual, he’s nuts. Have their really been cases where such a touch was seen by so many witnesses, where said touch was still found to be sexual harassment? If so, you are right; the concept is far too broad, and the law needs to be seriously refined.

        But his reaction was so ridiculous that I have a hard time believing he genuinely thought the touch was sexual.

        Yes, this was ridiculous. But it illustrates how the whole concept of “sexual harassment” is dangerously blurry. Hence the last sentence: If Metcalf remained silent, and then, 25 years from now, when Bradford is running for President and there is an allegation from an anonymous source that he had harassed another man, would it be fair and ethical for Metcalf to then come forward and say that he was sexually harassed by Bradford during a committee meeting in 2017?

        If there really was a pattern of touching that goes beyond what was seen in this video? Sure. If there wasn’t? No. But then that would be unethical regardless of whether there were other allegations, and no matter how long from now it happened. Similarly, if there was actual sexual harassmentit would be ethical regardless of whether there were other allegations and no matter how long from now it happened. Number of allegations and years that go by is relevant to whether the public should assume guilt on the part of the accused, but it doesn’t change the ethics of the accuser in the slightest. The only thing that matters is whether the allegation is true.

        Reply

        • Chris

          *Have there really been cases

        • Number of allegations and years that go by is relevant to whether the public should assume guilt on the part of the accused, but it doesn’t change the ethics of the accuser in the slightest. The only thing that matters is whether the allegation is true.

          Of course other factors matter. What is “true”? When? It should only be sexual harassment if the conduct was unwelcome and made the “victim” uncomfortable at the time it occurred. Retroactive discomfort is unethical, but I am certain that is what we are seeing more often than is revealed.

          • Chris

            It should only be sexual harassment if the conduct was unwelcome and made the “victim” uncomfortable at the time it occurred.

            A co-worker talking about how he thinks people on welfare are lazy is unwelcome and makes me uncomfortable, but it isn’t sexual, therefore it isn’t sexual harassment. This wasn’t sexual either.

            • Completely off topic. An unwanted touching is automatically inappropriate unless there can be presumed consent. Touches can and often are sexual overtures or gestures.Racist comments are not.

              • Chris

                I was pointing out the flaw in your definition. And again: no reasonable person would look at that touch and think it was sexual.

                • The law doesn’t care whether a reasonable person would find a touch sexual and unwelcome. The issue is whether the one receiving the touch, in that individual’s context and perception, would find the conduct creates a hostile work environment. I don’t think this kind of touch could sustain a damages judgment, but ots of factors are in play. Did the toucher know the touchee didn’t like being touched, for example.

                  • Chris

                    The law doesn’t care whether a reasonable person would find a touch sexual and unwelcome.

                    Then the law should be changed.

                    The issue is whether the one receiving the touch, in that individual’s context and perception, would find the conduct creates a hostile work environment. I don’t think this kind of touch could sustain a damages judgment, but ots of factors are in play. Did the toucher know the touchee didn’t like being touched, for example.

                    Repeated non-sexual touching could reasonably constitute a hostile work environment. But it shouldn’t be considered sexual harassment if a reasonable person wouldn’t find it sexual.

                    • A reasonable person in the same circumstances and from the “victim’s” perspective, yes.
                      And here’s the thing: there is no excuse for anyone to touch a co-worker without consent. None. Ever. And that’s been the law for centuries.

                    • One more thing: this is how men get in trouble. They think, “What reasonable woman wouldn’t want my attentions?”

                    • *all the time*

                      This presumably wasn’t one off event.

                      Presumably, he’s been called on the handsiness before.

                      He persisted.

                      There’s no reason at this point to discount the cumulative effects of many past “touchings” adding far more meaning to what you merely perceive as an innocuous touch.

                      *all the time*

                      That bit is key in all this. And you know it.

                    • Chris

                      Tex, I’ve already addressed that multiple times. But don’t worry, I won’t claim that you knew that already and are just pretending not to; I’ll assume you missed it.

    • ”Stop touching me all the time”

      *all the time*

      That bit is key in all this. And you know it.

      I wonder what your comments would be if Metcalf was a woman. My confidence in your consistency is very low.

    • Right now, my MP (Member of Parliament), James Bezan, is in hot, hot water because last May, while in a photoshoot with members from all three major Canadian Federal parties, he said the words “This isn’t the kind of threesome I normally sign up for.” And the Liberal MP beside him, a woman, took grave offense at this.

      Now…. Those words, in that context, just like that touch, in that context, obviously weren’t meant to be sexual. But the fact is that the word “threesome”, just like a touch on the arm in some cases, IS sexual, and apparently we’ve lost all sense of what context is. Which… is kind of ironic, when you think of it.

      Regardless, you’re right. The touch wasn’t sexual, but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone who’s on the prowl for offence, so while I disagree with taking offense at something that wasn’t meant as offense, and a reasonable person wouldn’t take offense to…. I think we’re dealing with a lot of unreasonable people right now.

      • Chris

        Right now, my MP (Member of Parliament), James Bezan, is in hot, hot water because last May, while in a photoshoot with members from all three major Canadian Federal parties, he said the words “This isn’t the kind of threesome I normally sign up for.” And the Liberal MP beside him, a woman, took grave offense at this.

        Now…. Those words, in that context, just like that touch, in that context, obviously weren’t meant to be sexual.

        What…the fuck…are you talking about?

        Yes, that’s a sexual joke. Most people would interpret that as a sexual joke. If it wasn’t a sexual joke, what the hell was it?

        • It might be hard to explain this in terms a progressive might understand, because just like you apparently can’t see any way this is sexual, I can’t see a way that it is… It’s… like a certain type of contextual observation has atrophied in you… Merely saying the word “threesome” doesn’t make the conversation suddenly sexual any more than a phys ed teacher explaining to a class what a threesome is. There’s a… measure of detachment… it’s so brutally obviously not an overture that I read anyone trying to read more into it as being dishonest… with themselves if not with me.

          The worst part, in my mind, is that Liberal MP has said that she’s gotten some kind of post traumatic stress over the episode… That she’s having a hard time going into work, that she needed counselling… “Women are just as strong as men, just as capable as men, but don’t you dare suggest that a tri-partisan photoshoot is, and I quote, a “threesome” or they’ll fucking melt into puddles.

          • Chris

            We’re defining sexual in two different ways. I took you to mean that the “threesome” comment didn’t refer to sex at all, when it clearly does. You seem to have meant that it wasn’t a sexual advance. I agree, but it was still a sexual comment, and was inappropriate.

            Do we agree that it was inappropriate in this context?

            The worst part, in my mind, is that Liberal MP has said that she’s gotten some kind of post traumatic stress over the episode… That she’s having a hard time going into work, that she needed counselling…

            That is an insane overreaction, to the degree I have trouble believing it really happened. Link to a news story, or at least names that I can Google? I don’t think “Canadian threesome” will get me the results I’m looking for.

            • Inappropriate? Probably. But the idea that an MP could be booted from caucus or forced to resign over it is insane.

              “That is an insane overreaction, to the degree I have trouble believing it really happened. Link to a news story, or at least names that I can Google? I don’t think “Canadian threesome” will get me the results I’m looking for.”

              I actually Googled Canadian Threesome before I thought about it, and now I might have to explain my net history to HR. The Conservative MP was James Bezan, the Liberal MP was Sherry Romanado.

              The CBC…. Which I should note has an exceptionally left leaning bias:

              http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/sexual-remarks-bezan-romanado-1.4432398

              “A Liberal MP has called out a Conservative MP for making “humiliating and unwanted” sexual remarks she says caused her great stress in the workplace.

              Sherry Romanado made the accusations in the House of Commons on a point of order, just hours after Manitoba Conservative MP James Bezan apologized for making an “inappropriate and insensitive” comment in her presence.

              […]

              “These comments have caused me great stress and negatively affected my work environment,” she said.”

              The Globe and Mail, which posted more of what Romanado actually said:

              https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/tory-mp-james-bezan-accused-of-making-humiliating-sexual-comments/article37182934/

              “Ms. Romanado refused on Monday to provide further details of the encounter, which she said had occurred in May. “It’s been an incredibly difficult seven months,” she told reporters, appearing close to tears, after a national-defence committee meeting. Mr. Bezan, who also sits on the committee and is his party’s defence critic, did not attend the meeting.”

              And the National Post, because I find it funny:

              http://nationalpost.com/opinion/christie-blatchford-tearful-liberal-mp-should-accept-james-bezans-fifth-apology-and-move-on

              “Sherry Romanado is 43 years old, the mother of two grown soldier sons, a Liberal MP from Quebec, parliamentary secretary to the veterans affairs minister, and, according to her bio, a long-time “engaged citizen.”

              Chiefly, it appears, what she must have been engaged in all that long while is burying her head up her own bum.

              How else is it even possible that seven words uttered in her presence seven months ago have caused her “great stress” and “negatively affected” her work environment and, according to CBC sources, had her weeping last week as she recounted the horror to her Liberal caucus mates?”

              • Chris

                Inappropriate? Probably. But the idea that an MP could be booted from caucus or forced to resign over it is insane.

                Agreed, and after reading through those links, if that’s all he said–and since she seems reluctant to give further details to the public, I have no reason to doubt him–her reaction is comically over the top.

            • Link purgatory, it’s coming.

  10. Having watched the video, I think the only reasonable take away is that Bradford is obviously handsy in his communications at work, Metcalf has probably been irritated by that in the past.

    As a hypothetical, I like your questions. But I think Metcalf has probably just had enough of the handsiness and has probably mentioned it before. His jab relating to homosexuality was a bit much, but, if he’s asked Bradford to stop in the past, I don’t see an issue with calling him out on it in public.

    If he hasn’t asked him to stop in the past, then it’s an un-called for ramping up of the conflict. If Bradford actually doesn’t engage in excessive handsiness in his professional relationships, then, likewise, Metcalf’s rebuke was inappropriately handled.

    I could see Metcalf considering physical contact during a public meeting like that to be counter the decorum their offices call for, but in that case, his words do not match his intent.

    • Rob Palmer

      Yeah, the phrase, “Stop touching me all the time” makes it seem like the guy is a chronic grabber.

    • The statements seemed of bit… pat to me. Like he had thought out what he was going to say in case something happened.

      Just an observation. Metcalf might simply be very glib and quick on his feet, for all I know.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s