There's something about powerful men that just drives them to sex scandals. Is it that power corrupts or that only the corrupt seek power? I'll leave that one for the philosophers to duke out. But the latest in the stream of politicians being accused of sexual harassment is San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. Whether or not Mayor Filner is acquitted of the charges of sexual harassment, he needs to resign. He needs to resign to set a precedent that the cavalier attitude towards sexual harassment is no longer acceptable.
He stands accused of forcibly kissing two women and fondling another. And while these are the outward, tangible expressions of sexual harassment, many of the comments Filner has allegedly made towards his female staff are equally distressing. Supposedly, he told a female staffer in an elevator that female employees should "work without their panties on."
And if one thing points to how commonplace Filner's actions have become around the workplace, it's the dictionary of new words women who work around him have invented to describe the unwanted sexual advances. To describe the intricate maneuvers he puts in place to get women alone and the great lengths they in turn take to avoid such scenarios, women in his office have coined the terms "the Filner headlock" and "the Filner dance". And they refer to the mayor as a "dirty old man" behind closed doors. Filner remains adamant that if we see this case through, he will be cleared of all charges, so he sees no reason to resign.
On a practical note, from those seeking to appeal to our less emotional faculties, there is a real concern that Filner is no longer able to do the job for which he was elected and that San Diego will suffer if he does not resign. Other California congressmen and his ex-fiance Bronwyn Ingram (who broke off their engagement when the scandal emerged) have implored him to resign, citing that "the work of the people and for the people has ceased."
It's Rep. Susan Davis' (D-Calif.) comments that really drive it home for me. She stated, "The mayor's lack of understanding of the debilitating effects of sexual harassment, intimidation, and bully is affront to all. His behavior, if not illegal, is reprehensible." And that's the problem; sexual harassment has effects that go so much further than the physical assault, or discomfort being around the instigator. It feeds on a woman's core, making her lose self-confidence and faith in the system around her. And we are letting that culture persist.
I hate to use the slippery slope argument, but it's all too fitting for this scenario. By shrugging off actions like Mayor Filner's as simply overly-friendly behavior, or in his words, that he is just a "hugger," we discount the women and girls who are victims of sexual harassment or worse all too often. We make it harder for them to have the courage to come forward, we (even unintentionally) dissuade them from seeking legal action for the injustices they have suffered, and worst of all, we let the stigma not only remain, but grow stronger.