Herman Cain and A "Black Flower in the White House:" Sexual Harassment is Not a Joke
This week in the news brought us two bizarre sexual harassment stories, which unfortunately were treated as humorous, strange, and somewhat fictional, rather than receiving the serious attention they deserved.
In response to allegations of sexual harassment, GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain stated in a recent stump speech, “We look forward to focusing our attention on the real issues impacting this country” to which he reportedly received thunderous applause.
Bravo, Mr. Cain—you’ve successfully confirmed for some Americans that sexual harassment is not a real issue.
In other creepy sexual harassment news, the recent death of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has brought forth some stories about his “interest” in (hint: obsession with) former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, specifically a meeting in which he showed her a video montage of photos of her set to music he’d had personally composed about her.
“What was going through my head was ‘How long do I have to sit here and how quickly can I get out of here?’” Rice recently said in an interview with George Stephanopoulos about her meeting with Gaddafi in 2008. Apparently, Gaddafi told Rice he’d had Libya’s best composer write the song for her, which he titled “Black Flower in the White House.” He also reportedly made a scrapbook.
According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, approximately one in six Americans and a quarter of women report experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace at some point in their lives.
According to a recent Washington Post/ABC poll, 7 in 10 Republicans believe that the allegations against Mr. Cain do not matter when choosing a Presidential candidate. Apparently these people don’t see a link between using one’s position of power as a way to further one’s desires and being a fair leader of the free world.
What can we take away from this week’s current affairs developments? Whether you’re an employee at the National Restaurant Association or the Secretary of State for the U.S. government, you may experience sexual harassment in your job. What else do these stories indicate? Chances are it may not be recognized as sexual harassment.
Despite the fact that three anonymous women pressed charges against Cain, the media continues to talk about the scandal as something Cain can “recover from” politically, and there still seems to be some doubt among voters as to whether or not the allegations matter.
Although Condoleezza Rice herself has described Gaddafi’s actions toward her as “eerie,” the story has mostly been presented to the public as a weird, and slightly hilarious incident. The Colbert Report went so far as to imagine what Gaddafi and Rice’s wedding might be like.
I’ll admit it: both instances are ludicrous in their own way and easy to make fun of. Gaddafi was a ridiculously theatrical person, and his interest in Condoleezza Rice certainly seems out of left field and bizarre. Herman Cain seems to be the butt of many jokes these days, between his singing and bizarre campaign ads, so I can see how it was easy for the American public and media to lump this scandal in with the others. But, amidst our laughter, surprise, and general indifference, I hope we can find some time to recognize that sexual harassment is a crime, and there isn’t much funny about being on the receiving end.
Fiona Lowenstein is a high school senior, weekly guest blogger and Girls Leadership Institute alumna. Read more of her work here.