The war between the sexes will never be easy to win because there are too many incentives for men and women to lay down their arms and call for a truce, if not a tryst. Nothing is more powerful than that image of Adam giving up all for Eve. He chose to leave paradise and work for a living rather than lose the woman he loved. (Besides, he couldn't spare another rib.)
In the Darwinian scenarios, a caveman pulls cavelady by the tresses to demonstrate his toughness at the end of the hunt and to show whos boss. When Gloria Steinem announced that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, women began organizing consciousness-raising parties to bond with their sisters in sharing stories about a husbands bad behavior -- and to learn where they could find a good divorce lawyer. And after that advice, where to find another bicycle.
The skirmishes between men and women have changed through the ages in myth, metaphor and reality, and the only constant is that everybody draws from his or her own quiver of possibilities. Herman Cain offers a large and irresistible target of opportunity.
Sharon Bialek took aim at a press conference at the Friars Club, a rowdy redoubt of sexual innuendo. The 50-year-old blonde with Veronica Lakes peek-a-boo hairdo and a long memory did the morning-after television shows in a low-cut pink blouse. She may not get paid up upfront for her accusations, but her 15 minutes of fame and a sharp lawyer may be enough to parlay it into a book and speaking fees.
Whats fascinating about her accusations is that reactions to them don't break down according to men vs. women, as we might have once expected, but bear on red vs. blue politics. Husbands and wives who belong to the same party view the harassment accusations in similar ways, and the femmes in the media divide according to their political leanings.
Andrea Peyser in the New York Post describes Sharon Bialek as having the breathy giddiness of a gal whos read too many bodice-rippers. Michelle Goldberg hedges her bets in the Daily Beast: I have no way of knowing, obviously, whether Bialek was telling the truth, she writes. I do know that it rings true. She then runs down a litany of examples of women caught unawares in the workplace, seeking help from more powerful older men, and how often its difficult to tell whether a man is offering mentorship or lechery. Really?
Sharon Bialek was too timid when it happened to tell the details of Cains inappropriate behavior to her boyfriend the pediatrician and her mentor the businessman. But after what must have been years of shyness therapy to conquer her squeamishness, she had no trouble telling millions in a television audience of a hand under her skirt when he asked her, You want a job, right?
Feminist lawyer Gloria Allred says she has taken the case pro bono, but she benefits handsomely from thousands of dollars' worth of free advertising as a harassment lawyer. (Merchants call this taking a loss leader.) Nor was she reluctant to crack a tasteless joke in trying Herman Cain in the court of public opinion, describing his offense as a personal stimulus package. She would never have spoken that way before a judge. Cains lawyer was a sobering contrast when he said would never put his clients in the spotlight of television.
No one can excuse authentic sexual harassment that makes a hostile workplace or leads to a woman losing her job when a boss hits on her, but the power balance moves in the womens direction when a mere accusation results in a handsome settlement and more cash and fame in a brief career in show business.
The womans movement has gone through several stages since Betty Friedan described the life of a housewife as a comfortable concentration camp. This was followed by post-feminists complaints two decades later that womens liberation only liberated men to delay commitment and marriage to enjoy the flight of Peter Pan to an adolescence extended into adulthood. Jezebel, a popular blog, describes the newest stage as The Rebirth of the Feminist Manifesto. Its an estrogen revolution that defends the Slutwalk, where young women dress like prostitutes in reaction to blaming the victim of abuse for dressing provocatively.
Sharon Bialek insists that the furor over Herman Cain is only about the man who's running for president. It isn't about me, she says. Shes quite right. It's about her motives.