Wednesday, September 08, 2004

So be wary of whom you accuse

Day two of the great Globe & Mail experiment, and already I'm getting neck-twitchingly peeved. The headline of this front-of-section article is "The plague that haunts us still." What plague, pray tell? Sexual harassment. Look, you hypersensitive whiners: Sexual harassment is not a plague. SARS and TB are plagues. AIDS and Hepatitis C are plagues. Polio and Smallpox were plagues. Sexual harassment in the workplace is unequivocally wrong, but there are things far more worthy of being stuck with the connotations of the word 'plague'. Sexual harassment may be uncomfortable and painful, but it does not kill or maim. Not that you'd know it from the breathless tone of the article, of course: Incredible as it may seem, sexual harassment still occurs frequently in Canadian workplaces -- despite years of effort to eliminate it. In fact, the number of complaints filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and its counterparts in several provinces is increasing. That is in spite of prohibitions in human-rights codes and policies in many workplaces that specify unwanted sexual contact, innuendo or comments will not be tolerated. Now, the conclusion I'd draw from that is that this particular industry of victimhood needs to propagate further awareness of and lower standards for victimhood in order to survive; it's no less a baseless moral panic than fears of the Yellow Peril. Increased numbers aren't necessarily indicative of increased incidence of sexual harassment, but perhaps of women increasingly being granted the right to define anything a man does in a work environment which they dislike as harassment, by a highly subjective standard. There are clear-cut cases of sexual harassment, true - but there are also horror stories of careers ruined by flimsy and baseless accusations. Erring on the side of innocent-until-proven-guilty isn't the personal insult the victimhood industry thinks it is.

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