September 16, 2008

The two minute hate against sexual harassment

Returning to the topic of rational and irrational hysteria about rape, what happens if we look at a milder charge like sexual harassment? Here's how much attention the NYT paid over time (I ignored news summaries and counted only the real article referred to):



The phrase first shows up a bit after the start of women's lib, in 1975, makes a jump into the tens from 1979 to 1989, spikes in the early '90s and again in the late '90s, and plummets and remains stable by 2000 (though still at an order of magnitude higher than before 1990). As with "date rape," the panic is mostly phony, as sex crimes steadily declined after 1992. Also like date rape, sexual harassment is vague enough that believing is seeing, especially when it has the force of a spreading rumor behind it.

By the way, these moral panics are not caused by a high-profile event -- why was such an event so high-profile in the first place? It's a circular argument, requiring that we already be whipped up into a panic before the event in order to be so attentive to it. The dynamic of the hysteria plays out, and some events are given lots of attention if they touch on themes of the hysteria, since the audience will be hungry for information about it.

Really, were there no Anita Hills, Paula Joneses, and Monica Lewinskys before 1990? Given that we've become more civilized over the past 250 years, it must be that previous presidents made unwanted passes -- or worse -- to strange women, held mistresses, and so on, but that opinion-makers didn't think it was interesting enough to make a big stink about.

The more I look into these things, the more it seems like there's a coherent period beginning in the late '80s, peaking in the early-mid '90s, and abruptly ending just after 2000. Political correctness, postmodernism, the culture wars, Third Wave feminism, etc. -- they're all pieces of it, and everyone's noticed them before. The point in making these graphs is to flesh out their trajectories more finely, to do away with lazy periodizations like The Eighties *, and most importantly to see if they have in fact died -- fortunately, they have!

So here's yet another reason to make friends with, flirt with, and date girls who were born in 1987 or later ('85 to '86 is a gray area) -- the oldest ones in this cohort started puberty in 2000, when the sexual harassment hysteria had already wound down, so they weren't brainwashed during their formative years like those born between 1965 and 1978 (particularly those born around 1972). While all females view unwanted romantic advances as annoying, young girls today don't see healthy male sexuality as a threat to society, so you can be yourself around them.

* Usually the period isn't contained entirely within such a decade, and that lack of precision keeps us from seeing the big picture. Like, what if something cycles with a period of 13 or 26 years -- one-half or a full human generation? We wouldn't see that. Also, "the '80s" are not homogenous enough to deserve a name -- for example, if you go to a good '80s night at a dance club, about 90% of the songs will be from 1982 to 1984, before arena rock and whiny college radio music took over. The same goes for "the '90s" -- grunge died by 1994, and the late '90s were plagued by boy bands, girl bands, and techno.

3 comments:

  1. I never even heard the term "sexual harassment" prior to the Hill/Thomas hearings in 1991. Keep in mind that I had been in the working world for several years at that point and considered myself reasonably well-informed. What's more, I worked at the time in a state government agency, the sort of workplace that might be more sensitive to such things than a private-sector employer.

    Of course, things were different in other respects back then ... for instance, as late as the middle to late 1980's mild ethnic humor was not completely taboo in the workplace.

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  2. Anonymous4:13 PM

    Michael Crichton detailed (through a character) in his novel "State of Fear" the appearance of the word "CRISIS" in the network media post 1989' (Berlin Wall coming down). The media picked up "Crisis" and wouldn't put it down for 15 damned years. They beat the republic up with it. Beaucoup crisis' that was all the populace's fault. It was disgusting and cruel. Its psychological brutality to continually tell the people that the sky if falling and its their fault if they dont vote for X or Y, but the media does it. "Crisis" was a seldom used word in the network news before 89', but its usage skyrocked thereafter. Intelligent people can tell there is something to this...........


    I remember the early nineties very well (I was there man) and do indeed remember the date rape "pandemic on our college campuses" as breathless reporterettes used to put it. I actually asked a group of pals while watching MNF and drinking brews back then....."Would any of you actually hold a girl down and make her ride it out?" after discussing the hysteria in the media. All of them emphatically said "HELL NO!". There were too many gals that wanted and liked to fuck for us back then for any of us to even consider this. Im sure its the same now.

    What disgusts me so much about "the establishment" is the fact that they get to set the meme, write the books and newspapers, and enter the things into "the record". They get to lie about what went on out there. Its infuriating. There never was a date-rape crisis. If he doesnt' call you in the morning, that does not constitute a rape. Even the horniest loser isn't stoooopiiiid, and knows he is facing serious prison time to actually put bruises on some woman's wrists holding her down and vaginally raping her. She calls the cops, they do a rape kit, they find the vag-tears and see the bruises on her wrists-----and the guy is fucked legally. In a world where (apologies to Don LaFontaine) you can take a plane to Vegas and get laid 10 times for 2K, it just makes no sense at all to risk that many years in prison for bad sex (how could a rape be good sex???).

    Maybe Im just too old fashioned a romantic, or hell maybe Im narcissitic, but I'd never want to have sex with a woman who didn't genuinely want it with me. I cannot fathom men who would force it on a unwilling female. Thats why I think some limited prostitution in certain places (like Vegas) is a good thing. If a man is going out of his mind for sex post-divorce or whatever, and just cant obtain it to save his life---he can buy it with someone willing to exchange it for coin. It should let the steam off of him until he secures someone new in his life.


    I think Dusk has went over it before, but the drug-date-rape phenomena was mostly bullshit also. I know there are some isolated incidences (I actually seen an episode of COPS where one dork got caught trying to spike a girls drink) but this is not a widespread phenomena like the media would have had us believe circa 2002-2004 or so. However I must admit, if caught, a guy should be doing serious time if convicted of doing something like that. I wouldn't want my daughter to be raped------but I sure as hell wouldn't want my son falseley accused of rape either.

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  3. Good point agnostic.

    I've covered part of this on my blog, on "Why It's Always 1968" ... I think part of the reason for the culture wars was demographic.

    There's a huge drop-off in births from 1965 to 1966 -- I don't know why it happened but I suspect that the pill was introduced widely back then.

    The demographic echoes of that drop-off, which was sustained and only ticked up a bit in the late 1980's seems to me to have shifted the US from a Youth Culture orientation to one of Boomer control.

    That's contrary to the assumptions in the media and otherwise, but seems to me to be the reality.

    These culture wars were merely Boomers flexing their muscle on PC, Sexual Harassment, Multiculturalism, and such.

    As Peter says, look at say "Sixteen Candles" or "Major League" to take two examples. "Long Duc Dong," or the hilarious Dennis Haysbert voodoo character would not be able to be portrayed today -- only the fat white guy gets the jokes and is funny in today's movies. Apatow flat out told a PC-driven LA Times Critic (Carina Chocano) that PC is why no minority or woman is funny in his films -- because he'd get too many complaints.

    Young people lack demographic strength to break the Boomer grip on the PC culture wars (which tracks with the oldest boomers turning 40 and being influential enough to change culture) would be my explanation.

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