Sexual harassment is going high-end


I can’t help being giddy that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the (now former) managing director of the IMF, was whisked off his plane at JFK and delivered to one of the most notorious criminal holding arenas in the world, Riker’s Island. It’s a great story about sexual harassment because it’s so hard to nail someone like this. And it was done so well.

Strauss-Kahn is accused of raping a maid at his hotel. Which is sad. But there are some notable things about the case: First, he forced her to give him a blow job, and now it seems that there is widespread recognition that a forced blow job is rape. This is a big deal in legal history. For a long time, blow jobs didn’t count.

Another notable thing is that a woman who is a maid took legal action against a man who was staying in a hotel room that costs $3000 a night.

Typically, men harass women who they felt were beneath them. For most of history, this has meant all women – as all women had little power. In the last few decades, though, women have gained more power, and men have paid heed to that in their harassment targets.

For example, it’s nearly unheard of for a guy to harass his boss’s boss, and it’s almost routine for an high-up executive to hit on the hot assistant. Men think that is safe behavior. Men think they can take advantage of women who have little power in their world.

But I think we’re going to find a reversal in the next few years: Sexual harassment will creep up the corporate ladder as men try to protect themselves by harassing only women who have careers they need to protect.

Here’s why:

It has been clear for at least a decade that women who want to have a high-flying career should not report sexual harassment. I have written about this a zillion times, and before you argue with me, read the quotes from all the labor lawyers (representing plaintiffs) who agree.

The bottom line is that just about every woman who has entered the workplace has experienced sexual harassment, but the women who report it face retribution. Almost always. The Guardian reported on a French woman who was harassed by Strauss-Kahn who did not come forward because she feared retribution.

In the US, retribution is illegal, but there are not good laws for proving and prosecuting retribution. ProPublica explains that the sexual harassment laws in the US are so murky that it’s nearly impossible to use them to prosecute unwanted advances. So women who complain about harassment generally lose their jobs in some convoluted but ultimately predictable way.

Therefore it has become common practice for women to handle harassment themselves—either by confronting the guy, ignoring him, or changing jobs. Women, even young women, understand that it’s not worth derailing their career to take down some lascivious guy they don’t care about. You can’t reform a jerk. So why bother taking the time to report him? Just get away from him.

At this point, women generally understand that the legal system should handle sexual harassment at work. And just because the legal system lacks proper teeth doesn’t mean that individual women, trying to earn a living, should pick up the slack.

But, what about women who don’t care if they get fired? Those women hold a lot of power in this equation.

It used to be that women with low-level jobs did not have the socioeconomic backing to stand up for themselves in the face of harassment. Today, women feel more empowered—even women in a low pay-grade. And women across the economic spectrum can identify what crosses the line.

These women have nothing to lose when they report men who cross the line sexually. So the maid reported. And then, it turns out, all sorts of women in higher up positions spoke up against Strauss-Kahn. The women wouldn’t report the harassment on their own. They don’t want to suffer retribution. But now there will be no retribution, so it’s safe to come forward.

This is why men are going to focus harassment at the higher ranks of the corporate ladder. These are the women who have to keep their mouths shut if they want to keep climbing the ladder.

But God help the guy who harasses a women with nothing to lose.

It’s a great moment in history. Poor women are empowered to fight against lecherous men, and rich women can finally come out of the sexual harassment closet because of it.


109 replies
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    • shrimplate
      shrimplate says:

      So what you’re essentially saying, Penelope, is that now men will be harrassing women who count, not just the lowlife scum that slog away doing menial jobs. Nice, that.

      • Holly
        Holly says:

        Are you saying that this woman doesn’t count because she is a lowlife scum that slogs away doing a menial job? Wow, how arrogant of you to say that. The world is full of people of different abilities and we certainly need people to do less desireable tasks such as cleaning hotel rooms. Otherwise someone of your caliber would be reduced to such a job.

  1. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    I’m torn. Because if we continue to encourage each other to shut up and tolerate it, how does it change? Yet I know that I didn’t report it when I was sexually harassed, because I knew that my harasser was a “golden boy” in my company, and that the culture did not include support for me.

    And now I have a daughter, and I want to teach her to be strong and stand up for herself. I don’t want her to shut up and tolerate mistreatment, of herself or of others.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Here’s another way to think about it. There are tons of people who lie on their taxes — big lies, small lies, there are all kinds of lies one can tell. Each of us knows one of those people. But we don’t report them. Even though someone who cheats on taxes hurts the community/society he or she lives in, we don’t take personal responsibility for reforming the whole system that allows for cheats. Because it’s not practical. The government has to take care of that.

      The same is true for sexual harassment. It’s a legal issue. We each know at least one culprit, but it’s not practical for us to report it.

      We don’t feel bad about how the tax cheats affect our daughters, so why bemoan the harassers? Just move on. Surround ourselves and our daughters with people we admire rather than obsessing about people we don’t admire.


        CASSANDRA ROSE says:

        Good advice Penelope ~ Focus on what want Not what do Not Want! It is so simple to attract !

        I agree with your post as I, like many have live it ~ The Catch 22 that keeps us Woman still in Suffrage as if you report a male as being abusive in a job or in life ~ The Male has the Power, $$’s and Cronies of Old Boy Club that includes Police, attorney’s etc to Make Your Life a Living Hell to keep you from exposing him ! No lawyers to represent the ” abused woman” but plenty of attorneys to get “abusers” from taking responsibility for their behaviors !

        Anita Hill who took the brunt of this only to find her standing up set us back as the Males rallied around her abuser and he is now being a A-hole in highest court in USA ~ I was hoping Clarence Thomas’s ex girlfriend from those days a retired Judge Lillian McEwen new book on Clarence Thomas Was ‘Easily Aroused’
        Mar 7, 2011 … The ex-girlfriend of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reveals details about their past sexual relationship in her newly-released memoir …
        Would have some impact but everyone is asleep at wheel accepting the crummy lives Males have forced on us !

        NY Post last week was writing about how this French West Indies Woman the maid should have ” Played the Game” meaning she should have threatened him to go public and most likely would have made $20,000 plus in ” hush” money ~ As this is what happens to many who want to expose wrong…

        Whom I am giving credit to in this ~ Is the Hotel Security ~ Though the story is a Little sketchy saying it took time for hotel staff to report it to Police etc. If this is all true of what happened ~ It does say much for Hotel commitment to their ” Staff” which is a wonderful thing considering who this man is and power he holds much less that he pays the hotel $3,000 a night !! That is a alot of $$’s for hotel to keep this problem ” in house” .

        Will be a interesting story on how it all unfolded. Curious pieces to the puzzle that this man called the hotel looking for his cell phone and staffer got his location as how the police knew where he was to arrest him…

        Did all these men react to this poor woman being sodomized as the paper said ~ or is there something else going down to make it such a huge public spectacle ??

        Whatever ! As You Post ! It does work for us females !! To say Heh this is RAPE ! and you loser’s are going to be outed as the gloves are off !! To empower us ~

        Especially considering the Twisted Life Maria Shriver has lived… NY Post Andrea Peyser wrote ~ Arnold coming forward with Truth of his life is saying Maria and his children Life was a ” Lie” ~ essentially he making fools of them..

        Even If Maria aware of Arnold’s double life right in her own bed ~ Why would a woman of her caliber put up with being made the Fool ? Money ?? Prestige ?? She had/has both in her own right ~ Why would she live in a abusive life ?

        This is what your post is pointing out !
        Woman no longer have to live a life a LIES just so all looks good ~ As eventually in the 2 way media world the Hell they put up with be it a boss, a boyfriend, a husband, a sibling, a friend, parent etc will be exposed by someone else as the
        “character” of the person is consistent in other areas of his/her life…

        This is the message we have to give our sisters ~ STOP BEING QUIET~ There is much support for You to ” Speak” and ” Tell”. I do not equate cheating on taxes to being harassed. As cheating on taxes you are the perpetrator but being harassed etc you are the ” prey” the ” target” and need to ROAR as do NOT DESERVE and You have RIGHTS ~

        Just have to educate self in many areas and do much fighting back on your own with much planning like a war game as that is what perpetrators are.. Enemy/Criminal/Terrorist Type !!
        Have to play the Game but on ONES OWN TERMS to see justice is done… Our Children deserve a much better world then this deceive to believe crappy existence roomper room adults have made…

      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        Except that while I probably do know someone who cheats on their taxes, I don’t know who that person is. I know exactly who sexually harassed me, and it affected me personally. Society wasn’t sexually harassed by that man, I was. Your argument is not parallel.

      • Sofia Suarez
        Sofia Suarez says:

        Wow ok. When you do get sexually abused, do make a post about how easy it is to move on from that experience. Legally, i understand where you come from. It does make sense. But when you just simply write “just move on” is when i have a problem, a person who’s never been abused is the author of that sentence.
        I find it very hard to move on from an experience in which you’re /forced/ to have sexual intercourse with a person and you are expected to not voice it. Why? Because they had such a career ahead of them? Because they didn’t know what they were doing? Because it was a woman, and men can’t be raped? No. I reject it. Moving on is hard.
        At least those people who lie about taxes aren’t hurting anyone but the lousy government and are not causing a traumatic experience in anyone’s life.

  2. Evy MacPhee
    Evy MacPhee says:

    I am reposting what you wrote because it is so very well written and also true. Good comments so far, too.

    There are perhaps a handful of men that I think are likely not lecherous finks (also using *&(%^&* various other expletive deleted name calling which I will refrain from here). One is a serious evangelical Christian, one is a recovering alcoholic who got his wife to take him back and would not chance her throwing him out again, two are in my therapy group and I know their issues. There are a few I think probably don’t.

    Some days I wish I were gay and old instead of straight and old. Sigh.

    When I was younger I got harassed. Listening to gossip as I do I heard about MANY upper administrators openly harassing most everything female that moved in my state University.

    And my childhood was a vicious nightmare from incest and men who wanted to have sex with children and paid for it.

    My fantasies get extremely violent when I read current things like this.

    Thank you for discussing this issue.

  3. Eric
    Eric says:

    Mhh. I should be more careful with this topic.
    The justice hasn’t been done yet. The trial will happen in few months. The case hasn’t been judged yet. For now, they are gathering evidence, build their attack and their defense.

    It’s a very complicated cases and some dirts are found on the “women in higher position” that you are talking about.

    That could be a great post in the future, maybe in 6 months (the maximum waiting time for the trial takes place) if DSK is recognized guilty.

    But now ? It’s a bit too early to decide that before the Justice.

  4. Elaine
    Elaine says:

    Excellent post and I agree with you. I was in a car with 5 other women one day when the subject of sexual harassment came up – even to the point of rape – and everyone in the car had had some story to tell. I realized that day – and that was around 1982, that sexual harassment and assault was much more common than media led us to believe. BTW – none of us had told anyone when it happened – we were terrified, embarrassed, blamed ourselves. What are the odds that 6 women who barely knew each other – had grown up in all different socio-economic environments could have that connection? Much greater than one would think.

    While it is true our legal system says he is innocent until proven guilty – I appreciate that the maid was willing to take a risk and file a complaint. Having other women step forward now is a good thing – even if the law will not allow them to speak.

    Yes, I agree with your point about women in executive roles being discouraged from filing harassment charges. it all speaks of the old boy network where they protect their own no matter what.

    AND I am glad not all men treat women this way. It would be a good thing if these men would stand with us.

    • J
      J says:

      During the arraignment, the judge found that probable cause exists that 1) the crime occurred, and 2) the accused did it. If the judge determines that insufficient probable causes exists on 1 or 2, the accused is set free.

      By virtue of the fact that Stauss-Kahn was held over for trial, we can agree that the preponderance of evidence said he did it.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Newsflash: Women do not willingly give blow jobs to men they have never met before.

      And what about this idea: When a woman reports harassment she is presumed guilty in that she is immediately thought of as a pain in the neck to anyone who might hire her. Since the stakes are so high for a woman reporting, how about if the man has to prove that she is guilty of being a pain in the neck and therefore unemployable. The man has to prove that he didn’t harass her and she is just a nuisance.


      • Andrew Metz
        Andrew Metz says:

        Newsflash: plenty of women have one night stands, including blow jobs, every night. The overwhelming number of them are consensual.

      • J Burtin
        J Burtin says:

        And to make matters more complicated, many of those women giving blow jobs to strangers are doing so because they are turned on by high status and/or having a strong man in control.

      • Rahul
        Rahul says:

        A casual perusal of Craigslist Casuals might disabuse you of that quixotic notion of yours regarding strangers and blowjobs.

  5. Geli
    Geli says:

    I can’t believe you would use DSK to get a point across about sexual harassment on the job. Very bad example, especially since DSK has not been convicted of anything. He’s still innocent until proven guilty. The more I hear about this case, the more I am convinced that it’s a set up from the go. Very poor taste on your part!

  6. Mike Strong
    Mike Strong says:

    The legal system will do what it does best: a cluster ****. Gloria Allred has probably swooped down on the maid to get back in CNN Headline News (wait I need to turn on the TV).
    Respectfully, I think you are giving men too much credit: when the little head wants something, reason is out the window. Hello gang rapes, hello child molesters. and no, I wouldn’t place a man forcing fellatio into a different category (I mean “a man”, not necessarily this man). Often sexual behavior is on a spectrum; how do we know where a guy will stop on a time line of escalating actions?

    • Holly
      Holly says:

      “When the little head wants something, reason is out the window.”
      Seriously? Are you really using that as justification for gang rape and child molestation? Are you saying you are not a grown man capable of determining right and wrong and acting accordingly? Since you are unable to think for yourself should we then remove the “little head” so that you are able to function as a decent human being?

  7. Samantha
    Samantha says:

    AWESOME! True that! Those old pervs have me convinced I should never get married. Too many years spent as a hot 20-something in DC running away from lawyers, politicians, lobbyists, regulators, (child-molesting) diplomats, to believe that I too won’t have a maria shriver-esqe ending!

  8. Fredomfighter
    Fredomfighter says:

    great analysis – your writing and insights often blow me away.

    Even if the DSK set up becomes clear to everybody – your points are very valid. Power and empowerment are constantly changing and with instant communication this will only speed up – yet, we have to see those changes before they are real. So until we, wo/men, are all aware of our power, it’s nothing and those assuming their power will keep it, men and women alike.

    I don’t think sexual harassment is a legal issue on the same level as tax evasion – harassment is an interpersonal power issue. Taxes are created by and for the community and should be judged as such. Sexual harassment is a question of relationship, power and we all live in different communities, as the social animals we are. Therefore the community should be involved in solving the issue, but only seeing it as an legal battle is missing the point of inter-personal power so you eloquently analyzed in your posting.

  9. cashmere
    cashmere says:

    Not reporting harassment is not simply wanting to protect a career, it is not reporting because of shame and a feeling of humiliation, powerlessness and loneliness for lack of female peers. And because women are more often than not portrayed as the guilty one.

    • Nicole
      Nicole says:

      Not necessarily. I’d say for many of the women Penelope is talking about, “higher up” or wanting to move up on a career path, it IS about the career. I personally was perfectly confident in my ability to report a manager who made me uncomfortable, but it wasn’t worth being labeled a trouble maker – and personally I agree with Penelope, I think it can be best to handle it yourself unless it gets out of hand (physical, blackmail, lying, etc).

      • cashmere
        cashmere says:

        if you do not report because you feel it would damage your career actually classifies as blackmail.

  10. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    It’s been interesting to hear the responses from France, especially those of women. It’s one thing to be sexually liberated–America is certainly conservative socially–but another thing altogether to put up with unwanted sexual advances, especially when they stop becoming advances and start becoming rape (although on that note I was taught that rape is any form of penetration– which obviously includes blow jobs). I hope that this case also goes to show women in France and everywhere that we can have the freedom to be women, without having to endure men who think they can get away with inappropriate and even dangerous behavior.

  11. MITS
    MITS says:

    Hi there –

    Avid reader, never commenter :).

    Penelope, your columns and posts often frustrate me professionally so I read them for entertainment value. I’m in the career management/talent acquisition/corporate HR field. I often think your career advice enables people who are irresponsible or don’t really want to put the time in to build a career. I read something once about you being like crack for Gen Y/Millenials and I get that.

    However – this post was excellent, and I really don’t care that you use DSK (who is innocent until proven guilty, sure) as an example. Fast-track women aren’t going to waste their time reporting harassment (you nailed it – they confront the guy, ignore him, or change jobs). I’m an example. Right or wrong, reporting harassment is a distraction from the end goal. However, women like me WILL come out in droves if someone else needs the support (wow, I’m another example?).

    Bravo, bravo, bravo. Today I am not sorry that I bought your book.

  12. Report It
    Report It says:

    Women: Report harassment! Report it!

    Holding it in hurts you and it hurts the perpetrator’s future victim.

    You’ll advance in your career anyway.

  13. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    Nobody’s commented on the fact that DSK, who is in charge of helping poor nations pay off debt, was staying in a $3,000 per night hotel room. On whose dime? That is a crime in and of itself.

  14. Diane b
    Diane b says:

    One little nit, Pen– he was not charged with rape, only attempted rape and 6 other counts. Sorry, blow jobs still don’t qualify.
    In the workplace: women in power must be adamant to the men who work for them, sexual harassment will not be tolerated. Period. As more women make it to the top, and near the top, I believe this strategy can virtually wipe out the problem, at least in Corp America. It is up to us to set the higher standards.
    Is he guilty? Well he does WALK like a duck..

  15. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    2001: Leverage sexual harassment;
    2006: Don’t report sexual harassment (in most cases);
    2011: “It’s a great moment in history. Poor women are empowered to fight against lecherous men, and rich women can finally come out of the sexual harassment closet because of it.”

    Penelope, this is from your blog posts. The problem is if women go back and forth on the issue of harassment as a tactical issue on which they can change their mind day to day, it will never be tackled as a strategic Damoclean sword that is really is for most women in the workplace. I know about the Keynesian “when the facts change, I change my mind” but harassment has always been about power imbalance. Indeed you have yourself written about how women exploit power just as much as men do. The debate needs to remain an issue of serious contention and the possibility of both genders being at the receiving end needs to be acknowledged. Without those two things, any advice is basically doing nobody any favours.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The advice is all consistent. For women with careers they don’t want to lose:
      Don’t report sexual harassment. Instead leverage it to your own benefit by handling it yourself. And, if a woman takes a hit to her career by reporting harassment, back her up if the guy is sitting in jail.


  16. Reader
    Reader says:

    The report I heard (on NPR)indicated “the hotel” called the police and that from the long-time maid’s demeanor it was obvious to other employees that she had been assaulted. It will be interesting to learn (and I’m sure we will) if the person who picked up the phone, despite the fact that the assaulter was in their $3,000 day suite, was a women or a man. (PS: supposedly the room rate charged DSK was mere $800)

  17. Rahul
    Rahul says:

    You seem to have made up your mind that he is guilty. On the off chance, that he isn’t how would this post look?

    • Spike
      Spike says:

      You seem to have completely made up YOUR mind he is NOT guilty. Are you really going to criticize Penelope for writing a post that presumes an outcome when your unnerving, disturbing defense of DSK also presumes an outcome?

      Pot, kettle calling on line one.

      • MarcTheEngineer
        MarcTheEngineer says:

        because presumption of innocence is the basis of our legal system – Just because he has been accused does not mean he is guilty. I find it unlikely that you are privy to any real evidence (not just the bits and pieces that have been released) your default position should be that he is innocent.

        The fact that he is being prosecuted should have no weight on that presumption (you can’t just assume that it means they have evidence showing his guilt) due to the fact that this is a pretty high status case. If the D.A. just said we aren’t prosecuting because all of our evidence is “he said, she said” that D.A. would have a reasonable fear of being out of a job after the next election cycle. The high profile nature of this case has essentially forced prosecution whether or not there is sufficient evidence for a conviction.

  18. Chris McLaughlin
    Chris McLaughlin says:

    The maid has nothing to lose? She has a lot more to lose than the women whose cowardice (you imply it’s mere good judgment) you seem to support, the women with money and connections who can float a bit and then land on their well-heeled feet elsewhere. These women are completely invested in maintaining the status quo. Any woman who plays into a system that hurts other women to better her financial position is responsible for that system.

    • Holly
      Holly says:

      I agree with you, Chris. It is the previous generations of women who dealt with hardship to pave the way for the level of equality and power I enjoy as a woman today. I believe I would struggle with my decision if I did not report harassment- especially if it escalated to rape- and that person retained their power and ability to harass other women.

  19. NetWriterM
    NetWriterM says:

    This was a good post.

    However, I wish we could talk about ways to manage harassment other than ignoring it. Ignoring it enables the situation.

    Also, your advice discounts the emotional impact of abuse. My boss once snuck up on me from behind, kissed me and said “That wasn’t sexual harassment, was it?” I literally blocked the event from my memory for weeks until it came back to me while I was at home.

    (I was never able to confront him directly but I did eventually leverage changing politics to boot him out of his corner office and move in myself. Only took 5 years.)

    It’s nice to think that career women are dispassionate enough to handle inappropriate men as clinically as you characterize, but that is not the case.

    Further dealing with it yourself can get you fired just as easily as complaining. These dynamics are about power and if you piss off the person with power, you may be collecting unemployment.

    Men behave badly in business across the board. From the public company I worked at that funded the prostitute accompanying a Chinese CEO to an HQ visit (which all the ‘boys’ thought was hysterically funny whereas I wondered how stockholders would feel knowing the company was funding prostitution for joint venture management), to the male customers who tell me they are ‘widows’ when on business trips and expect me to escort them to strip clubs (or sleep with them myself).

    It’s rampant. So this thing where women deal with it on their own? Is doing nothing to change the business culture. It’s ineffective.

    I would really like to see you talents put into a post on the actual how-to of dealing with this kind of behavior at work. A how-to that helps women leverage these dynamics to their benefit. Perhaps you know some career women who have faced this successfully and can profile them here?


    PS: Excuse typos. I’m sleep deprived.

    The only sure fire solution I can see is getting older. I’m no longer young enough to be an object of sexual desire. Which is nice, but this doesn’t help the prey entering the system.

  20. NetWriterM
    NetWriterM says:

    What about a Speak Out blog day where women talk about this as part of a coordinated effort? That would at least garner some media attention no?


  21. NetWriterM
    NetWriterM says:

    Don’t follow that link from anon at 12:02pm unless you actually want your head to explode. The sexism ‘women are the evil’ displayed there is really disheartening.

    My husband is a good boss and just fired someone for both sexist and racist language at work. My last boss was a man and he was excellent.

    There are good men out there, but not enough.


  22. Anon for this
    Anon for this says:

    I was sexually assaulted not so long ago by my manager. I buried it in my subconscious and denied it even to myself for over a year, by which time he had left the company. It took finding out that he had assaulted and harrassed other women for me to know that I wasn’t to blame, and I am far from over it.

    I have no shot at reporting it legally, but if I could report him to the company now, I would in a second. Fuck my career. He took away my peace of mind, he shook my confidence, he filled me with rage and shame and guilt, he no doubt damaged other women in the same way, and he got off scot-free because 1) harassment isn’t always something you can just shrug off and handle yourself; some of us are genuinely traumatised, and 2) it was easier for everyone just to pretend not to know.

    I won’t ever tell another woman that she HAS to report it. But if you feel up to it? Maybe you’ll keep another woman from having to feel like me.

    FYI: Forced oral sex is unambiguously classed as rape in numerous countries.

  23. merino
    merino says:

    I am firmly in the group who recommends reporting sexual harassment if you feel strong enough to publicly stand to your reporting. And by the way, reporting sexual harassment is not supposed to become the subject of company gossip but should be handled discretely (I realize this might be wishful thinking in many instances).

    Harassment hurts your career in many indirect ways, it saps your energy, it hurts your self esteem, and it creates a culture of “hey, feel free to use me as long as it does not hurt my career”.

    I am curious as to how do you suggest leveraging harassment? You blackmail the harasser? I have a hard time to come up with strategies, and am having the impression that you are suggesting a eye-for-an-eye approach. Leaving the job is not actually protecting your career, it is giving up on it (changing jobs to often is not good in every kind of job).

  24. Laura
    Laura says:

    Fact check time: The maid was and is a member of a union that protects her from retaliation.

    A Union Maid Reported Dominque Strauss-Kahn’s Sexual Assault

    In this particular case, the housekeeper belonged to a union that has provisions in its contract that explicitly require the management to take cases of sexual assault or harassment seriously. This meant the housekeeper knew that she could make a complaint to management and not worry about being ridiculed or putting her job at risk. This fact would have been worth mentioning in the article.

    The notion that a poor woman doesn’t care if she gets fired for reporting sexual harassment when a wealthier woman can’t afford to do so is both ludicrous and insulting. Poor women have even more to lose than wealthier women do.

    • NetWriterM
      NetWriterM says:

      I agree that Penelope’s assessment of motive is not accurate. None of us really know since we weren’t there, but given Penelope’s anti-union rhetoric in the past, I wonder how she feels about the role of unions given this situation.

      They do play a positive part in this.


    • Julie
      Julie says:

      Thanks for pointing this out, I am following this case closely in the English and French media and no mainstream source has picked up on this. In fairness there has not been much interest in the (alleged) victim at all …. yet. The union membership speaks volumes as to why she thought she could even think about complaining. Even that the management were tolerating union membership tells us a lot.

  25. RAechel Running
    RAechel Running says:

    I appreciate this story and the dialogue ; I am proud of this woman speaking out and the people speaking out ; I am advocate for breaking the silence and speaking out; survivors and perps all need healing; our society needs SEXUAL healing – I do see this related to people who were abused as children / and some may abuse others – and our societies warp sense of sexuality.

    I was raped at 18 by a renowned artist from the gallery I interned at – my coworkers except one who remains a life time friend were too afraid to advise me to file a report – it wasn’t til years later I began to go to counseling regarding what happened; and with all the love, support, and my comprehension of what happened, it still is hard at times –

    How do we break the cycles?? This is info and inspiration of late that gives me hope and insight. Here’s to our collective healing and compassion.

    I listened to this program on NPR and appreciate how they have a program for MEN who are “Johns” which I think is revolutionary – I think we need to hear these stories.

    This piece on lends insight as well and speaks of compassion.

    GREAT books that illuminate that I found very helpful and insightful:

  26. vicky
    vicky says:

    Excellent points! I wonder, now that we have phones that can so easily video, and/or record sound, if men might be a little scared of being blackmailed. Hopefully.

  27. TRVolk
    TRVolk says:

    “what about women who don’t care if they get fired?”

    Really? Can you get any more demeaning?

  28. Denys Yeo
    Denys Yeo says:

    Sexual harassment is not OK. Bottom line! But male/ female boundaries are complex in the corporate world. Men often behave badly to gain power and control; women can sometimes behave questionably – maybe to gain status and promotion? For example, wearing a low cut dress to a performance review meeting, with a male boss, hoping that this might just distract him enough to overlook some minor work issues.

    • Anon for this
      Anon for this says:

      Denys, yes, women can and do trade on their sexuality to their advantage at times. But this has little or nothing to do with sexual harassment or assault, which tends to be more about power and humiliation of the woman, and not in response to her “flaunting her body” or whatever.

      Bringing up those ideas in this discussion just perpetuates the idea that it’s all the woman’s fault, she must have done something to incite it, and if she’d only known better than to walk around with a body that men find sexy, none of this would ever have happened.

      Sexual harassment is not OK. There’s no need to add anything to that sentence.

  29. Mary
    Mary says:

    Wait… poor people have nothing to lose? I have thousands of dollars in my bank account. Poor people live from paycheck to paycheck. Maybe it should be ME who speaks up, instead of leaving it to people who “have nothing to lose.” And, no. Minimum wage jobs are not a dime a dozen. AND, a maid at a $3000 per night hotel is not making minimum wage. That woman has plenty to lose.

    • Julie
      Julie says:

      Very well said. There are a myriad of complicated reasons why people keep quiet about sexual attacks, rape and harassment. Maybe being thought of as someone so low status as to have nothing to lose simply ‘because’ they have complained might be a factor.

  30. ngombe
    ngombe says:

    One issue I need to bring up, is that in competitive workplaces, very much prevalent in blue collar settings, but especially strong in the struggles to rise up out of mid management, is the male coda about complaining to anyone beyond your close colleagues about anything, particularly bullying or harassment is considered a sign of weakness, and signals a lack of group loyalty.

    Unfortunately,although most of the men I have worked with have a sense that Sexual Harassment is an egregious form of abuse, they instinctively assign blame to the recipient and it impacts their perception of the victims fitness for leadership. This of course is completely unfair. Most males I know are of the opinion that everyone has crosses to bare, and how you bare them is a sign of your fortitude and leadership qualities.

    One interesting note from reading the comments here, is the extent to which Women are experiencing Sexual harassment. The majority of men I know are motivated to act in scenarios of brazen harassment, but since they have all been socialized to pursue women, they fail to distinguish “overzealousness” as harassment. For women, most unwanted pursuit IS harassment, let alone Overzealousness. I think men will clearly need allot more education as to where these boundaries are, starting from a much younger age.

    As we increasingly see the current generation of women converge the entire vertical workforce into a balanced mix, then the transformation of predominately male based socio-organizational culture will give way to a new balanced culture, this subtle blame the victim sensibility will ebb away.

    • NetWriterM
      NetWriterM says:

      Well in my situation, he was married, I was married, pursuit should not have even been on the table.

      But see harrassment isn’t always about sex, it’s about putting a woman in her place and keeping her there because the man (or woman it can go both ways) has the power to do so.


  31. jenX
    jenX says:

    Thank you for continuing to bring awareness to this issue. Your voice is bold and isolated, despite this rampant problem.

  32. Julie
    Julie says:

    My logic had always been that high status women would be much less likely to find themselves vulnerable to rape. Almost to the point of using the reverse ‘logic’ that anyone vulnerable to rape was actually de facto low status (in their rapists eyes). I am having to rethink this.

    Would someone attack say, Pippa Middleton. Why not? She would never need to go anywhere on her own (Pippa if you are reading this, do you ever wander around unaccompanied?). If she is in a group of people there would be an underlying impression that she is a ‘valued item’. This would give her the protection of social approval, that any wrong doing would be pounced on by her social group in her defence. So far so sensible.

    So you are vetted by her group and allowed to be on your own with her, are you likely to force yourself on her? Hmmm. My logic falls apart as a potential rapist is hard to spot.

    Though admittedly even if she is less unlikely to prosecute, she is less likely to suffer in silence and there would be repercussions unless he was very high status (as is what happened when DSK pounced on his ex-wifes god daughter).

    So we have very high status (Pippa Middleton) who are pretty much untouchable for all kinds of complicated reasons. High status (Tristane Baron) have enough to lose to be kept quiet with a combination of threats and promises. If someone attacked a female senior manager ….. very unlikely to prosecute but he would be unlikely to get off without repercussions and victim in position with enough power to prevent repeats, or at least give her some semblance of control.

    Housekeepers suffer atrocious rates of contemptuous sexual behaviour. There are some that feel protected by their managers and employers, maybe not physically but at least morally. It is important that their safety is taken seriously.

    There is very little logic. The whole thing is compounded by the variety of criminal acts covered by the terms sexual aggression and rape. A boyfriend who won’t stop and an attack in an alley have the same label, unhelpfully.

    Of course I have no answers but you make very interesting points, so thank you for making me rethink my assumptions.

  33. semi-anonymous
    semi-anonymous says:

    “For example, it’s nearly unheard of for a guy to harass his boss’s boss..” indeed, and rarer still to be harassed by my boss’s boss, who was a [high-flying, much younger] woman who was very high in the corporate hierarchy. All of this melodrama with the boss’s boss was widely perceived and it came during the “Disclosure” book & movie period in the mid-90s, and I was recipient of copies of the book thrown over the transom anonymously at the time. The woman retaliated when [it became known that] I rebuffed her advances and after she got me fired, I actually was able to back-channel enough damning info to the top brass to get her fired in turn. Some of the truest and best stories will never see the light of day. [To this day, the woman is a senior Exec in another international corporation.]

  34. bargal20
    bargal20 says:

    Those immigrant hotel maids have it made in the shade! Thank you for pointing out how much better off they are than you or I, Penelope!

  35. michael richards
    michael richards says:

    Oh, this was a very good article until the author said this:

    “But, what about women who don’t care if they get fired?”

    An immigrant hotel worker in an economy with nine percent unemployment doesn’t care if she gets fired? Oh, please higher-class feminists, don’t break solidarity with these working women who are much more vulnerable to all types of harassment, discrimination, and abuse. Help them join unions, and speak up for them–don’t engage in this fake romanticism about “nothing to lose.” The woman who finally accused Strauss-Kahn hid in a closet for 30 minutes and was scared to report it because she feared she would lose her job.

  36. swr
    swr says:

    I appreciate the perspective, but the argument that working class women have an easier time reporting sexual harassment than upper-middle-class women is just misguided.

    Google “Bianca Wisniewski” for example. She was a female construction worker in NYC who filed a sexual harassment suit against a mobbed up construction company. Note, I used the word “was”. She died in a mysterious fire the night before the case was to go to court.

    That’s only one example. Women often get hired as waitresses or bartenders on the strength of both their looks and the perception that they can be made the “personal property” of the restaurant/bar’s owners.

    Take women who work at customer service jobs and imagine how difficult is is for them to deal with the legions of “pickup artists” who take advantage of the fact that their jobs requires them to be polite.

    Take any female police officer or firefighter who wants to get promoted to sergeant.

    In the end, while, once again, I appreciate the perspective, I appreciate it as a keyhole into which I can see how the upper-middle and upper-class really thinks.

    They think they’re the victims. It’s really not much different from the Rush Limbaugh fan who genuinely believes that “illegals” get free health care where he doesn’t.

  37. livex
    livex says:

    The post makes some good points, but the implication that the hotel maid in this case had “nothing to lose” is offensive and wrong.

  38. terri
    terri says:

    I wonder how many hotel maids in the world have been treated similarly by Monsieur Strauss-Kahn. Perhaps now these women may still be uncomfortable speaking up and making waves, even though their employers are legally bound to keep them safe from sexual harassment. Let’s hope what happened in NYC helps aid, even incrementally, the gag rule that many sexually harassed employees seem to be under.

  39. RAechel Running
    RAechel Running says:

    OK LADIES !!! RAPE IS A VIOLENT ACT; non-consentual ; IT is a form of WAR in many parts of the world – and it is amazing how many of ‘us’ have been there ; and how a number of the responses really are missing the point by using class….Rape is Rape – I am listening to the AMAZING story of TINA TURNER right at this minute and she is one fine example of the abuse of power; how speaking out left her on the street; how she rose and fell ; and then RECREATED herself ; SPOKE OUT about the TRUTH of violence and broke stride – She expressed herself as a SEXY and POWERFUL woman… What can we all learn from this woman who spoke out ? or how the powers that be did the right thing by supporting her claim; hope that the light shines on how we need to HELP raise consciousness within our LIVEs about our innate behaviors ; how to balance work, and become more humane so we can CREATE and shift into a new paradigm that is inclusive vs. exclusive and turn the power pyramid upside down – We all can make a commitment to learn more about Women’s history; mentor our daughter’s and friends; our sons and the men we love/ and work with… as a Society/Communities /Families speak we need to put on the table the hard facts and even harder realities too many women, girls are paying with their bodies/psyches/hearts – Souls… help one another, BE accountable; I am amazed at the discussions – our world is not safe for women period; many women /girls are disappearing ; become lost to those who love them… this woman who spoke out – what IF it were you? or someone you know? what would it matter what economic level; hi power, or someone from another country who changes the tiolet paper in the airport or fancy hotel?

    For me after I realized what happened to me I look a bit longer at those ‘unseen’ women; I try to say hello in their language ;or offer some help ; a kind word; If I see someone especially a woman distraught I ask her if she needs help; if she’s a girl molested by her father, step father, a stranger I will speak out for her – Look in the mirror and maybe look at the women you work with or maybe wouldn’t talk to, and imagine if anyone of us spoke out for one another to protect us and advocate for a change just as this woman has; just as we’re doing here now…

    Try it. imagine all the women in a train, on your office floor, the grocery store, young and old and imagine how many suffer abuse; Now imagine if we all could look at the women we know, encounter and think it was SHE who spoke out so I could be all I was born to be…

    Rape/Violence takes this Self LOVE makes us numb and silent.

    But like Tina Turner’s songs, and her re-silency which is one of the great things about being a Woman is how we can ; “Something Beautiful Remains”

    Time to recreate Ourselves and work on making the truth heard and not second
    guess the importance of healing. It’s our choice we can exercise.

    Learning LOTS here ; Thank you all.

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