Should Sexually Harassed Women Just "Deal With It"?

Gossip columnist Cindy Adams seems to think so.

In a recent column in the New York Post, professional gossip monger Cindy Adams inked a horribly dim-witted doozy of a gem, insisting that women who are touched or spoken to in an inappropriate sexual manner should just loosen up and let the groping or verbal assault roll off their backs. “Hey, we've all been there. Those things happened to every one us in our earlier days. [Adams is now 80]. But that was before the world became so litigious. We've each endured some too tight hug or some slob whose hand wandered where it shouldn't. Deal with it. That's what we did in our younger, prettier days. Dealt with it.”
 
Adams then discussed what she meant by her "earlier days," and as Jezebel.com points out, she seems to be talking about sexual assault, not sexual harassment:
 
“I was maybe 10. In a highly respected elderly doctor's Upper East Side examination room. My mom had left for one second. His hands began examining what wasn't there for examining. I pushed him away and never mentioned it to a soul. Not anybody. Until now. And I still remember his name.”
 
She also writes of being hit on at age 16 by a theatrical agent. She was able to fend him off but still, she tells readers,  “I pushed him off and never mentioned it to anyone. Until now. And I still remember his name.”
 
It seems hypocritical to claim sexual harassment is no big whoop, then write with seeming pain about the lifelong effects of said harassment, as evidenced by her fear of telling family or friends and her ability to recall the perpetrators’ names seven decades later.
 
But worse than being hypocritical, her rant is harmful to the cause of women’s equality. If she wants to rally against the legal system (she claims today’s overly litigious society has caused women to mount smear campaigns in the form of meritless sexual harassment lawsuits),  fine, but to rally against WOMEN, against our right to exist in a safe environment, is misogyny at its worst.
 
I’ve unfortunately been on the receiving end of untold amounts of sexual harassment. I have been groped, ogled and stared up and down. I have had police officers leer and men yell unspeakably graphic “come-ons” to me from their convertible. I’ve had a man show me his penis from a car while I jogged in my suburban hometown.
 
I have also been physically attacked, a horrific experience which shaped my early 20s in a variety of unpleasant and unproductive ways. Many times, I have spoken out – to the men, to the police, to a stranger for help. When I was younger, I remained silent, the attacks somehow warping into a compliment in my mind. “Well, if that man’s telling me he wants to @#&^ my #$**&, he must think I’m pretty.” I think many women continue to twist harassment in this way, consciously or not, perhaps as a defense mechanism. It was only though working with a therapist that I began to see that these men weren’t even seeing ME at all – they saw an object. A blow-up doll. It didn’t matter what I looked like; it was their issue, not mine. That therapist taught me to present myself in a more assertive manner, one in which I own my own space and don’t feel the need to smile at every stranger who walks by (I used to feel like I did, as if I owed it to men to acknowledge them.) Once I began projecting a different air – not hostile, but not super-friendly – the comments and attacks decreased markedly.
 
Cindy Adams is wrong. And severely misguided. A woman doesn’t need to be fondled by her pediatrician or forced to perform oral sex on a stranger for it to constitute assault. Sexual harassment exists on a continuum, and as long as we allow men to casually brush against our breasts on the subway or to say to us the types of thing that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush, more significant and emotionally damaging incidents of sexual assault will continue to happen.
 
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