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Sexual Tsunami

November 13, 2017

Because of all the salacious stories hitting the media, one might think humans discovered sex about a week and a half ago and it’s still something mysterious and uncontrollable. Many actors and politicians have been caught in scandals threatening to end their careers or worse—prompt criminal charges. It’s difficult to separate who’s actually been victimized from who’s seeking their fifteen minutes of fame.


In most instances, I tend to believe the accusers, usually women, and I’m not persuaded by the argument that these victims should have come forward sooner. Victims are conditioned to blame themselves, as if they were responsible, and too often they’ve carried their stories to the grave.


Current examples explain why victims are reluctant to come forward. Our president threatened to sue women who accused him of inappropriate behavior even though he was recorded bragging about the terrible things he’d done to women. In Alabama, a state official has suggested that the women accusing senatorial candidate Roy Moore should be prosecuted, without even considering that they might be telling the truth.


Since we’re all friends here, I’ll admit that I, myself, was once accused of sexual harassment. It happened many years ago when I was managing a mall jewelry store. One day I noticed that all of my employees seemed to be in an exceptionally bad mood. After several hours of patiently waiting for their grumpiness to end, I was reminded of a few lines in a comedy album I loved as a kid, a Bill Cosby album called Why Is There Air. I’d memorized many of the routines. Of course these wholesome bits came long before the world knew Bill Cosby to be a sexual predator.


Anyway, there’s a routine called The Toothache where nothing will stop Bill’s pain. Even though he’s a guy, his landlady gives him two of her Midol tablets…and the pain instantly goes away. The routine gets funnier and funnier as Bill comes to believe these Midol tablets are a wonderful secret women keep for themselves.


So I said, to no one in particular, “Everyone is so grumpy that maybe we should put some Midol in the water cooler.”


A few days later my supervisor arrived to tell me a complaint of sexual harassment had been registered against me by one of my employees.


“Who was I supposed to have sexually harassed?” I asked.


Of course I wasn’t told who.


I was told it had to do with a disgusting comment I made about Midol. “What would make you say such a thing?” I was asked.


“Plagiarism!” I admitted. “I was stealing from a PG comedy routine.”


I repeated exactly what I’d said, explaining that my comment hadn’t even been directed at women, as is evident in Cosby’s routine.


My supervisor shook his head and left. I never heard any more about it, but the fact that I was accused has stuck with me for the last twenty-five years. I’ve concluded that the person accusing me didn’t actually know what sexual harassment was:


—Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment—


It can be argued that my comment was not funny and in questionable taste, but I still don’t think it qualified as sexual harassment. Over the years I’ve certainly said many things I regret, but I was never again accused of anything.


Having said this, I still believe people should be believed when they speak of unwanted sexual experiences. The pain these people have experienced is beyond definition, causing some individuals to kill themselves. Perhaps I should be grateful to my accuser for making me think harder about what I say and the unintended effects my words might have on people.



Although I’m horrified by the accusations leveled at Bill Cosby, his early routines remain masterpieces of comedy. Here’s his bit "The Toothache" from Why Is There Air? It’s short and remains timelessly funny.




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I don't know what to think of the news lately..It seems to be an avalanche of accusations being thrown about as it if someone were talking about parking tickets.
By: Terri@Coloring Outside the Lines on November 13, 2017
And since cops and district attorneys are still overwhelmingly male, women who report rape or sexual harassment often find themselves the one under examination far more than the predator. Like many issues in our world, it's not one with an easy answer.
By: PT Dilloway on November 13, 2017
You wrote this event in your life eloquently. Your accuser needed a midol for sure and would take offense at anything. She is looking for it. Midol is obviously taken by women who have bad menstrual cramps but men wouldn't know that and the women didn't know that you took it from a comedy album. Sexual assault is a horrific crime that many have experienced and then hid from view. Most can't find their voice because it has been taken away by many factions. I also believe some use it for their own advantage which is a shame. I think you would need to look at it as a sign of what to say and what not to say since there are many women who would not find that funny at all.
By: Birgit Bedesky on November 13, 2017
It's a complex subject with no easy or simple answers. Sometimes there's intent, and sometimes there's a joke one side doesn't get, as in your situation. That comedy routine is very funny, too.
By: messymimi on November 13, 2017
I counted eight stories about sexual harassment on the front page of USA Today on Friday. I think the stories are out of control. That is crazy someone turned you in. I wouldn't have even thought twice about that statement.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on November 13, 2017
That was a perfectly innocent comment about Midol, truly perplexing that it was twisted into an allegation of harassment.
By: Robyn Engel on November 13, 2017
Messymimi pretty much said what I am thinking.
By: Arkansas Patti on November 13, 2017
I agree that it is a complex subject that will get more muddled up as time goes by. Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on November 13, 2017
I wouldn't have known that you were ripping off a comedy routine. I might have seen it as a sexist remark, but certainly not sexual harassment. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on November 13, 2017
As long as we're talking about Bill Cosby... his "To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With" album has some of the funniest material I've ever heard on it. I still have my vinyl copy.
By: Kelly on November 13, 2017
I would believe the accuser the vast majority of the time. What with legal repercussions, social problems and even threats to a persons life by the abuser or his/her supporters, it takes a great deal of bravery to point a finger, especially at powerful people. I do think some accusations are made for reasons of attention or to hurt that may not be legitimate, but these are probably rare and usually disproved at some point. Allegations from multiple women with similar descriptions are very concerning especially when the accusers are threatened and mistreated afterwards to cover up the abuse. I say your offense was at most a poor joke and the offended was pretty easily offended. Still, you might want to think about even running for dog catcher.
By: cranky on November 13, 2017
Not knowing of that comedy routine, I would have assumed you were taking a dig at the female employees. I wouldn't have turned you in for harassment, but I would probably have badmouthed you to my co-workers. You know, me being grumpy and all...
By: Val on November 13, 2017
I can certainly see it being taken as a bit of a sexist comment, but harassment is a bit much. Ironically, Midol was originally sold for treating headaches and toothaches!
By: Botanist on November 13, 2017
Excellent post, Stephen; I especially agree where you wonder if many of the women reporting sexual harassment really know the definition. There seem to be some fairly minor issues being bandied about as if they were serious. It takes away from the gravity of the situations where women really have been harassed or worse. As for the Midol comment, I'm not familiar with that routine either but like every other North American female I know what the product is for, so I probably would have thought it was in bad taste, not realizing your real meaning! Bill Cosby really did have a gift for humour. Too bad he went to the dark side.
By: jenny_o on November 13, 2017
As a teacher in the 80's we were given workshops on appropriate and inappropriate. It was a very good lesson as in your case we had to make sure there wasn't any miscommunication.
By: red on November 13, 2017
In my opinion your effort to lift spirits was not harassment, but we live at a time when such things are "relative" and that means in the eye and ear of the beholder. Sexual assault on the other hand is not. Nor is blatant and crude sexually offensive behavior. Those matters are obvious and in most cases illegal. Sensitivities are important, though even in an effort to prevent harm or offense, we must be careful. I recall a presentation by a person brought in by our HR department. They were there to "educate" our divisions on matters of harassment. As a result one of our staff had to remove a picture of his wife and himself on a beach, because his wife was in a bikini and someone might find that inappropriate. There were posters of American gymnasts that had to be taken down because they might offend someone. In my opinion that was going to far. As we navigate through these new times we must not perspective.
By: Tom Cochrun on November 13, 2017
I don't have much tolerance for bullies and predators. My step-daughter was raped (date rape drug) while she attended university. She chose not to report it, fearing the legal process. She wouldn't even give me his name so I could attend to the issue personally. As for stories and words... the pendulum swings.
By: Daniel LaFrance on November 14, 2017
you said Midol and someone thought that was disgusting and felt harassed because women use it for pain relief during their periods? Midol is nothing but acetaminophen, caffeine, and an antihistamine. what on earth is disgusting about that? more to the point though it wouldn't do a thing for grumpiness. as for the current wave of accusations, every woman has a story and that is why I believe them. what do they gain by making a false accusation?
By: Ellen Abbott on November 14, 2017
You are a brave man to broach this subject. You've done it in a sensitive way ... and as your story illustrates, it's hard to generalize, so as you say, charges should be taken seriously and investigated and treated on the merits of the individual case..
By: Tom Sightings on November 14, 2017
Not guilty!!
By: fishducky on November 15, 2017
As horrible as sexual assaults and harassment are, people need to understand what it is. Harassment is when it is repeated. If someone tells me a questionable joke or makes an inappropriate comment, I'd tell that person so - and not to do that anymore. I might even do so a second time. If it happened again, THEN I'd report it to someone else. Sometimes people just have a lapse in common sense. (Of course, this would be different with a physical assault).
By: Pixel Peeper on November 19, 2017

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