Although I have my own opinions on the current frenzy around sexual harassment and the whole #metoo hashtag thing I have avoided publically commenting on any of it because, as with every social issue, context and nuance are important but are virtually impossible to have come across accurately in a short blog post. But this issue blundered into the realm of the ridiculous when a sitting Liberal MP, Sherry Romanado, stood and made a statement to the House of Commons today.
Here’s her statement in its entirety:
"In May, the member from Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman [James Bezan] publicly made inappropriate, humiliating and unwanted comments to me that were sexual in nature. These comments have caused me great stress and have negatively affected my work environment."
Immediately the mind thinks of explicit and unwanted propositions, snide comments about her person and/or body, or any of a number of other possible and serious transgressions. Right?
Well, before manning the barricades, it’s important to know what actually happened.
Back in May (7 months ago) Ms. Romanado, a Liberal, was posing for a photo with 2 Conservative MPs, one of whom was Mr. Bezan. In a joking manner Mr. Bezan made an off-the-cuff comment about it not being his idea of a threesome. A bit boorish? Perhaps. But these are coworkers and colleagues and, presumably, adults. He was clearly not serious and made the comment in reference to having 2 Conservatives and a Liberal together in the same photo and not at each other’s throats as they are often portrayed.
Since then Mr. Bezan has apologized personally to Ms. Romanado, stood and apologized in the House of Commons, undergone sensitivity training, and had the chief human resources officer review the case, in response to a complaint by Ms. Romanado, and determine that “no sexual harassment had occurred”. And still … still …. Ms. Romanado felt the need to stand and make the above statement today.
Really? Has it come to this, that any flippant comment deserves a full, and preferably very public, broadside? That a stupid remark causes the person who hears it “great stress” and negatively affects their work environment? (As an aside one wonders how Ms. Romanado can even function as a politician with such thin skin.)
And that’s the crux of the problem. Sexual harassment is real and, as we have recently seen, usually a result of a power imbalance. Women (and some men) have had to deal with very serious issues around use of force, physical assaults, unwanted and persistent harassment, and so on. It’s not right, does not belong in our workplaces or our politics, and needs to be weeded out. But when we tip the scales for every Chicken Little who claims to be aggrieved over some trivial matter we debase the plight of those dealing with serious issues of harassment. And we make it just a little bit harder for those truly harmed to find justice.
We need to find some balance, and soon.