In light of the questioning laid upon and testimony given by former FBI Directer James Comey, a lively debate has been sparked online in terms of the situation’s similarities with the experiences of women in cases of sexual harassment. Anyone watching Comey’s hearing could draw parallels between the typical reaction the public has toward cases of alleged sexual harassment, in which those asking the questions are clearly trying to place a portion of the blame on the victim. The questions relate to why the victim reacted in certain ways, and they are typically framed to make it seem as if the action of the accused is somehow excused by the failure to immediately react properly to it.
Many women experience the same sort of grilling when they claim sexual harassment, which in itself is one of the reasons why women tend to avoid claiming sexual harassment unless it’s flagrant or unending. The reason behind this is that the female victims are typically the subordinates of the male harasser. That imbalance of power makes it much more difficult to make the claim for fear of backlash.
That imbalance of power is exactly what Comey described during his testimony on Thursday. He testified on his hesitancy to confront Trump directly since he was only supposed to report to the Attorney General, so it felt out of place for him to question the strange behavior of Trump. The strangeness of that behavior is further exemplified by Comey’s reaction to it. He was so stunned by what the president was doing and saying, he didn’t know how to react in the moment. During his testimony, it was clear that Comey was at least partially embarrassed that he didn’t have the strength or resolve to directly confront Trump. When asked why he didn’t confront Trump directly, Comey replied that he was so shocked by the conversation that he just couldn’t react.
A lot of the language and emotions that Comey evoked shared noticeable similarities with the way many react to sexual harassment, especially when they are questioned over and over in order to find what the lawyers call ‘inconsistencies’. Beyond the definition of the word, it has no real meaning. It’s simply a method of declaring the guilty party innocent because of a forced mistake on the part of the victim. It’s unfortunate that humanity is primarily a society that so often sides with those with power over those without.
There are a number of high-profile sexual harassment and rape cases currently or recently in the public eye that reflect the imbalance of power aspect quite well. Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly are currently in the midst of legal battles over accusations of sexual harassment and rape, and Roger Ailes is another highly visible member of the media who had an issue with sexual harassment. Recently, one of the accusers of Bill Cosby was on the witness stand for two days while defense attorneys questioned her contact with Cosby, suggesting that it invalidated her claim of improper behavior. Comey’s public hearing is yet another example of how the imbalance of power can create control issues.
Unsurprisingly, people all over social media reacted to the Comey hearing in different ways. Some claimed that he must now know what it feels like to be a female sexual harassment accuser who isn’t taken seriously, and others seemed to fall for the rhetoric implied by the questions of the senators who felt that Comey could or maybe even should have done something to confront the president’s behavior. Of course, that may be no different than asking why a rape victim didn’t just wear a longer dress.