I personally respect and enjoy O'Reilly as a broadcaster and I am sorry to see his public standing undermined by these allegations. While some of the content of Mackriss's affidavit seems possible, readers of it will discover that other parts seem directed squarely at Roger Ailes, the Chairman of the Fox News Channel, thereby undermining her credibility. Furthermore, Mackriss does not explain why she didn't just hang up when O'Reilly allegedly harrased her repeatedly over the telephone.
Be that as it may, this sordid and sorry tale brings to the fore all that is wrong with our increasingly perverse culture. The question that the growing phenomenon of sexual harassment in the workplace raises is this: Can we really expect to have a healthy office environment, where men treat women as colleagues and intellectual equals, when everywhere else in the culture women are being so completely sexualized?
Is it realistic to ask men to separate what they see on TV and in magazines from their interactions with women in the boardroom? With men being deluged in virtually every electronic medium with the message that women want to be recognized for their bodies rather than their brains, is it reasonable to expect that men will suddenly think differently the moment a woman dons a business suit?
Never in history have women been so sexually exploited as they are today. College girls expose their breasts in exchange for a T-shirt on the Girls Gone Wild videos. MTV has transformed the women's music industry away from an emphasis on vocals and onto to an emphasis of on cleavage. Posters of Victoria's Secret models, dressed in thongs and the most revealing lingerie, line our mains thoroughfares, billboards, and buses. Are men really expected to shut all this off the moment they stand in front of a copy machine? Can we really expect a pure office environment to emerge from a degenerate culture?
Indeed, in an environment where everything from the internet to sporting events is sexualized, it even becomes difficult to determine what exactly constitutes harassment in the workplace.
Let's see. If man watches "Sex and the City" and, knowing that his female colleagues love the show, mentions at the water cooler how much he enjoyed the previous night's episode of Samantha giving a stranger oral sex, is it harassment? Or is it small talk?
And let's say a boss comes into the office after watching the Super Bowl and asks his secretary if she saw Janet Jackson's breast pop out during the half-time show--is he making lewd and inappropriate comments? And if so, can we at least recognize that we have made a huge portion of American culture off limits in the workplace, because of how perversely sexualized it has become?
So that I am not misunderstood, let me make it clear that my purpose here is not to let men's boorish and possibly illegal behavior off the hook. On the contrary, I wish that all men were gentlemen, behaving in a dignified and refined manner, especially around ladies. And I also wish that it didn't take the threat of legal action to get them to behave like gentlemen. Lewd comments on the part of lecherous men are the last thing that women should have to tolerate.
But let's acknowledge the incredibly mixed, contradictory, and unfair signals that are being given to men. In life outside the office, men's lechery is encouraged in order to persuade them to watch TV or part with their cash. Near-naked twins sell them beer, women in thongs advertise the Miss America pageant, and Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera simulate masturbation in teasers for their shows on HBO and Showtime. After being fed the idea in every corner of the culture that women primarily desire sexual attention, these men are expected to believe that women are going to be insulted, rather than complimented, by uncouth comments about their bodies.
What complicates the question of harassment is the fact that women are being subtly conditioned to use their sexuality to get ahead in the office. No less a branding genius than Donald Trump advised women on "The Apprentice" to play up their sexuality in commercial settings in order to gain power over men. Many women fall for this degrading advice by coming to the office dressed like streetwalkers. Dress codes today are considered outmoded and draconian, and fashion dictates that women wear blouses cut very low and skirts cut very high. Yet men are expected not to notice.