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The silver lining in San Diego Mayor Bob Filner's sex scandal

August 02, 2013|By Alexandra Le Tellier
  • Women who have accused San Diego Mayor Bob Filner of sexual misconduct include, from left to right: retired Navy Rear Adm. Veronica "Ronne" Froman; Joyce Gattas, dean of the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts at San Diego State University; Sharon Bernie-Cloward, president of the San Diego Port Tenants Assn.; and Patti Roscoe, a prominent businesswoman.
Women who have accused San Diego Mayor Bob Filner of sexual misconduct include,… (KPBS )

The Bob Filner sex scandal keeps unfolding, with a ninth woman accusing the San Diego mayor of sexual misconduct. This time, reports The Times’ Tony Perry, a Marilyn Monroe lookalike who was hired to sing at a fundraiser for Filner has stepped forward with allegations.

“He grabbed me a little too tight, then proceeded to slide his hand down my arm and then did a little grab on my derriere,” Emily Gilbert told Fox5 San Diego. Add that to other accusations that include telling one woman to not wear underwear to work, asking another to forgo her wedding band on a business trip, and the hideous “Filner headlock.”

And if that’s not bad enough, Filner is refusing to resign, hoping that a two-week intensive therapy stint to address his treatment of women is enough to clean up this mess. As Times Op-Ed columnist Meghan Daum wrote Thursday of politicians like Filner and New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner:  

They're helping themselves so that they can continue to “help others” (translation: hold on to their careers). But amid the debate about their sincerity and, in Filner's case, whether years of creepiness can be cured in two weeks, at least one point seems to be getting ignored: Most therapy just isn't that effective.

So, instead of taking care of San Diego, Filner is wasting time and taxpayer money while his sex scandal overshadows important city matters. And to think that just seven months ago, people had placed so much hope in Filner. As Melissa Harris-Perry reminded viewers on “The Rachel Maddow Show” this week:

Until this last year, the city had not elected a Democrat for mayor since 1986, and then last November, then-U.S. congressman Bob Filner, a Democrat, was elected mayor. This man had been in Congress since 1993. He was a former Freedom Rider. He was a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He was a big thinker. He had big ideas. And so for Democrats, and for progressives in San Diego, Bob Filner's mayoral election was a big deal -- a moment of unlikely triumph and optimism for liberals in the conservative and second-largest city in California.

Instead, Filner has been a colossal disappointment.

But there is one silver lining: His scandal has started a productive conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace and the challenges women face in a culture that often places the burden on the victim.

“A lot of times when women don't come forward in these sort of situations, one of two things is going on -- where you don't want to make waves and cause trouble 'cause you're afraid of retribution, or the fact that women have been socialized differently, where they feel like they're responsible for men's sexuality,” said PJ Media’s Bridget Johnson during a round-table discussion with Michel Martin on Wednesday’s episode of NPR’s “Tell Me More.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Connie Schultz also spoke up, sharing details of a senior editor who’d been “inappropriate” to her and explaining from a victim’s point of view why women don’t always speak up. It boils down to this: “I know what it's like to be scared of the consequences. I remember being scared that I could lose.”

What’s the remedy? Johnson recommends advocating for younger colleagues who may be targeted, as she did when she saw the aforementioned editor make a move on an intern. “I'm not proud of myself that I didn't speak out for myself, but I think it's pretty consistent with my personality, and a lot of women I know, that once I was advocating for someone other than myself, there was a fury that rose up in me that replaced the fear that had been there before,” said Schultz.

And, she says, we need men to stand up for women too. It seems like a no-brainer, but too often this seems like a problem that pits men against women.     

So, thanks, Bob Filner -- I guess. Because of you, at least we’re acknowledging that sexual harassment still exists in the workplace, that many women are afraid to speak up about it, and that we’re all responsible for protecting our colleagues.


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