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Ralph Reiland

Ralph R. Reiland: Sexual harassment rooted in wealth, power inequality

| Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
In this image from Senate Television, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., speaks on the Senate floor in the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Thursday morning, Dec. 7, 2017.  Franken said he will resign from the Senate in coming weeks following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations and a collapse of support from his Democrat colleagues, a swift political fall for a once-rising Democrat star. (Senate TV via AP)
In this image from Senate Television, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., speaks on the Senate floor in the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Thursday morning, Dec. 7, 2017. Franken said he will resign from the Senate in coming weeks following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations and a collapse of support from his Democrat colleagues, a swift political fall for a once-rising Democrat star. (Senate TV via AP)

With the floodgates open on accusations of sexual harassment (and worse) following October's bombshell report about Harvey Weinstein, it appears that leading commentators in academia, law, entertainment, government, publishing and broadcasting have reached a consensus about the common denominator among the ever-growing list of the accused.

The apparent agreement about that common factor is that the problem is generally caused by men with disproportionate power, wealth and influence — top dogs dominating in organizations that have large imbalances of power and income, where bullying, pursuing, injuring and harassing feed on inequality.

As defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, such mistreatment, intimidation and harassment of women (and sometimes men) generally consists of “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Sexual favors often are sought in exchange for workplace favoritism or quid-pro-quo boosts to higher levels of income, wealth, autonomy and fame.

Writing in The Guardian, Alissa Quart, executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project in Washington, D.C., reported on similarities among those accused of sexual harassment or violent assualt in several high-profile cases.

“All ... had inordinate economic advantage over their female employees and colleagues,” explained Quart. “Their quarry ranged from actresses to journalists to female entrepreneurs. And what their prey all had in common was a fear of financial or professional retribution that could destabilize already precarious careers.”

The correlation between sexual harassment and inequality in clout and wealth is clear in a listing of those accused lately in Hollywood and the media: producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein and Andrew Kreisberg; Fox News' Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly; actors Casey Affleck, Dustin Hoffman, Danny Masterson, Ed Westwick, George Takei, Jeffrey Tambor, Jeremy Piven and Kevin Spacey; director Brett Ratner; comedians Louis C.K. and Andy Dick; Bloomberg reporter and MSNBC pundit Mark Halperin; The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier and Hamilton Fish; Mother Jones' David Corn; Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner; NPR's David Sweeney and Michael Oreskes; CBS and PBS host Charlie Rose; Pixar's John Lasseter; and NBC's Matt Lauer.

Then there's the expanding lineup of politicians accused of sexual harassment, most recently U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). Also accused are former President George H.W. Bush; Harold Ford Jr., former congressman (D-Tenn.) and MSNBC pundit; Roy Moore, Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama; U.S. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.); U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), and U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.). Conyers, co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, was a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee and the longest-serving active member of Congress — until his retirement announcement on Dec. 5 amid sexual-harassment allegations.

Ralph R. Reiland is associate professor of economics emeritus at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (rrreiland@aol.com).

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