The Privileged Accusation

Camille Paglia once asked why sexual harassment codes did not explicitly incorporate penalties for false accusation. She thought that “even teenaged girls” ought to be held accountable for “the personae” they chose, since for most of their lives these personae had brought them “the rewards of attention and popularity”. This analysis may not cover all the possible cases; she is clearly thinking of the spoiled middle-class brat about whom she writes elsewhere. Now, just calling a female person a “brat”, or indeed anything negative, is such heresy where I live that the discussion comes to a screeching halt right here, as is the intention. Much ink has been spilt on “male privilege”, but I would happily trade mine in for the female privilege of never being negatively characterised or having one’s actions reproached.

Anyway, what Paglia seems to have in mind is a person who at a certain age chooses the persona of a teenage sex-bomb. This is now a win-win situation for her. She gets attention, obviously, and the envy of her less comely classmates. Popularity – with the boys, certainly, and perhaps she can parlay this into the position of Queen Bee. At that age, nothing else matters. Perhaps her persona can get her better grades or other academic privileges from older men; sad, but true.

But now suppose that she receives adult attention that is unwelcome to her, because it is inherently badly executed, or because of some breach of faith real or imagined – perhaps she doesn’t get as much reward for the wiggling of her boobs as she expected. Then what does she have to lose from a false accusation? Indeed, how can the falseness of an accusation possibly be proven? It is hard enough with rape, with all the forensic evidence available; being the victim of sexual harassment, on the other hand, is essentially a subjective state that cannot be demonstrated. In one era, it can be held to be false by definition, in another era true by definition. Short of having been a thousand miles away at the time, the man has no defence.

Now let us suppose the teacher is, unknown to the deployer of the sex-bomb persona, actually a thousand miles away at the time? Are there consequences to the accuser? Au contraire, there are those ready to argue that the making of a false accusation is in itself evidence of having been the victim of something improper, and so the thousand-miles-away teacher is, in some metaphysical fashion, actually guilty. We may only hope that the inventor of this argument soon finds herself fingered in a plot to blow up government buildings. That is, thinking her a terrorist is due to some trauma inflicted upon Homeland Security for which she herself is responsible.

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