Kevin Drum recently posted in a sort of muddle-headed, if well meaning, way. His post is entitled, “Why Do Hotels Tolerate Sexual Predators?” His readers were there to point out that if you kicked all the rich flashers out of your hotel you’d lose a lot of money. I might additionally suggest that the victims (in these cases, the housekeepers), are mostly immigrants working in a low-status job, and their right to be free from unwanted exhibitionism looms small in the mental world of a hotel manager.
When I say the post is muddle-headed, I only mean that it is surprising that Drum is surprised. Many (most, actually) of the women I know have been flashed, usually as younger girls. It’s not as though it’s some astonishing thing that never happens; it’s just going on all the time, but not happening to Kevin Drum. But in swoops Megan McArdle and I thought, how is she going to defend rich assholes who flash hotel housekeepers? I mean, really. Especially considering that Megan grew up in New York City in the 70s and 80s, which means I am morally certain some dude has flashed her, or masturbated next to her on the subway, or done something equally unwelcome. How not? (I have experienced all these things, and more! Ask me about the time the cops told me the man hassling me was a convicted sex offender who had forcibly raped at least 6 women, and I was “an idiot” because I returned idle pleasantries, in a deflecting way, on the BART. It was apparently my duty to remain silent at all times.) But then, she doesn’t mention it, so perhaps she was weirdly lucky in this regard. Really weirdly lucky.
Her defense is, hotel staff has walked in on her when she was changing any number of times, and she’d want a man in the same situation to be given the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he just happened to be masturbating and he didn’t hear the knock because the shower was on? Is it illegal to jerk off in a hotel now? Needless to say, this is weaksauce.
No, she doesn’t say that exactly. What she says is that she has been sexually harassed, and that the harassers always try to maintain some deniability. (So true!) When she was faced with it, she got a male colleague to deal with the person rather than make a possibly career-affecting fuss. (Great! How handy!) I think the solution for the hotel housekeepers is to…wait, they don’t have any choice about what rooms they clean, nor can they delegate to male colleagues.
Ultimately, as unpleasant as it was, I think it is better to be in a system where we give people the benefit of the doubt than one where any action that could have the slightest sexual connotation is presumptively harassment. Yes, it lets creeps get away with a lot. But it also means that the rest of us can put our computers where we want them—and don’t get kicked out of hotels because we forgot to bolt the door.
Right, because there’s clearly no middle ground in which people take the housekeepers’ complaints seriously, and try to confront, and refuse service to, repeat offenders. She elides the fact that you, as a woman, know when you’re being flashed vs. when you accidentally walk in on someone who hasn’t heard your knock. Really. Big difference. A man showing you his penis on purpose has a certain way about him, let’s just say. Do I really have to go there? He is likely (thought not certain) to be visibly sexually aroused. And sauntering around looking at you weird, with his penis in his hand as often as not. This is not the behavior of the startled guest who shouts—”wait—don’t come in!” and begins pulling the sheets around himself in a fit of embarrassment. I honestly would have thought, here is a class of rich people whom not even Megan McArdle would defend! I begin to suspect the null set is involved.