Democratic party leaders in San Diego formally denounced San Diego Mayor Bob Filner Thursday afternoon, asking for his resignation in response to the growing number of women—now a total of seven—stepping forward to report his long history of workplace sexual harassment. While it’s always troubling to find out that yet another creep has been roaming around, making life hard for women who are just trying to do their jobs, this story does have an upside: It seems that the tired debates about sexual harassment, with its defenders hiding behind the “just flirting” and “women are too sensitive” excuses, seem to be fading away, and a new consensus is forming that it’s never OK to force sexualized interactions on the unwilling.
Not that it’s ever easy, of course. The accusers—four of whom spoke to KPBS-TV in San Diego on Thursday night about Filner’s habit of cornering women, touching them inappropriately, and trying to turn the conversation to sex when they weren’t interested—have been silent until now, for reasons nearly all women can understand. When the creepy guy touches you or corners you, it often doesn’t seem worth it to raise up a fuss, especially since you can predict with 100 percent certainty that he’s going to deny that he was being creepy and pretend he was just flirting, even though flirting is a mutual, consensual behavior and harassment is not. Coming out as a group makes it harder for the defenders of sexual harassers to try to adjudicate if the harasser really meant it in any particular incident and instead focuses attention on the offender’s pattern of treating women like objects instead of colleagues.
Still, it’s nice to see that Filner doesn’t have many allies. Things have clearly changed a lot in the two decades since the Clarence Thomas hearings, where even male Democratic senators were more interested in defending the old order where women simply had to suffer creepy advances in silence than they were in keeping a right-wing ideologue like Thomas off the bench. Turns out the world doesn’t actually end if men are expected to keep their hands and their sexual thoughts to themselves in professional situations and give women the respect they offer their male colleagues.