Bob Filner, the mayor of San Diego, sure knows how to irritate the bloggers, choosing late on a Friday to refuse to resign, well after some of us had already posted on the sexual harassment allegations aimed at him and begun to plot out our margarita schedule for the weekend. To make it even worse, his excuse for not resigning was pure Daily Show bait. He claimed that all he needs to be turned from a creepy pervert into a nice man who respects his female colleagues is two weeks of therapy, thereby confirming the growing suspicions that going to therapy is all too often the 21st century version of buying indulgences.
Part of the problem is that much of the media, as Scott Lemieux at The American Prospect points out, bundles up two very different kinds of scandals, the kind involving consenting adults and the kind where someone was forcing unwanted attention on others, under the umbrella of “sex scandal.” This conflation allows men accused of sexual abuse and harassment to roll out the adultery playbook: Grovel for forgiveness and characterize your behavior as a mental health issue, because that sounds easier to forgive than admitting that you’re just selfish and a bad husband. Perhaps you even claim to be a “sex addict,” because while there’s no scientific evidence for such a condition, addiction is very much the trendy mental health problem to have right now. Promise to get some therapy, and all is forgiven.
The problem here is that sexual harassment is not the result of mental health issues. Sexual harassment is born out of a desire to put the woman you’re harassing in her place by reminding her that she may see herself as a Navy admiral or a university dean, but to you, she’s nothing but a sex object. Implying that sexual harassment is a result of mental illness unfairly stigmatizes the mentally ill. There’s zero evidence that mental health problems are the source of sexism. We have to blame society and personal choices for that. Filner knew well enough not to touch women or say gross things to them in front of other people, so he was perfectly capable of not indulging when he got them alone. This therapy gambit is fooling no one.