There’s Nothing Funny About Sexual Harassment

Warning: This contains offensive language

WGN TV viewers were recently subject to watching a female reporter being assaulted on a live news show. Gaynor Hall was broadcasting a news segment on weather damage on May 23rd, when Eric Farina, age 20, caught her off guard, seemingly coming out of nowhere, by grabbing her shoulders and saying “F-ck her right in the p-ssy” while looking directly into the camera with a look of glee in his eyes. He then ran out of the news station. He was later identified and now faces battery and disorderly conduct charges. Ms. Hall later said, “It was not funny. You violated my personal space. You grabbed me. You scared me. Was it worth it?”

Hall was embarrassed and frightened at her place of employment while being exposed on national TV. Her role as a professional was demeaned and she was subject to remarks that ran the gamut from shock, support, and humiliating jokes. Some remarks seemed to trivialize sexual assault – “Boys will be boys”, “He must have been drunk”, and some made sexually explicit jokes.

Definitions of sexual harassment vary by state, but sexual harassment can include sexual assault such as rape or grabbing, creating a hostile environment, pervasive jokes/comments, looks, and body language that makes an individual feel harassed. 

Farina’s comment objectified Ms. Hall. This sort of language and behavior is prevalent in a “Rape Culture”. According to Marshall University Women’s Center, Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape Culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.

Apparently, Farina is emulating a 2014 meme, “F-ck her right in the p-ssy”, and a video that went viral. On January 4th, 2014, Cincinnati-based filmmaker John Cain uploaded a video titled “Reporter fired for remarks about missing woman on LIVE TV”, which shows a reporter for a local news station making inappropriate remarks on camera, including the line, “I’ll f-ck her right in the p-ssy.” He uploaded a second video titled, “Reporter interrupted during live broadcast,” which begins with a reporter who is suddenly interrupted by a mustached man in a black hoodie and sunglasses who grabs the microphone and yells, “F-ck her right in the p-ssy”. In the first four months, the video gained over 2.4 million views and 1,100 comments. There were even T-shirts sold with this meme on it. After a third video, the stunt was eventually debunked as a viral hoax campaign. We don’t know what motivated him to do this, but the effect is to perpetuate Rape Culture.

It seems apparent, by Farina’s look of glee, that he thought he was being clever, cute, or funny. There is nothing funny about it. Sexist humor that belittles women is often perceived as harmless. In reality, it contributes to an environment where it becomes socially acceptable to perpetrate violence against women. Studies have shown that men’s enjoyment of sexist jokes is positively correlated to their self-reported rape proclivity. Rape proclivity is a self-reported measurement that demonstrates a man’s willingness to rape a woman under the circumstance that they would not be discovered. Alone, it does not determine if a man is more likely to actually commit rape, only his self-reported willingness to rape.

President Trump was quoted on October 17, 2016, as having made a comment in 2005, “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything…grab them by the pussy.” In spite of his self-proclamation of sexually assaulting women, he would go on to win the presidential election. His behavior was excused and set a low standard for trivializing sexual assault.

I am personally disappointed to learn of Gaynor Hall’s sexual harassment on-air, particularly because the message of the Me Too campaign has not reached to the level of men like Farina, who continue to commit such acts. Survivors shared their stories. Some powerful men lost their jobs. Some federal and state laws have changed. But at a broader social level, not enough has changed.

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