When Tanzi Harassed Dickinson


With people in the know in Rhode Island generally agreeing to accept the insinuation of progressive Democrat Representative Teresa Tanzi (Narragansett, South Kingstown) that she was propositioned for sexual favors in order to move her legislation along, to the extent that the state’s top law-enforcement officer, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, labeling her as a “victim” prior to any investigation, my mind went back to this moment, from an April 5, 2012, hearing of the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources:

Of course, Tanzi’s reaction to then-Representative Spencer Dickinson is understandable.  This moment happened at 8:19 p.m., after a relatively long floor session plus a couple of hours in that small room.  It’s a fair moment to raise, however, given Tanzi’s new prominence as a participant in the #MeToo hashtag movement creating the impression that just about every woman has experienced sexual harassment of some kind.  Thus do activists capitalize on a helpful narrative as the egregious case of progressive Democrat donor and film producer Harvey Weinstein echoes in our culture’s canyons.

Lists of examples of sexism and harassment in the workplace often include the “subtle sexism” of “manterrupting,” as a recent CNN Money essay dubs it.  One needn’t be an incorrigible mansplainer or doubter, however, to think that maybe, just maybe, the victimhood culture and social dynamic exemplified by contrived hashtag trends creates social incentive to superimpose sexism on ordinary interactions.  Flip the genders in the video above, and one could see how the brash young man’s sexism leads him without patience for the calm deliberation of the older woman whom he interrupts.

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If the connection seems a stretch, keep in mind Tanzi’s specific language about her own #MeToo experience: “I have been told sexual favors would allow my bills to go further.”  Now, given the cast of characters that Rhode Islanders have elected (and continue to elect) to the General Assembly, one can absolutely believe that something happened exactly as Tanzi’s statement has been interpreted.  Still, from her description, the possibilities range all the way from a serious proposition from a powerful man to a sarcastic joke about sexism from another female legislator.

We should get back to seeing each other as people interacting in a complex society rather than reeds blown around by wicked winds that can never be stilled but can be translated into political advantaged when we howl in unison.  Creating incentive for every woman on social media to search her past for some incident that might give pretense to join in with the hum of hashtags… going to journalists with vague stories… printing the stories with not a single bit of substantiation… and then fuming at the constructed crisis will only create distrust and sow division.

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