Fox News' Andrea Tantaros, who has been an unwavering supporter of Herman Cain, is now blaming victims of sexual harassment for meeting male supervisors outside of the office, thus encouraging unwanted advances. In a recent New York Daily News op-ed, Tantaros blasted one of Cain's accusers for "hav[ing] dinner and drinks with a married man" and asked: "At what point do women need to take some responsibility?"
While that question certainly doesn't deserve an answer, research published in the Harvard Business Review indicates that professional sponsorship, which routinely involves meetings outside the office, is critical to breaking the glass ceiling but that sexually inappropriate behavior can have a chilling effect on women finding professional sponsors.
Over the past two weeks, Fox personalities have been very vocal and strident in their defense of Cain since sexual harassment charges against him were made public. They have downplayed the allegations, blamed the alleged victims, and applauded Cain for the way he handled the accusations in a recent press conference. But Tantaros, a co-host of Fox's The Five, stands out for her repeated attacks on the alleged victims and her overall dismissal of sexual harassment as legitimate abuse. She has even gone so far as to brand one of the women a "scam artist" for having an "illegitimate child."
On November 1, Tantaros joked about the allegations, reportedly saying on Fox News:
"[I]f you believe Herman Cain, the story that he told Greta [Van Susteren] last night, it was such a small deal, it wasn't anything that was sexual harassment at all. So he's right on that. I mean Bob [Beckel] threw a candy corn down my dress yesterday, and I didn't sue."
A week later, she called the accusations "baseless" and attacked one of the accusers for what she called the woman's "rap sheet." Tantaros said: "You have a woman, who, if you look at her rap sheet, 14 years later she all of a sudden cares about the country? Double bankruptcy, legal troubles -- yes -- and an illegitimate child. You know what that says to me? Two words: scam artist."
She later praised Cain's press conference, during which he addressed the allegations, as an "extremely fierce counter-punch" and went on to say: "I think he answered a lot of questions ... A job well done. A+."
But all this is nothing compared to what Tantaros wrote in her Daily News op-ed on Wednesday.
In the op-ed, titled, "Ladies, time to man up: Cain accusers Sharon Bialek and Karen Kraushaar send the wrong message to women," Tantaros advised: "We don't need to play the victim." She blasted women like Sharon Bialek who dare come forward and report abuse, and in a disgusting bit of blame-the-victim, she said women often bear responsibility for what happens. She wrote:
Let me be clear: I'm not saying that Cain isn't guilty of sexual misconduct that took place when he was the head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s. But this scandal should have every woman asking: At what point do women need to take some responsibility?
One accuser, Sharon Bialek, said Cain allegedly groped her after she came to him for job advice 14 years ago. At a press conference with famed attorney Gloria Allred, who has made a career out of victimized women, Bialek claims she met Cain for dinner and drinks for career counseling. Then she allegedly rode with him in a car, where he tried to put his hand up her skirt, then moved her head toward his groin.
If it's true, it's horrible. And while the timing of her decision to go public does raise questions about her motivation, the real question is: Why have dinner and drinks with a married man in the first place? Why not meet him in his office if your purpose is strictly professional?
It's also puzzling why Bialek later said that when she saw Cain at a recent Tea Party event, she approached him to give him a hug and see if he remembered her.
In December 2010, the Harvard Business Review released a report on "The Sponsor Effect" -- which may have been the reason Bialek sought out Cain -- looking at why women comprise less than 10 percent of Fortune 500 top earner positions. The report stated:
What's keeping them under this last glass ceiling? What we uncover in this report is not a male conspiracy, but rather, a surprising absence of male (and female) advocacy. Women who are qualified to lead simply don't have the powerful backing necessary to inspire, propel, and protect them through the perilous straits of upper management. Women lack, in a word, sponsorship.
It went on to explain, however, that there are pitfalls to such relationships, which drive women to avoid them:
Sponsorship is a necessarily close, even intimate, relationship. For sponsors and their protégés, getting to know each other demands regular encounters over a period of months, possibly over the phone but more typically in person, sometimes at work but more often outside of it. Working together on a large project definitely facilitates sponsorship, but so does grabbing a coffee in the company cafeteria, or going out to lunch, or meeting for dinner. Some of the executives we interviewed describe catching up with their sponsors on the company shuttle or at out-of-town conferences.
Strictly business though these one-on-one meetings may be, they often are misconstrued. And since even the illusion of a sexual liaison, let alone its reality, can torpedo a career, many men and women hesitate to engage in a sponsorship relationship, especially when several bands of power separate them. Our research indicates that the majority of senior men (64 percent) at the level of vice president and above are reluctant to have a one-on-one meeting with junior women -- and half of junior women likewise avoid seeking out such contact.
This certainly helps explain the gender gap we discussed in chapter 3: if men are 46 percent more likely than women to have powerful backers, it's because male-to-male sponsorship is far less fraught than male-to-female (with female-to-female sponsorship rarely occurring, for reasons we've explored). It also sheds new light on why women persist in clinging to the keep-your-head-down-and-work-harder career advancement strategy, however ineffective it ultimately proves: cultivating relationship capital can indeed be risky -- "dirty" in more ways than one. For both men and women, sex, or even the specter of it, is "the third rail" on the fast track to success. And sponsorship seems to amplify, not mitigate, its dangers.
In her op-ed, Tantaros also told women to "be smarter" and "tougher":
For decades, feminists have told women they can dress any way they want, go anywhere, behave however they choose -- and yet if they get themselves into a less-than-desirable position as a result, it's not their fault. That's pure contradiction, and while there is no excuse for sexual assault, women need to be smarter -- and tougher, too.
She later said women need to be "a little more Beyonce" and "a little less Lifetime":
Whatever happened to hitting delete [on unwanted emails]? Or ignoring the catcalls? Or simply telling a guy to get lost? Plainly put: If a man lays his hands on me uninvited, one of us is going to the hospital. And it isn't me. Think a little more Beyonce, a little less Lifetime.
Legitimate violence against women is not to be taken lightly. There are serious cases and silly cases -- and then there are head cases who overreact for money or media attention or no good reason. I am familiar with all three, as I suspect many other woman are. Recognizing the difference earns women what we should really strive for: respect.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 11,717 sexual harassment claims were filed in fiscal year 2010. In March, a University of Michigan study reportedly showed that "more than 50 percent of women reported at least one incident of harassment at work during a 12-month period." As the Star-Ledger reported:
Victims often don't come forward because they feel embarrassed or fear retaliation. Only when it becomes unbearable do some report it -- and by that time, it may be too late.
So has a woman ever lied about harassment to win a settlement? Probably. But is that typical, or a good way to make money?
"No," [Charles] Sullivan [a Seton Hall Law School expert on employment discrimination] says. "It's extraordinarily hard for a woman to come forward and make such a claim because of privacy concerns, and because the law's not very receptive -- and I don't think anybody wants to be known as someone with a thin skin, who can't take a joke."