Do people overreact to minor sexual misconduct?

There are a lot of real jerks out there, most of them men, who harass and worse their students, employees, or just those they happen to run into. The good news is that a lot of these people — Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and a long list of others — have finally started paying a pretty serious price for their actions.

There’s a wide spectrum of bad behavior here, from rape to groping to stupidly clumsy flirtation (think Howard in early seasons of The Big Bang Theory). About a week and a half ago blogger Kevin Drum did a quick survey of his readers (link) and found that they tended to rate different sorts of conduct about the same in terms of seriousness, and that at least among his readers, men and women rated the degree of seriousness quite similarly. That’s of course not a random sample, but my guess is that a larger, more scientific survey would turn up pretty similar results.

But that hasn’t stopped some people from insisting that people stop lumping everything together as equally bad, and other people treating that as an attempt to minimize the harm of lesser sorts of misconduct, sometimes in terms that come close to implying that everything amounts to rape. In fact, I’ve on occasion seen claims of high rates of rape in college based on surveys of how many students report unwanted sexual touching, which could mean an unwanted arm on the shoulder. Touching someone who doesn’t want to be touched is offensive and shouldn’t be trivialized, and neither is it rape, and I think the vast majority of people agree with that.

Here are a couple of tirades from people who specialize in opinionated humorous political commentary. I watch them both from time to time and find them both usually very funny and sometimes very irritating, the latter explaining why I don’t watch them more. It’s interesting to see the difference of opinion and the enthusiastic audience response to both. Curiously, they have almost diametrically opposite opinions on this and yet I’d say both have some valid points to make.

Anyway, here’s Bill Maher:


And here’s Samantha Bee:


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