A Double Standard for Policing Sexual Behavior

Cases in New York and Alabama show that men's behavior is policed much less than women's.

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FILE--In this June 12, 2013 file photo, Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, speaks in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y.

An anecdotal look at local news over the weekend offers a disturbing conclusion about sexual conduct and misconduct: If you're a long-term male legislator, you can make sexual comments to your female staffers and walk about with a hefty pension. But if you're a single woman and starting a job as president of a college, you're not allowed to have a romantic partner reside with you for an extended period of time.

New York State Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak resigned Sunday amid allegations from seven – that's seven – former female staffers that he sexually harassed them. In his resignation statement, Gabryszak said he engaged in "mutual banter" with female employees.

He didn't detail what said "banter" was. But the women on the other end of the conversations have offered up some details. They include reports that Gabryszak asked two female staffers to kiss, asked staffers to sleep with him or share a hotel room with him, tried to kiss one of them himself, and told a female staffer he became sexually aroused when she was in the room. And – in behavior that makes fellow New York pol Anthony Weiner look positively Victorian – Gabryszak sent a staffer a video of him receiving, or pretending to receive, oral sex. The women said their complaints to the chief of staff were dismissed, and that they felt their jobs were in danger if they refused the lawmaker.

The married Gabryszak said some of the allegations were false, although he did not specify what was correct and what was not. His explanation?:

There was mutual banter and exchanges that took place that should not have taken place because it is inappropriate in the workplace even if it does not constitute sexual harassment.

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Understandably, Gabryszak is not about to admit he broke the law, which is how such appalling behavior gets described as harmless "banter." His resignation spares him from a planned Ethics Committee investigation (though not potential lawsuits from the women). He does become immediately eligible for his state government pension, however, which the Buffalo News estimates to be $53,885 a year. The paper also reports that Gabryszak has the option of having the state pay his legal fees, even out of office.

In Alabama, meanwhile, an adult woman has been asked to sign a contract attempting to control consensual sexual activity. A clause in the contract of Gwendolyn Boyd, the incoming president of Alabama State University, says:

For so long as Dr. Boyd is President and a single person, she shall not be allowed to cohabitate in the President's residence with any person with whom she has a romantic relation.

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This may sound like some sort of cosmic retribution by college students whose parents would not allow them to share a room with romantic partners under the parents' roofs. But the idea that a university president should not be allowed to have sex under the metaphorical and literal roof of a university-owned building is not only insulting and judgmental but absurd. And how would they even know if an overnight guest is a romantic partner? What is she going to have to do – meet dates at a motel, or have said partner climb in and out of the house on a ladder, like some 1950s movie about a sorority house?

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, ASU spokesman Kenneth Mullinax gave the following statement:

This clause in our university's contract has nothing to do with Dr. Boyd and everything to do with the increasing scrutiny that university presidents face.

There should be scrutiny when it comes to sexual misconduct. But the state needs to stay out of people's private lives.

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