In the continuing conversation about sexual harassment, the voices of conservative women from the most deeply red parts of Texas have been noticeably absent. Turns out, there’s a reason for that.
In trying to find out what women in the deep red rural counties of Northeast Texas think about the steady flow of scandals, allegations, denials – and, as of Dec. 12, a startling suicide by Kentucky lawmaker Dan Johnson – in the news these days, I wanted to find out what conservative, mainly Christian women have to say.
But I repeatedly hit the same wall – none of the women who live in the more rural areas of Northeast Texas wanted to tell me on the record what they think. Some outright refused; some said they would help and then bailed. All said they were ultimately concerned how their opinions might be received by their families, their employers, their customers, their fellow churchgoers, and their circles of friends. And I got this reaction from women ranging from their early 20s to their early 60s.
The irony wasn't lost on me. And in case you’re wondering, I tried more than a dozen women. And for the record, they did tell me what they think. They just told me off the record, with no names or identifiers attached, other than that they are female and that they lean right.
To get some on-the-record thoughts from women who live out here, I had to turn to the less-quiet City of Bonham, the generally conservative and politically active seat of very conservative Fannin County. I found a few residents willing to share their thoughts.
Those thoughts matched those of the off-the-record women I met over the last couple weeks. While it's not so much victim blaming, the women all hold a strong conviction that individual persons, male or female, need to take responsibility for their actions: Men should keep their urges in check, women should not invite trouble. As resident Melody Michaud put it, “if you’re going to wear something cut down to your navel, you can expect a comment.”
Not that the women feel that gives men license to be inappropriate or rude (much less actually assaultive). But they do believe in an ounce of prevention and advocate that women – and men – facing an uncomfortable situation speak up immediately.
“If someone makes an unwanted, inappropriate comment,” says Bonham resident Donna West, “you’ve got to nip it in the bud the first time somebody says something inappropriate.”
The women also say they’re concerned that the conversation on sexual harassment could easily turn into a witch hunt, where people can be taken down with just one accusation that might have no merit.
It’s not that the women don’t believe sexual harassment happens – “That’s hardly a new thing,” says resident Carolyn Rogers – but they prefer to see accusations proven before they write off someone as guilty.
If nothing else, says West, the conversation and the subtleties of sexual attraction and interpersonal bi-play needs to remain nuanced.
“People try to lump just everything into one category, and it’s not like this,” she says. “There’s a hundred million different shades of gray in all of this.
Mavis Duncan of the Fannin County Leader newspaper assisted with sourcing for this story.
While researching this story, I spoke with Tracy A. Thomas, John F. Seiberling Chair of Constitutional Law and Director of the Constitutional Law Center at the University of Akron. Below is an excerpt from that interview, addressing the oft-cited concern of what motivations women have had for coming forward -- especially after so much time in some cases.
And for fuller conversation on sexual harassment, you can click here listen to this episode of my podcast, Convo, in which I speak with Dr. Sharon Kowalski, associate professor of history and director of the Gender Studies program at Texas A&M University-Commerce.