March 01, 2004


Anne Summers pulls a Naomi Wolf in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Twenty years ago, when I was living in Canberra, a journalist colleague visited me at home one Saturday afternoon. With her husband sitting beside her, holding her hand, she tearfully recounted how her editor in Sydney was sexually harassing her. She had come to me for advice because I had published a book about women and was known as a feminist.

What could she do? What should she do? Do nothing, I counselled. It will hurt you more than it will hurt him if you take any action. I cringed from the shock and contempt I saw in both her and her husband's eyes. They had expected more of me.

Twenty years ago, my journalistic colleague left the industry rather than continue to endure the humiliation. Her harasser, while no longer an editor, is today a rich, powerful and famous man. But no one will ever know now what he did.

Or, more accurately, what he is alleged to have done, which Summers doesn’t identify. The pool of Sydney-based editors from the mid-80s is quite small; the number who’ve since become rich, powerful and famous is smaller still. This could develop into something interesting.

UPDATE. Summers treats allegations against this former editor as fact. She was furious when similar rumours circulated about her in the mid-90s, when Summers herself was a Sydney editor:

Reports of allegations of sexual harassment of a rather unusual nature surfaced at “The Good Weekend”, the magazine insert of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, in July. The issue led to a falling out between Anne Summers, the magazine’s editor, and her deputy, Deborah Tarrant. After Summers sacked Tarrant on July 7, citing lack of support and failure to keep Summers informed of rumors circulating about her, most of the magazine staff signed a letter seeking Tarrant’s reinstatement and a series of staff meetings insisted she be reinstated or offered a comparable job within the Fairfax organisation. On July 27 Summers went public in the SMH, using her own newspaper’s editorial columns in a rather questionable way to put her case against the rumors, that she was to be the subject of a sexual harassment case by a male photographer attached to the magazine over an incident at a party. Tarrant eventually left the company in August after reaching a financial settlement, reported to be more than $100,000, that included a confidentiality clause.

Scroll down here to read Summers’ account of the rumours.

Posted by Tim Blair at March 1, 2004 01:23 AM

Was there any vomiting involved? Details!

Posted by: Donnah at March 1, 2004 at 01:33 AM

Another victim of the Cinderella complex.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at March 1, 2004 at 01:45 AM

TWenty years ago! That was only 1984! And she gave this woman this antique advice? What a bitch! I'd have done more than look at her with "contempt."

Posted by: Andrea Harris at March 1, 2004 at 02:15 AM

Anne Summers called herself a "feminist" and yet gave the woman the advice to do nothing? Jeez, what planet am I on? Is this Bizarro World?

Posted by: ushie at March 1, 2004 at 03:57 AM

I'm pretty sure that around 20 years ago Anne Summers sexually harassed me. I remember distinctly a woman with an Aussie accent pullling and grabbing at me as I pleaded in vain for her to stop. I have been to humilated to bring it up before now. It's coming clearer as I finally admit to the horror that occurrred. Yes! Yes! It _was_ Anne Summer. She now stands convicted of sexual harassment. (What she was doing in Western Illinois wasn't real clear, but she had probably come there specifically to harass me. I was pretty hot and mostly unavailable.) I also vomited, but that might have been due to the amount of tequila she made me consume before beginning her foul attack.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at March 1, 2004 at 04:46 AM

The pool of Sydney-based editors from the mid-80s is quite small; the number who’ve since become rich, powerful and famous is smaller still.

Hmm. Name names, Tim. You are obviously familiar with the small pool of editors from which Summers has selected a target for this accusation. Seems to me that, until we find out exactly who she is accusing, everyone in the suspect group has had their reputation impugned.

Indeed, she has managed the nice trick of slandering several people, regardless of the truth of her accusation, because she was too cowardly to tell us exactly who the guilty party is. Odd, isn't it, how her faux-punctilious refusal to name names has had the effect of spreading her accusation to people she knows is innocent.

Posted by: R C Dean at March 1, 2004 at 06:20 AM

Oh, and did I mention what a gutless pussy the alleged victim's husband is? How thoroughly neutered do you have to be to know exactly who is sexually harassing your wife, yet have no apparent reaction other than asking some woman what to do.

If someone was harassing my wife, I know exactly what I would do. And it wouldn't involve a lot of nice calculations how and whether to report it to some nanny-state overseer, either.

Posted by: R C Dean at March 1, 2004 at 06:24 AM

I can't believe these women who are so traumatized that they give up journalism. I can see quitting a job in disgust and being fairly bitter about that-- frankly, I've done exactly that, though the indignities involved were not sexual-- but to change your life's work because you ran across one measly wolf who tried to use his power over you that way-- that's why we live in a society with more than one employer, you wusses, so you can tell them to go fuck themselves when necessary.

Sorry if that seems unsympathetic, but I'm not convinced treating this as a massive trauma comparable to actual violent rape and needing lots of deeply sensitive counseling is better for young women than if their mothers simply said "And at some point, some asshole IS going to try to use his job to get in your trousers. Grab both balls in one hand, squeeze hard, and then tell him your resignation letter will include all the details and be copied to both his boss and his wife."

Posted by: Mike G at March 1, 2004 at 06:32 AM

This is feminist bullshit. In 1984, all it needed was a woman's accusation to break a man's career.

I think the power of the delayed accusation may be wearing off. The LA Times tried it with Schwarzenegger, to no effect. Naomi Wolf tried it more recently, and got slagged off by other women.

The days when all it took was one woman's complaint to destroy a man's life may be nearing their end.

Posted by: EvilPundit at March 1, 2004 at 08:57 AM

One former editor who springs to mind might want to get the Optus lawyers to draft a letter -- and a bill for damages.

Posted by: superboot at March 1, 2004 at 09:19 AM

The days when all it took was one woman's complaint to destroy a man's life

Still works, Evil. Their complaining destroys a guy one day at a time.

Posted by: superboot at March 1, 2004 at 09:21 AM

The woman didn't have to heed Anne Summers's advice. She and her husband could have gone ahead and made a noise. Is the man R. Murdoch, by any chance?

Posted by: Helen at March 1, 2004 at 09:23 AM

I have to ask what the point of that confessional article was?

I feel sorry for the harassed woman. Having been put upon by men on many occasions - from incredibly inappropriate suggestions to unwanted, unasked for touching - I can say that the appropriate response is not always easy to do. Some times the shock of the situation keeps you quiet, some times intimidation. The worst part of this story is that this woman might still be a journalist if not given such bad advice. Seriously, what's the difference if you give the harraser hell and get fired or if you let him force you out of your chosen career.

To the person who said "well it was the 80's so it would have been easy", I have to say what world did you live in? Women weren't expected to be in the work force full time let alone stay there. Sexism is still a part of the work environment - though hugely better than back then - so have a little thought.

Posted by: RLE at March 1, 2004 at 09:30 AM

Yeah, I'm with RLE. Guys are only too happy to jump on any hypersensitive remark and build it into a huge case of Evil Women Undermining The Men With Their Whining "destroying one guy at a time" sort of crap, which is exactly why we still have these sorts of problems.

But shame on Summers for the bad advice then, and double shame for deciding to bring it up as an anecdote now when it will do way more harm than good whether or not the allegations are true. Especially in the post-Clinton world where such things are transparently political.

Posted by: Sortelli at March 1, 2004 at 09:41 AM

It can be hard to defy the boss without paying a cost, but this woman paid the ultimate cost -- she lost her job and her career -- without getting the satisfaction of standing up for herself.

I've seen many women deal with sexual harassment without derailing their careers. I've handled a bit myself. It depends on the circumstances, of course.

Posted by: Joanne Jacobs at March 1, 2004 at 09:58 AM

No, forget the procrastinating dreadful harridan feminist icon woman. Huh. Twenty years of hypocrisy.

Shame only on the husband. Could have solved the problem with one punch. End of story.

But not for the feminists. Violence is bad, see. Always bad. Never discretionary. Never a matter for intelligent judgement.

They prefer years of silence, then a torrent of useless words twenty years down the track. And a broken career. And spineless partners. And rumours.

Posted by: ilibcc at March 1, 2004 at 10:00 AM

If the harassee was Anne Summers, the pool of harassers would be smaller still- rich, powerful, famous, retired and clinically blind.

Posted by: Habib at March 1, 2004 at 10:16 AM

JorgeXMcKie, how can you lie through your teeth about Anne? You know damn well that at very time you claim she was sexually harassing you, she was molesting me in Coffs Harbour! How can I ever forget the shame and humiliation as she lacerated me with her foul language, while groping and mauling my sensitive body. It was at the Australian womens netball team's post-season party, at the Plantation nightclub. We were all high and I'll admit I was a bit of a prick teaser, but that was no excuse for Anne to lead the others in a gang rape! I was no bun chick, but Anne and the team members claimed it was consensual and the team manager managed to cover it up. Girls will be girls they all said, but twenty years later I still bear the scars.

I'll be having my day in court.Anne should be good for a million or two.

Posted by: Freddyboy at March 1, 2004 at 10:25 AM

RLE, I've been working (mostly full time) since 1982. By that time, at least in the states, the phenomenon of the woman-with-permanent career was no longer rare; in fact, it was the beginning of the "Superwoman" era. I don't know where you live, where women in the 80s "expected to be in the work force full time let alone stay there." Though as I understand it some other countries took a little longer to get to that point.

And no one here has denied that sexual harrassment still happens, where did you get that from?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at March 1, 2004 at 10:32 AM

By the way, my first boss, in the first full-time job I got, was a woman. She was in her sixties, had been working all her life.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at March 1, 2004 at 10:33 AM

Oh shoot -- I'll add one more. My aunt, who grew up during the Depression in a small town in Tennessee, also worked all her life; she started out working in a plant during World War 2, then later on moved to Washington DC and worked for the FBI setting up one of their proto-computer databases (back when computers were all tubes and switches); then by the time I came along, she managed a department store in South Florida. And my grandmother worked for the civil service in Washington DC until retirement age. Women have always worked; few could actually afford the luxury of being full-time stay-at-home mothers except women like Betty Friedan's fellow Smith graduates.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at March 1, 2004 at 10:37 AM

It was definitely superwoman time. You can have it all, etc.

Posted by: Donnah at March 1, 2004 at 11:02 AM

Maybe the editor in question was really Bill Clinton.

Posted by: Toryhere at March 1, 2004 at 12:01 PM

What wrong with acting sexy NOTHING!!

Posted by: Bilal Skarf at March 1, 2004 at 12:08 PM

>To the person who said "well it was the 80's so
>it would have been easy", I have to say what
>world did you live in? Women weren't expected to
>be in the work force full time let alone stay

Um, what world were YOU in? Jesus, you're talking about pre-1975, maybe.

>Sexism is still a part of the work environment -

Definitely. The women in my office blow out the door at the stroke of 5:00. The men stay at least an hour longer, or it's bad news come review/promotion time. And everybody's paid the same. Oh, what a patriarchy we live in.

Posted by: Dave S. at March 1, 2004 at 01:50 PM

Where I work the leaving on time vs. staying late to catch up on work is pretty evenly split among the sexes, or so I have observed. For example, my boss (again a woman) says she gets more done before and after work than she can during work hours, so she comes in early and stays late. And my bus doesn't show up until half an hour after work ends so there is no point in my rushing out to stand around outdoors. One more thing I have noticed that contributes to staying overtime, at least among women: either being childless or having someone else to pick up the children from daycare or after-school care.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at March 1, 2004 at 02:04 PM

What Andrea said. Since we're talking about journalism, I started my first newsroom job in 1968, with a woman editor. In the years since, I've had women editors more often than not.

That includes publisher, editor in chief, city editor -- all up and down the spectrum of supervisory jobs in a newsroom.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 1, 2004 at 03:35 PM

Andrea, I don't think Australia was too far behind the USA in terms of the position of women in the workforce.

God only knows what sort of hick backwater RLE was working in, but the work environment he/she described belonged to the 1960s in Australia, not the 1980s. Massive cultural changes in the social position of women in Australia took place through the late 60s and the 70s so that, by the time the 1980s rolled around, "career women" were everywhere in the Australian workforce.

The Federal Government here followed up in 1984 with the Sex Disrimination Act, which makes all sex discrimination in employment illegal.

Posted by: Bob Bunnett at March 1, 2004 at 06:10 PM

Women have interests that involve some social life, so they blow out the door at 5:00 if they can. Men actually come in and work holidays and weekends for no pay, as if it's a hobby, which it is; and it keeps them out of the house. So if you wander through a large corporate research organization some holiday, you'll find the same men always there puttering away; the women researchers work regular hours and and mostly demand hiring more qualified women; the committee to do which they are put in charge of.

Not all men, but enough so that the weekend sex ratio is huge.

Women do not differ in ability or talent, only interest. Want proof? Wander over to sci.math or sci.physics and out of the last 1000 posts, you will find zero women. These are not groups of experts but groups of morons, but intensely interested morons. Women don't want to argue about gyroscopes for some reason. Nothing keeps them from posting except interest. There's no expertise qualification at all.

The sex discrimination laws sort of apply as an opportunity doorway, but do not reflect what happens in the normal course of things.

Paglia has math and physics as escapes from women, which would account for the sex ratio there and the kinds of men who are found working weekends at them. See also Vicki Hearne's chapter ``Beastly Behaviors'' in _Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog_.

I don't know how it winds up in journalism. You don't find men doing the women's page though.

Did I say that women are as talented at math and physics as men? Let me reassert that just in case. It's interest, not talent, that's involved.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at March 1, 2004 at 09:29 PM

Of course, Ron, talent without interest is about as useful as a bottle of whiskey that is never opened.

Posted by: R C Dean at March 2, 2004 at 03:30 AM

I received an email from Anne Summers yesterday after I pointed out an error in her site - the usual Howard-bashing that ignores facts:

Comment: "I know he was excited about the capture of Saddam Hussein, but surely the Prime Minister knows you have to be 18 to join military!"

In fact the Australian Army accepts enlistments from people aged 16 yrs 9 mths, and they may start training as soon as they turn 17.

Posted by: EvilDan at March 2, 2004 at 09:30 AM