First they came for your guns. Now they’re coming for your dirty jokes. Or so thinks John McCain. The Arizona senator took a stand for sex jokes, valentines, and masculine pronouns in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder last week.
The perceived threat to such communications came from a set of campus sexual-assault policy reforms prescribed by the Departments of Education and Justice last month. It was written in response to a string of mishandled sexual assault cases at the University of Montana and designed as a blueprint for other rape-ridden campuses. For reporting purposes, the agreement defined sexual harassment as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” an expansion from the separate, legal standard for sexual harassment under Title IX: harassment “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.” Conservative pundits and, apparently, McCain believe the new definition will impinge upon students’ free speech and, in a Tarantonion turn of phrase, “de-eroticize the university.”
But, as ThinkProgress explains, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights has said over and over that the new definition will not govern the enforcement of sexual harassment policies. It’s just to prevent students from being discouraged from reporting sexual harassment or assault, something we know happens all the time, and not just out of a totally rational fear of retaliation. Then let the universities decide whether it constitutes a hostile environment or not.
Until that idea makes it into McCain’s skull, he is worried the expanded definition could mean that all kinds of banal encounters will qualify as sexual harassment. As outlined in his letter to Holder:
“4. Could the following scenarios constitute “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” and demonstrate reasonable grounds for filing a sexual harassment complaint under the new definition:
a. A professor assigning a book or showing a movie that contains content of a sexual nature.
b. A student who makes a joke of a sexual nature to a friend and is overheard by another student.
c. A student asking another student on a date.
d. A student listening to music that contains content of a sexual nature overheard by others.
e. A student giving another student a Valentine’s Day card.
f. A student or professor using masculine terms for generic pronouns (e.g., “Each student must bring his own laptop to the exam.”)”
You hear that, girls who hate it when guys ask them out on dates? McCain’s got his eye on you.