One of the country’s largest feminist groups, National Organization for Women, has weighed in on the revelations that “Late Show” host David Letterman slept with several of his interns and assistants. In a statement released on Tuesday, NOW said:
“The latest Letterman controversy sheds new light on the widespread objectification of women in the workplace. Most women can attest to the fact that many workplaces are plagued with inappropriate behavior by men in power. As ‘the boss,’ he is responsible for setting the tone for his entire workplace — and he did that with sex. In any work environment, this places all employees — including employees who happen to be women — in an awkward, confusing and demoralizing situation. The National Organization for Women calls on CBS to recognize that Letterman’s behavior creates a toxic environment and to take action immediately to rectify this situation. With just two women on CBS’ board of directors, we’re not holding our breath.”
Usually, I agree with NOW’s pro-women’s rights stance on lots of subjects — for what it’s worth, I was president of the NOW chapter at my college. But I only have one thing to say about the stink they’re making about Letterman’s employee-diddling:
If we found out Letterman promoted women with no discernible talent to reward them for sexual favors, then NOW will have a point.
If it turns out Letterman explicitly promised, or strongly insinuated, that these women would advance in their careers if they slept with him, then I will eat my hat. I mean, my bra.
But until any truly exploitative wrongdoing is proven, let’s not assume Letterman’s former lovers are victims of “objectification” in the workplace. Maybe you didn’t get the memo, NOW, but there is such a thing as sexual attraction between older men and younger women.
I staunchly call myself a feminist. But two of the things I don’t like about some feminist lines of thought are: 1.) the assumption that women are always victims of men’s behavior, and 2.) that sexual attraction is always objectification. Yes, women can be victims (being raped, dealing with sexual harassment, being “mommy tracked,” etc.). But women also make decisions and give their consent for things which turn out to have messy results, which are partially our own fault. Letterman may have been unprofessional as a boss by engaging in sexual relationships with his employees; he may have been crappy as a boyfriend/husband by two-timing his wife of five years, Regina Lasko. But nothing I’ve read has shown me his dalliances weren’t consensual.
Look at the evidence: Holly Hester, a former intern at the “Late Show,” told TMZ, “I was madly in love with him at the time … I would have married him. He was hilarious.” Furthermore, The New York Daily News reported one of the comedian’s paramours, Stephanie Birkitt (whose ex, Robert Joe Halderman, is the one who tried to extort Letterman for two million), wrote her boss “trashy” love letters. Letterman allegedly used to even drop Birkitt off at home in his car after work! So far, no woman has come forward to say she told her boss, randy ol’ Mr. Letterman, “No, leave me alone, Dave!” and that he threatened to fire her. No woman who worked for Letterman has come forward to say she was penalized for rebuking sexual advances by him. No, it sounds like he was having consensual love affairs. Ill-conceived, stupid and consensual love affairs.
Women should have the right—nay, the duty!—to make stupid choices and consent to stupid things. It’s just patronizing to assume the Big Bad Men are taking advantage of us women all the time, that we’re too naive to know what we’re getting ourselves into. Furthermore, how, exactly, does one ascertain whether Stephanie Birkitt or Holly Hester only had their jobs because they shtupped the boss? You can’t. You just can’t. And it’s offensive to assume that’s the only reason they had their jobs unless we have proof they were unqualified dingbats he kept around and promoted for sex.
But I am biased about sex among co-workers, as well as May-December romances. In college, I interned at a magazine and kept in touch with one of the editors in a mentorship capacity. I graduated and moved back in with my parents, but this editor and I kept in touch, eventually becoming friends. Then, when we both happened to be single, we started hanging out more and more, and eventually began hooking up. By that point, I’d gotten hired at the website of that magazine, so this got kind of awkward for us. I fell deeply in love with him, but—maybe because of my age, maybe because of my maturity level—he didn’t reciprocate my feelings, and he ended things with me. Eventually, I found another job and quit. It was awful and it sucked and yes, it was unprofessional of both of us, but no one can convince me that for that short period of time, we didn’t have something between us. And I’m sure I felt as flattered and starstruck by my former paramour as Birkitt and Hester did with Letterman—but more to the point, I don’t believe I was objectified, exploited or taken advantage of one bit.
I know NOW means well. I know gender and power dynamics in the workplace is a feminist issue. But there’s so many holes in their argument against Letterman and his “abuse of power leading to an inappropriate, if not hostile, workplace environment for women and employees,” it’s not even funny.