Advocates: Elizabeth Warren’s story is 'universal'
October 25, 2017
by Joe Dwinell, Boston Herald
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren shouldn’t be condemned, women’s rights advocates say, for having the courage to share the memory of being chased around a desk decades ago by a law school professor hellbent on trying to grab her.
“It’s a disservice to try to put a sexual harassment experience into a narrow box,” said Debra Robbin, executive director of Jane Doe Inc. “Don’t blame the victim.”
Warren has come under fire for saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that a senior colleague’s advances at the University of Houston were threatening — despite sharing a more lighthearted version of the same story at the man’s memorial.
For attorney Wendy Murphy, who teaches sexual violence at New England Law Boston, a powerful woman going public — especially as the Harvey Weinstein sex assault scandal builds — is a plus.
“Anybody who says out loud ‘This happened to me, too,’ helps others,” Murphy said. “If you tell about it, it means that behavior is less likely to happen.”
Being the victim of sexual harassment is never easy, both advocates told the Herald, and the #MeToo movement of sharing the pain of sexual harassment and assault is dredging up a lot of nightmares.
“Liz Warren’s story is an example of a young, vulnerable woman being treated badly,” said University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer, who took Warren’s job when she left for Harvard.
Linzer said Warren’s harasser, a now-deceased Eugene Smith, suffered from polio and was a “good old boy” who kept a whiskey bottle in his desk and smoked in the office.
“He was a good scholar and they both became very good friends,” Linzer said last night, “but her story is legitimate.”
Jacqueline L. Weaver, an emeritus professor of law at the Texas school, said the episode is being “overblown.
“I don’t think this should be a political issue,” Weaver added. “There’s got to be something more important. Iran? North Korea? It was 30 years ago. Who cares.”
Warren’s brush with the harassment in Houston occurred in the late 1970s where another former colleague, law professor John Mixon, wrote about it in a memoir.
“She is absolutely right. (Smith) was a senior professor. It’s totally consistent with what went on with Weinstein,” Mixon said. “It was the circumstance women were often placed in. It’s to her great credit to come out and talk about it.”
Mixon, who said the encounter occurred in 1978, said Warren recalling the confrontation at a memorial and then again this past weekend is not a contradiction to him.
“You want her to stay mad? She went on,” Mixon said. “Eugene Smith would put people in positions of discomfort. It was part of his way of dealing with his lack of physical power” due to his polio.
Laura Oren, a professor and the Houston law school, said Smith was her teacher and was “perfectly wonderful.”
Warren declined to comment for this story.
Robbin, head of Jane Doe, a statewide [sexual and domestic violence] advocacy group, said Warren deserves a break because “her experience is universal.
“Until a week ago, people joked about it all the time,” she said, alluding to the Weinstein story and the suppression of sexual harassment. “It’s underreported because many want to keep their jobs.”