opinion

Nuclear-Grade Male Confidence

Hey, Rep. Pat Meehan: If She Doesn’t Like It, It’s Not Romance

The congressman’s excuse for pursuing a female aide feels all too familiar to women who have faced an amorous boss.

opinion

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

There are self-possessed men. There are self-assured men. And then there are men who are so overconfident that their excess of self-regard, if harnessed, could provide clean energy to their entire voting districts. Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Meehan is one of those men.

Meehan—a former federal prosecutor and now a leading member of the ethics committee that’s just opened probes into sexual misconduct claims against at least four Congressmen—used taxpayer funds to secretly settle a complaint a former female employee made against him. The decades-younger woman claimed that the 62-year-old married father pursued a romantic relationship with her, and retaliated against her when he found out that she had a boyfriend.

Meehan has now claimed, in an extremely ill-advised interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, that the things that the woman says happened are true, but that it wasn’t harassment. They were soul mates. She says she experienced their employer-employee relationship as a troubling abuse of power; he says she didn’t. He even released the moony handwritten love note he wrote her on stationery imprinted with the U.S. Capitol, to prove what a soulmate he was to her. For good measure, he had allies give a reporter her cool and polite response to it as though that proved she was on board the boss’ soulmate train.

“In hindsight” he conceded Tuesday, he “should have been looking at it from the perspective of a subordinate and a superior.” But this was an affair of the heart, and he quickly added that there’s no “I” in his office, since “there is no hierarchy—we call it Team Meehan.”.

That’s nuclear-grade male confidence.

I’ve never received a handwritten love note from a corny-ass old married guy who signed my checks, thank goodness. I’ve never quit a job because the pupils in my boss’s eyes turned to hearts every time I walked into the room, like a horny Looney Toon. But I’m a woman who works in journalism and comedy, two fairly male-dominated fields, and I spend a lot of time hanging around and talking to women who also work in those fields.

I recognized pieces of stories from my own career in the unfolding Meehan saga; I recognized pieces of stories from friends of mine. I especially recognized how abjectly stupid Meehan seems to be—in his own telling!—about how his actions impacted the woman who he insists must not have been impacted, and how his actions impact his actual wife and kids.

I’ve seen it, I’ve heard about it, and I can’t believe that we’re still having this conversation.

People meet at work all the time. Sometimes people fall in love with their bosses and get married and have gorgeous little families and laugh with their friends about how unconventional their romance was. That’s the best-case scenario. Almost every other scenario leads to professional consequences that can be devastating to the lower-ranking employee.

Meehan represents one of the worst-case scenarios. The employee found his amorous advances inappropriate and left her job. (An important tip for men: If she doesn’t like it, it’s not romance.) Meehan’s office used taxpayer money to make it go away. And, according to the interview he gave today, he still believes that the whole thing wasn’t harassment; it was romance, and there’s nothing dirty about that.

“I was a happily married man and I was not interested in a relationship, particularly not any sexual relationship, but we were soul mates. I think that the idea of soul mate is that sort of person that out go through remarkable experiences together.”

His poor wife.

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I can only imagine what Meehan’s aide must have gone through, and must still be going through. To have an older and more successful person in one’s field take an interest in one’s career is flattering. The realization that the interest in one’s career was a feigned means to a sexual or romantic end can be completely unmooring. The recipient of romantic attention can question whether their enamored boss ever had faith in their ability at all, or if the encouragement and guidance all came from a selfish place. It can feel like an enormous breach of trust.

Having a boss do this once is a real mindfuck. Having men do it over and over again can devastate a woman’s self-worth. It conditions her to question the motives of any man who shows interest in her career, it can lead her to wonder if a man’s dismissal of her is over a lack of sexual interest. It’s the worst.

Meehan’s refusal to see how what he did was wrong reminded me of a bizarro world version of the apology Dan Harmon recently issued to his former employee Megan Ganz. When Ganz was a writer on Community and Harmon was the showrunner, Harmon pursued her romantically. When the object of his affection wasn’t interested, Harmon, like Meehan, retaliated. Harmon addressed his interactions with Ganz on his podcast recently. He  described what he’d done, his emotional state while he was doing it, and he expressed his deep sorrow over causing her the pain that he’d caused her. He talked about what he’d learned. He apologized. He pleaded with his fans to leave Ganz alone. Ganz said she accepted the apology and told the New York Times she felt “vindicated.”

We’re living in strange times when comedy writers have a stronger moral compass than public servants.

Since the story came out, Meehan has been removed from the House Ethics Committee. He still holds his seat, and says he’ll run for it again in November. He still apparently thinks he did nothing wrong, which is perhaps the biggest insult of all.