State Senate leaders updated the chamber’s harassment policy in response to the sexual misconduct allegations that are sweeping the nation and have already caught up an Arizona political leader, Rep. Trent Franks, at the national level. Some critics of the new policy are complaining that it is not comprehensive enough and are focusing on who is and who is not afforded protection from harassment.

The discussion we need to be having is the one about why such rules need to be implemented at all, and what it says about our society in general.

The Senate rules regarding sexual harassment are an instructive case in the futility of attempts to determine proper behavior roles and interactions between men and women.

The fact that that last sentence is problematic for some critics of the policy — those who are unhappy that people who do not identify with either biological sex are not included in the list of people protected from harassment — is proof of that.

The new “comprehensive” Arizona Senate policy makes anything that creates a hostile work environment a no-no and expands the rules against making fun of certain defined groups, but it leaves off transgender people.

How will expanding the list help?

Affording protection to someone on the basis of whatever specific label they may have chosen for themselves only serves to create another distinct group that distinguishes from the whole, but doesn’t change people’s underlying beliefs that lead to behavior. It emphasizes difference when equality is the goal.

A more generic term like “all,” is far more preferable when laying out general standards of behavior, because the homogenizing effects of such a term point to the one thing we all have in common: our humanity.

Most people are aware of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.

It is so well known, it has become a truism, with no practical application for most. Rather, there is always a push to impose rules, guidelines, and more comprehensive policies to govern behavior.

Yet, with each new updated code of conduct the same behaviors surface.

Does anyone actually think if we had the updated policies in place previously, sexual harassment, and/or sexual misconduct would disappear?

Why is something as simplistic as the Golden Rule so hard to live by without the need to appeal to something more expansive?

Could it be because every individual responds differently to the underlying assumption about what they want done to themselves? Everyone has their own proclivities. Everyone’s value system is going to be slightly varied from someone else’s, based on how they were raised, how they were instructed, how they learned to interact with others.

It is this reality that necessitates the need for agreed-upon rules and standards of behavior when we interact publicly with one another.

No matter how we arrive in our places of public discourse, we must have a baseline from which to measure normative behavior.

There has to be some overarching standard appealed to in order to get it right in order to ensure that behaviors deemed inappropriate are not allowed in general.

However, that standard must apply to everyone, no matter their individual views, beliefs or identifying labels.

Defining rules for public discourse to be as all-encompassing as possible is ultimately self-defeating. Far from creating an inclusive environment that tends toward friendly, and appropriate behavior, it invites tension and scrutiny.

Every word and action, no matter how innocent, can and does become viewed through a lens of hypersensitivity.


Morgan, a native Tucsonan, received a master’s degree in U.S. history from the University of Arizona. Contact him at