Before anyone reflexively talks about political correctness, "cancel culture" or good-natured jokes, let's consider the facts.

On Jan. 27, the Eureka Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual awards gala and fundraiser, drawing more than 200 people, including a host of local business leaders and officials. To this effort, a local restaurant owner donated a dinner for eight at a time when restaurants are widely known to be struggling and closing at alarming rates. While auctioning off said donation, First District Humboldt County Supervisor Rex Bohn mocked and objectified the business owner on a night designed to make them feel celebrated and appreciated.

In what world is this behavior acceptable from a seventh grader, much less one of five officials elected to make decisions on behalf of the entire county, someone who should necessarily be held to a higher standard than the rest of us? It's not, and neither is the behavior that enabled it.

Of course, there are more facts to consider, including that the business owner in question is a woman and the joke was about her serving topless in a country in which 81 to 97 percent of women experience sexual harassment during their lifetime, according to various sources, and in which women are the target of 78 percent of documented cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. And make no mistake — when you take someone who is in the midst of using their professional expertise and hard work to make a gift to the community and imply it's worth less than their naked body — this was an act of sexual harassment, spewed into a microphone in a room full of people. Most of us would face firing for doing something similar at work, and rightfully so.

Then, there's the fact that studies have linked higher rates of objectification and sexual harassment of women in our society to higher rates of sexualized violence, something we should take particular note of here in Humboldt County, which historically averages about 50 percent more domestic violence-related police calls per capita than the state average.

There's also the fact that this isn't the first instance of Bohn behaving in such a way at a public event. There was the time in March of 2019 when, while auctioning off a Mexican food dinner, he asked the donor if it was "so authentic that we're going to want to steal hubcaps after we eat." And there was the time, as recounted by now Mayor Kim Bergel, that while announcing the Perilous Plunge, Bohn said Bergel, then representing a local school she worked for in the fundraiser, looked like a pole dancer. As some have implied in coming to Bohn's defense, there's a track record of "Rex being Rex."

There's also little argument Bohn doesn't — or shouldn't — know better. After all, his comments at the chamber function certainly seem to be in violation of the supervisors' code of conduct he personally voted to pass in 2021, particularly the section stating that board members' "professional and personal conduct" be "above reproach" and that they "should practice civility and decorum ... and refrain from abusive conduct." His remarks also certainly seem as though they would have violated the county's abusive conduct and harassment policies, both of which Bohn voted to approve, had they occurred in a county office. Additionally, there are the state-mandated, two-hour sexual harassment prevention trainings local elected officials have to participate in every two years. So either Bohn isn't capable of understanding the policies he's voting to approve and the biennial trainings he's participated in, or has chosen to disregard them.

A veteran host of countless fundraisers and auctions — 742 of them as he noted in his "apology" — Bohn has worked enough rooms to know how an audience will react. It's a necessity of the job. So when he chooses to regard a successful woman as a commodity, no matter what she has achieved or how she has helped her community, he probably knows some in attendance will laugh and smile along. But more importantly, history has probably taught him that those made uncomfortable — or even angry — will likely just chuckle nervously, unwilling to rock the boat. It's what enables the kind of never-ending hazing every woman in the room had witnessed or experienced before, letting them know they will never have the full respect of those doing the laughing. Those same women know that to bristle or complain is to draw even more criticism and be pushed even farther out of the circle.

But there are other facts at play here that are perhaps equally disturbing and disappointing.

First, there's the very fact that nonprofits and community organizations are still inviting Bohn to participate in their fundraisers. If there was any question before, any organization asking him to headline its event can now be seen as implicitly condoning or excusing his prior track record of demeaning and misogynistic comments. His billing sends a clear message about who the organization values, and who it does not. A community organization or nonprofit that refuses to confront racism and sexism is simply not welcoming to all, no matter what it claims to be.

Second, at a time when there has finally been long-overdue discussion in the MeToo era about men's roles in halting misogyny and objectification, it's beyond disappointing that not a single one apparently spoke up in the moment to call out Bohn's behavior as it occurred, and that no one from the chamber saw fit to turn off the microphone or even apologize after the fact.

Equally disappointing were the mealymouthed responses from three of Bohn's colleagues on the board, with Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone talking about "education," Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell warning of "tattletale-type things" and Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson simply thanking newly seated Fourth District Supervisor Natalie Arroyo for her comments critical of Bohn's behavior, saying it's "uncomfortable" and "takes bravery."

The truth is ending misogynistic behavior that objectifies and demeans women in search of a laugh is inherently the work of men. First and foremost, that means men — especially those elected to lead us — refraining from objectifying and demeaning women. But it also necessitates other men standing up and calling them out when they do. Confronting sexism is the bare minimum and the people around you, particularly the women, will remember your action or your complicity.

In the absence of robust denunciation of Bohn's misogyny, our local leaders in government and business have sadly offered the women and girls of Humboldt County a demonstration of just how little their dignity is worth. It's the same dismissal Latinx residents have received every time Bohn has been invited to host since 2019.

It is the duty of our so-called community leaders and organizations to serve all of the community instead of leaving some to be dehumanized and have their concerns dismissed. Standing up against misogyny and racism might be "uncomfortable," but it's nothing compared to sitting through it.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 320, or jennifer@northcoastjournal. com. Follow her on Instagram @ JFumikoCahill and on Mastodon @ jenniferfumikocahill.

Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at (707) 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@

Kimberly Wear (she/her) is the digital editor at the Journal. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 323, or kim@ Follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wear.


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