- Sexual Harassment’s Legal Maze Rachel Lu, Law & Liberty
- Why the argument for democracy may finally be working for socialists rather than against them Corey Robin, Crooked Timber
- How much value does the Chinese government place on freedom? Scott Sumner, EconLog
- Authoritarian Nostalgia Among Iraqi Youth Marsin Alshamary, War on the Rocks
Like many others, I find the current collective hysteria about sexual harassment a bit overwhelming. Around November 22nd or 23rd, a woman came on FB proclaiming that she was willing to hurt the completely innocent to combat the scourge of harassment of women. She mentioned it was part of the struggle against the “patriarchy.” She said she was willing to “pay the price,” (meaning hurting any number of innocent men). The exchange that followed demonstrated that she was not acting sarcastic. If I were the dramatic kind of guy, I would say this it the beginning of the end of civilization, also a good argument in favor of a now non-existent patriarchy. (Non-existent in the US. Explanations on request.)
Since the repulsive Harvey Weinstein began disgracing the pages of newspapers daily, I have been trying to inject little shots of rationality into the brouhaha. I know it’s not much but if half of all rational people – especially women – do the same I believe we will have a significantly calming effect. Given the overpowering nature of the media excitement, I don’t have the courage to develop an overall strategy of rationality injections. Instead, I do a little bit of this and a little bit of that according to my mood and according to my availability on a particular day. Sometimes the relevance of my intervention to the current situation may seem only tangential. I assure you it’s worth thinking about it though (if you have time).
My main reaction to all of the horror stories in the media is this: Even if they are all 100% true, these stories tell only part of the larger story; they exist in a vacuum. The relationships (plural) between men and women are complex and often conducted at an infra-conscious level. A new fact for our species as a whole is that they are often enacted between perfect strangers. Not long ago, it practically never happened. People had plenty of occasions to find out about one another before anybody made a move. No more. Here is a true story about all this.
A long time ago, I am at an academic meeting in Chicago. I am still a fairly new academic but not a total novice. American university professors are supposed to be actively engaged in scholarship (“research”). Many actually are. Periodically, college professors in their several disciplines get together at academic meetings to present their research papers to one another – sometimes to a nearly empty room. They listen to one another and sometimes, they argue. It’s well understood though that the main function of this custom is to network rather than to spread knowledge. Normally, your employing university pays your way entirely. Such meetings are one of the fringe benefits of academia.
After delivering my own paper, I head for the coffee shop of the hotel where the meeting is being held. It’s about 3PM and I need a pick-me-up. The place is not crowded but most tables are occupied. I find one next to a table where a youngish woman is sitting alone before what appears to be a formal tea-set. As I sit down, I say “Hello” politely. She answers the same way. That’s the established custom at academic meetings: We are not strangers even if we are. My saluting her does not mean I am trying to pick her up, I know and she knows. She is in her early thirties, a very short, slight and pretty women with dark hair and black eyes.
After I order, I introduce myself as one does in such meetings and I ask what’s her specialty and where she comes from. She is a historian employed by a university about which I know little. I am a sociologist at a big Midwestern university. She has a light foreign accent I can’t place. I have a foreign accent not so hard to place, I guess. She asks me if I am French. She is a Lebanese Christian herself. It turns out her people and the French go way back. Her native language is Arabic but her English is perfect. She starts talking about her research and I about mine. We discover that we have earned our doctoral degrees from the same university, within two years of each other. We guess we never crossed paths because we were both studious and we used different ends of the main library there, in accordance with our respective disciplines.
What follows is a conversation of about one hour that should have been recorded for posterity. It was a model of gracious intellectual interchange between two cultured people who have enough in common to be able to communicate untrammeled, but with enough differences that they may yet be interesting to each other. We had much to discuss beside our scholarship, including the little-explored experience of middle-class immigrants to the US. The whole conversation stayed on the highest plane you can think of, no levity, no small talk, no useless words. This interchange might even have been enough by itself to justify the mind-boggling expense of academic meetings. It may have been the best conversation I had had, and have had in my life.
All the while, my new acquaintance has been drinking tea. With a lull in the conversation, she excuses herself to go to the restroom. When she returns, as she is slipping back into her seat, she looks straight a me and she says,
“I want you to know there is zero chance I will have sex with you.”
If I had not been sitting down, I would fallen backward from being embarrassed for her. I was so amazed, it took me several seconds to reply, “I was just thinking the same.” Immediately, I regret my retort because, with its devious ambiguity, it’s impossibly rude. I do what I can by way of friendly noises, to make up for it. Then, we say goodbye. The academic meeting is coming to an end the next day; we don’t bump into each other again. Two years later, we did meet again. But, that is another story, obviously.
What’s your point, you may ask? I don’t know, you tell me, especially if you are a woman.
Top brass at advertising giant Interpublic Group of Cos. told its 20,000 US employees last week they had until year’s end to complete sexual-harassment training. The session quizzes employees on what to do when a co-worker discusses weekend sexual exploits at work or when a colleague comes on to a colleague’s girlfriend after hours […]
“Women are crucial to our business,” says Mr Roth [CEO]. “We need our environment to be safe for all.”
(All boldings mine.)
Let me put the two statements together for you in a familiar television-like form.
John, Mary, and Peter work together in the same office. One day, they go out together for drinks after work. Jane, John’s girlfriend – who works elsewhere – joins them. Peter flirts with Jane (JANE); he even slip her his cell-phone number. Mary (MARY) feels unsafe.
It’s bat shit crazy. Is there no limit to the absurdities we will listen too peacefully?
If a man can create an unsafe work environment for a female colleague by hitting on another woman employed somewhere else and who welcomes the advances, is there any limit to what constitutes sexual harassment?
How about Mark looks at Jeanne – whom he does not know – at the bus stop, and Mark’s coworker, Jennifer catches his look and feels unsafe?
Will anyone shout: “Absurd”?
Myself, I don’t see just absurdity here. Since the Weinstein explosion less than two months ago (but still no lawsuit to tell us what really happened, if anything), I have begun to discern an attempted mass castration. If there is nothing men can do to stop from being sexual harassers who make women feel unsafe – even indirectly, as in the example above – it’s the fact of being a man itself that is offensive and that needs to be repressed. The knife is coming, ladies and gentlemen!
The most disturbing and the most worrisome aspect of all this mass movement is the lack of backbone demonstrated by many male decision-makers, such as Mr Roth, in this story, who hardly needs the operation, by the way.
Not far behind, is the passivity – so far – of rational women who stand to lose a great deal of peace of mind and other benefits, to the extent that the mass surgical intervention succeeds.
Note that I am not hinting at conspiracy. With the powerful domination of a few newspapers and of fewer TV channels, with the effectiveness of the social media, conventional conspiracies have become obsolete. Throw wet garbage and see if it sticks. If it does not, you and your actions will have been forgotten tomorrow anyway. Some harm done; no price to pay!
What needs to be done? Fight back. Denounce every crazy statement. Affirm rationality. Be ready for a little temporary social exclusion. You will soon find that most people are on your side. They just couldn’t believe what they saw and heard until you gave them a shout-out.
California has a statute (I hesitate to say “law” but that’s another story) called the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act. Will all those in favor of child abuse or neglect please raise their hands? Nobody? So how could anyone object?
Some background: the statute designates certain people as “mandated reporters” of child abuse or neglect. These “reporters” include people whose duties involve regular contact with children, or supervisors of such people. Some higher-ups at the California State University System, which includes San Jose State where I teach a single class, hit the panic button recently and decided every employee in the whole system, tens of thousands of people, would be designated a “mandated reporter.” This would include not just teachers but also janitors, clerks, administrators, etc.
This decision sets up some really nasty incentives.
First, designated reporters are subject to fines and/or jail time if they fail to report an incident. Nothing is said about penalties for filing false reports. Therefore, sure as God made green apples, reports will surge. Anyone who even remotely suspects something that smacks of child abuse will file a report because they have nothing to lose by doing so and a lot to lose by not doing so.
Second, those who file reports are not civilly or criminally liable for their reports. Their identities are kept secret. Here we have a door wide open for anonymous attacks on anybody for just about any reason. Anybody can concoct a story and then hide out, knowing their target could well spend ungodly amounts of time and money digging himself out from under the accusation.
Notice I said “himself.” White males are prime targets, especially those who are “politically incorrect,” including this humble writer.
It’s true that I and many of my colleagues have almost no contact with children. An under-eighteen student might on rare occasions find her way into one of our upper division classes. So it would seem we are at minimal risk. But in fact we are at great risk from charges of something similar to child abuse: sexual harassment. As far as I know there isn’t a mandated reporter law about sexual harassment but that hardly matters – I’m sure we can get in just as much hot water if charged with sexual harassment as with child abuse. All it would take is some female student, unhappy with her grade, to concoct some story about goings-on in my office, or merely some remark or look I supposedly gave her in class. Again, I’d be toast.
We have been ordered to sign a form acknowledging our status as child-abuse reporters. We’ll see. And that’s not all: an online indoctrination course is coming our way. I endured a similar course at Santa Clara University and I cringe at the prospect. Note to students with an entrepreneurial bent: start a business taking these “courses” on behalf of recalcitrant faculty.
Incidentally, where is the union when I need them? Yes, there’s a faculty union which has been helping itself to part of my paycheck for many years now without my permission and with no discernable benefit to me. As yet I have heard nothing from the union on this matter, and I don’t expect to.
Herman Cain, the GOP candidate who both speaks the conservative talk and is good-looking is the subject of accusations of sexual harassment. It was bound to happen sooner or later because Democrats, the only authorized party of oppressed minorities, cannot allow a successful member of the largest oppressed minority to give the lie to their lies. The particular nature of the attack was also predictable. Liberals are not sophisticated by and large. Plus, half of the Democratic Party used to be in the Jim Crow South. There are collective memories: Black men in general have a trouble controlling their sexual urges; it’s a well-known fact.
Do I think there were sexual harassment complaints against Herman Cain when he was a powerful, highly visible official of an association? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were. I would be surprised instead if there were a single man corresponding to that description anywhere, anytime in the past thirty years against whom there were no such complaints at all. They go with the territory. Create new grounds to blackmail and there will be more blackmailers.
Do I think he did it? Yes, I do. I mean by this that Herman Cain almost certainly engaged repeatedly in behavior that someone somewhere would call sexual harassment. And since juries can be fickle, unpredictable, it’s rational (although detestable) for companies to settle. It’s especially tempting if they can settle on the cheap: $10,000 is “five figures.” I also mean something you all already know about sexual harassment but that you may have forgotten because of the pounding of dozens of years of political correctness. Continue reading