Saturday, December 9, 2017

Sexual Harassment: What Now?

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

Show me the man and I'll show you the crime
-Lavrentiy Beria

Over the past seven weeks since the allegations of current and past harassment and assault first broke against Hollywood film producer, studio head, and distributor Harvey Weinstein, many people have made or revealed many other charges of rape, assault, harassment, and just downright nasty demeaning behavior against several other powerful men in politics, business, media and entertainment. We've seen a deluge of complaints. Most of these alleged actions are pretty obviously unethical and/or criminal. For what it's worth I believe most of the accusers. A few incidents might be charitably understood as misunderstandings or inept attempts at expressing romantic/sexual interest. But there's not much charity around today. It seems as if every day some new man is revealed as an alleged serial harasser or rapist. Since I started writing this post about six or seven men were accused of bad behavior. Horrible stuff. Senators and Congressmen are resigning. My employer requires frequent training on treating co-workers with respect. Avoiding sexual harassment is part of that training. I think it's essential for both moral and practical reasons to ensure that every employee or co-worker understands that no means no, that making someone's hiring, retention, promotion, assignments, workplace environment, or good performance reviews contingent on sexual access is wrong and illegal, that even consensual workplace relationships can be fraught with danger, and obviously that grabbing anyone's private areas without consent is a despicable thing to do. 

Most people of good faith would probably agree with all of the above. However, there are a few people who are not of good faith. They view the current wave of alleged sexual crimes as decisive proof that one half of humanity is wicked, broken, and ready for reprogramming or replacement.

One hallmark of prejudice is to apply your belief, true or otherwise, about a group to every member of that group. In the US the most vicious and oldest example of this is racial prejudice. Black people move into an area; white people move out. Police disproportionately stop Black people because they believe blacks must be up to no good. Interviewers and hiring managers make fewer callbacks to resumes with black sounding names and offer lower initial salaries to black hires. Doctors assume black patients need fewer pain killers. Law firm partners look for more mistakes in work once they know it was completed by a black person. And so on. 

This is wrong, not only because it damages the wealth, health and lives of black citizens, but also because it prejudges people by negative stereotypes. There are similar stereotypes about many other groups: Jews, East Asians, Hispanics, South Asians, gays, Italians, rural whites, whites, women, men, etc. Most people would accept, at least in theory, that making sweeping generalizations about groups is wrong. We saw a recent example of this when an Uzbeki Muslim immigrant carried out a terrorist attack in New York City. The media and some politicians told us that we shouldn't generalize about Muslims, immigrants or Uzbeks. 

But some people in the media and elsewhere believe that it's just fine to make negative generalizations about men. This ranges from pandering men who want to tell all other men that they are garbage to politicos who think that the Democrats should commit to an all female political Presidential ticket to New York Times contributors who want to run Stalinist show trials for men where men confess their sins against women to people who want to throw out the entire innocent until proven guilty framework to politicians who want your vote because they don't have a penis. In this view ALL men have sinned against ALL women.

And then there are the men who act so overwhelmed, who ask, “What can I possibly do?”
The answer is simple.
Men can start putting in some of the work women have long done in offering testimony. They can come forward and say “me too” while sharing how they have hurt women in ways great and small. They can testify about how they have cornered women in narrow office hallways or made lewd comments to co-workers or refused to take no for an answer or worn a woman down by guilting her into sex and on and on and on. It would equally be a balm if men spoke up about the times when they witnessed violence or harassment and looked the other way or laughed it off or secretly thought a woman was asking for it. 


Teen Vogue columnist and feminist Emily Lindin posted a series of tweets Tuesday night about false sexual harassment and assault allegations against men. Her hot take: she’s fine with it. “I’m actually not at all concerned about innocent men losing their jobs over false sexual assault/harassment allegations,” Lindin said at the beginning of a string of comments.

Lindin went on to explain that such situations don’t occur very often. “First, false allegations VERY rarely happen, so even bringing it up borders on a derailment tactic. It’s a microscopic risk in comparison to the issue at hand (worldwide, systemic oppression of half the population),” she tweeted. Lest one think that her lack of concern is solely due to these things not happening, Lindin made it very clear she believes that even when innocent men are ruined by false allegations, it’s all worth it for the greater good.

“The benefit of all of us getting to finally tell the truth + the impact on victims FAR outweigh the loss of any one man’s reputation,” she said, adding, “If some innocent men’s reputations have to take a hit in the process of undoing the patriarchy, that is a price I am absolutely willing to pay.”

Dana Nessel, a Plymouth Township Democrat running for Michigan attorney general, turned heads this week with a new video vowing to fight workplace sexual harassment – and avoid it herself.

“Who can you trust not to show you their penis in a professional setting? Is it the candidate who doesn’t have a penis? I’d say so,” Nessel said in the video.

“I will not sexually harass my staff and I won’t tolerate it in your workplace either. I won’t walk around in a half-open bathrobe, and I’ll continue to take all sex crimes seriously, just like I did as a prosecutor.”Nessel is seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2018. The only other declared candidate in the race is a man – former U.S. Attorney Pat Miles, whose campaign declined to comment on the video. The Michigan Republican Party accused Nessel of exploiting a national sexual harassment and assault crisis “for personal gain” and questioned why she has not called for Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers to step down amid harassment allegations. Other critics noted that as a private attorney in 2010, Nessel represented a Detroit strip club that was accused of employing a 15-year-old girl as a dancer. The Detroit News reported on the police raid at Club Onyx in 2010.

Not to put too fine a word on this but this is all bulls***. 100%. Most men have never raped or harassed anyone. 
A disproportionate percentage of the men in media or Hollywood recently accused of sexual misconduct happen to be Jewish. Would you use this fact to make offensive generalizations about Jewish men or Jewish culture? I wouldn't. Why? Because that's bigot's work. We must try to reject that line of thinking. The only people talking like that are people who were already profoundly anti-Semitic. Similarly many people talking about the guilt or responsibility of all men because of the crimes of a few are people who already possessed a strong dislike for the male gender. If you're not going to blame all Muslims for terrorist attacks by one Muslim, if you're not going to blame all illegal immigrants for a crime committed by one illegal immigrant, if you're not going to blame all black people for a crime committed by one black person, if you're not going to blame all white people for a discriminatory act or crime committed by one white person, then you can't blame all men for bad actions by Weinstein, Franken, Toback, Conyers and others.

It really is that simple. If you still want to blame all men, then by all means do so. But please don't get upset when people with differing political views and equally bad grasps of logic make vile generalizations about other groups. 

It is wrong to assume that all men are either guilty of sexual misconduct or have witnessed it and remained silent. In Weinstein's case there were people of both genders who enabled Weinstein or turned a blind eye to his misdeeds for the greater good of their pocketbook. I wouldn't take a job where my boss wanted me to get his penile injections and erectile dysfunction drugs for his regularly scheduled rape/harassment sessions, but some women did just that for Harvey Weinstein. Other women turned a blind eye to Weinstein's actions and provided him access to their female actress clients. Obviously they didn't do this because they were men. But they didn't do this because they were women either. They did this because they were greedy corrupt frightened human beings.

Saying that you are fine with innocents being hurt for the greater good may occasionally be the logic of warfare. It is definitely the logic of bigots. It is not the logic of justice. Justice is about creating a system where the guilty are punished but the innocent are never harmed. That's the entire point of having an appeals process, being able to confront your accusers, and only being criminally convicted or held responsible once there's sufficient evidence to prove the charge. Theoretically we should do our best to ensure that the innocent go free. That means that sometimes the guilty will walk as well.

As has been pointed out elsewhere if you insist upon making identity your morality, the people who do not share that identity will eventually stop listening to you. You can change your morality based on your experiences, your intelligence, your understanding of logic and harm and other factors. But your identity is fixed. You can't change that. Why should you listen to anyone who has a real problem with who you are? I don't and won't. Neither men nor women have any monopoly on virtue or vice. I am reminded of that fact when a case like this happens. And I am also reminded that women, like men, are quite capable of lying. Women are even capable of sexual assault
So again, your identity doesn't say anything about whether you're a good person or not. That is determined by your individual beliefs and actions. Ideally a politician should appeal to voters based on that person being a more effective representative than the other candidate(s). It shouldn't come down to vote for me because I am a member of group x. I know that this may be unrealistic but it is an ideal we should work towards, not just throw away. If we can't do that then this country might just need to split up. 

No one (except actual rapists) wants more rape or more harassment. To start from the premise that most men are pro-rape or pro-harassment is offensive. More importantly, it's based on bad data. I haven't raped anyone. I haven't harassed anyone. I'm hardly unique in that.  There are over 160 million males in this country. The majority are not rapists or harassers. There will be times when one person has interest and the other does not. In and of itself that's not a crime. There will also be times when both have interest. And that can even happen at work. We should work to get rid of harassment and discrimination without also attempting to criminalize half of humanity. Violence and the oppression it often supports are human problems. They are not exclusive to one gender. I don't believe in original male sin based on some warped Calvinist feminist gender ideology. So no I am not going to crawl forth to flagellate myself bloody, drink the purple Kool-Aid, and confess non-existent sins in an abject kowtow of self-abnegation. I think that anyone who desires that from someone or who does that for someone is a sick broken sadistic or masochistic person. They need help. They can go kick rocks. Spewing sophomoric self-righteousness and accusing people you don't know of crimes they haven't committed is no way to win friends and influence people. We must be certain always to remember that accusations do not equal proof. The actions of one do not reflect on the many. And that's all I have to say about that.
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