Another view on complaints about sexual harassment

Tony Judt is a respected historian who has quite fearlessly taken up some controversial causes.  He is now very ill, paralyzed from the neck down with ALS.  Not the sort of person one wants to attack, but I suppose it is condescending to refrain.  So here goes. 

Judt has an article in the NY Review of Books, part of which is repeated on the journal’s blog.  It gives one a different (from ours) perspective on sexual harassment, one from a senior scholar (born in 1948, first degree from Cambridge in 1969), and currently a director of an institute at NYU. 

It’s title is, “Girls! Girls! Girls!”  Consider that a warning:

On how he acquired his third wife:

In 1992 I was chairman of the History Department at New York University—where I was also the only unmarried straight male under sixty. A combustible blend: prominently displayed on the board outside my office was the location and phone number of the university’s Sexual Harassment Center. …  Shortly after I took office, a second-year graduate student came by. A former professional ballerina interested in Eastern Europe, she had been encouraged to work with me. I was not teaching that semester, so could have advised her to return another time. Instead, I invited her in. After a closed-door discussion of Hungarian economic reforms, I suggested a course of independent study—beginning the following evening at a local restaurant. A few sessions later, in a fit of bravado, I invited her to [a play].

….To say that the girl had irresistible eyes and that my intentions were…unclear would avail me nothing.

His views on current decorum:

Our successors—liberated from old-style constraints—have imposed new restrictions upon themselves. Since the 1970s, Americans assiduously avoid anything that might smack of harassment, even at the risk of forgoing promising friendships and the joys of flirtation. Like men of an earlier decade—though for very different reasons—they are preternaturally wary of missteps. I find this depressing. The Puritans had a sound theological basis for restricting their desires and those of others. But today’s conformists have no such story to tell.

His example of comic relief (yes, truly, he so describes it):

When I was Humanities dean at NYU, a promising young professor was accused of improper advances by a graduate student in his department. He had apparently followed her into a supply closet and declared his feelings. Confronted, the professor confessed all, begging me not to tell his wife. My sympathies were divided: the young man had behaved foolishly, but there was no question of intimidation nor had he offered to trade grades for favors. All the same, he was censured. Indeed, his career was ruined—the department later denied him tenure because no women would take his courses. Meanwhile, his “victim” was offered the usual counseling.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

It is well to know that if you get cornered in a supply closet and go to the chair or dean rather than the official office this is the sort of attitude you may encounter.  Don’t think that even if you are a professor, this is going to help your career at all.

I’ve quoted a sizable part of the piece on the blog, but there is more.  And there’s some discussion of this on the blog with a lot of good points being made, along with others  supporting him.

(Wealthy, irritating and stunningly unreflective) Mothers

The first episode of the BBC series Women was well worth watching– because it interviewed a fascinating and engaging collection of important 2nd Wave feminists. (Though it’s been rightly criticised for neglecting black and minority ethnic women). Mothers was clearly designed to be a demonstration of how little has changed in the domestic division of labour. But for such a demonstration to be effective, one really needs a sample with some claim to representativeness. Instead, we got palatial house after palatial house, posh accent after posh accent– all climaxing, to my mind, with the couple who declared that their last row was over “lighting the AGA”. (It’s hard to explain the cultural significance of an AGA to non-UK people. But a British Martha Stewart would love one, and few of her fans would be able to afford one.) Moreover, they were all truly stunningly unreflective– to the point where one looks at the unjust division of labour and eventually thinks “well, you kind of deserve it for being so unreflective about your life. I mean, it’s not like you lack the resources to improve things.” (The worst division of labour, by the way, was in the one family where the mother was the breadwinner. She, unlike the male breadwinners, was totally unappreciative of the work her partner put in. Just shows that anyone can devalue traditional women’s work.) If you watch it, you’ll find yourself wondering where they found these people, and why they chose them. But only for a minute, because then you’ll realise they’re nearly all from the London media world the film-makers clearly move in. Plus a surgeon they must have met a party, and a random academic couple from Lancaster. (Their presence actually was a a bit mysterious. They were also much more reflective. Unfortunately most of their reflections concerned why they chose one form of detergent rather than another.)

Thanks, Mr Jender, for insisting that I “eviscerate this”. If I haven’t done it well enough, do feel free to contribute in comments.

Consciousness-Raising at Newsweek

There’s a really awesome article calling out sexism in the workplace, and especially at Newsweek. And it’s in Newsweek– which impressively went ahead and published it. There SO much that’s excellent in it. But one thing I found particularly interesting was the epistemic situation that the authors found themselves in regarding sexism.

In countless small ways, each of us has felt frustrated over the years, as if something was amiss. But as products of a system in which we learned that the fight for equality had been won, we didn’t identify those feelings as gender-related. It seemed like a cop-out, a weakness, to suggest that the problem was anybody’s fault but our own…
In countless small ways, each of us has felt frustrated over the years, as if something was amiss. But as products of a system in which we learned that the fight for equality had been won, we didn’t identify those feelings as gender-related. It seemed like a cop-out, a weakness, to suggest that the problem was anybody’s fault but our own…
Somewhere along the road to equality, young women like us lost their voices. So when we marched into the workforce and the fog of subtle gender discrimination, it was baffling and alien. Without a movement behind us, we had neither the language to describe it nor the confidence to call it what it was.

One thing that really hits me is how much this all sounds like the consciousness-raising groups that finally named and began to fight sexual harassment, as discussed in (among other places) Fricker’s Epistemic Injustice. Women who each thought they were dealing with individual problems start talking to each other, seeing commonalities, and finding they need a new vocabulary to talk about them. (The lack of such a vocabulary is what Fricker calls ‘hermeneutical injustice’.)

A Ticket For Rush

Rush Limbaugh has famously said that if health care reform passes he’ll move to Costa Rica. And now there’s a way for you to help that dream come true, thanks to the good folks at A Ticket For Rush. Here’s their plan:

1. We’re accepting 1 dollar PayPal donations to buy Rush a one-way ticket to Costa Rica. We are currently accepting donations.

2. At the end of the donation period*, we will attempt to personally contact Rush, and offer to buy him a first-class plane ticket from Palm Beach International Airport to San Jose International Airport, Costa Rica.

3. If Rush does get cold feet**, and refuses to move to Costa Rica, we will instead donate all of the money to the Planned Parenthood Action Center.

4. Additionally, if we make more money than the cost of a ticket, or if we don’t make enough money for a ticket, everything will still go to Planned Parenthood.